Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Balticon 50, Part 3: Sunday Morning Coming Down

Part three of our trip to Balticon 50, covering Sunday.
Part One; Friday
Part Two: Saturday


The last day of a convention is always kind of quiet. Balticon actually runs for four days, but we were only staying for three, so this was the last day for us.

I was mostly wandering around and watching the kids. I wanted to go to a panel on writing for RPGs, not because I’m interested in doing so as a career, but because I was curious about the techniques involved. Unfortunately, the room was double booked and the panel was either going to be moved or rescheduled. I didn’t hang around to see which one it was. I had Lily in tow, and she was already getting pretty antsy, so we wound up in the anime room instead. We watched the second half of My Neighbor Totoro and all of Kiki’s Delivery Service. I’d never watched either in a group before. It was fun. They’re both great movies. I first showed Totoro to Lily when she was three and she’s loved it ever since. I maintain that the scene where they’re dredging the pond is one of the best directed scenes in all cinema, animated or otherwise.

My Neighbor Totoro

The basic plot of the movie is that a young professor and his two daughters move out to the countryside in postwar Japan in order to be close to the mom, who had been hospitalized for spinal tuberculosis. It's such a nice little film. I had vague recollections of having seen it as a teenager, but I don't think I ever watched it all the way through, because it has neither ninja nor giant robots.

I thought it might be scary for Lily at three, because they talk about parents dying, but she weathered it just fine. There's a scene where the eight-year-old sister, Satsuki, is talking to the four-year-old, Mei. Their mom was supposed to come home for the weekend, but her visit from the hospital had been postponed because she had caught a cold. Mei says that she wants mom to come home anyway, and while Satsuki does too, she understands the reality of the situation and knows that she has to stay. But Mei is insistent and in her disappointment and frustration, Satsuki yells at her sister "Do you want mom to die?!"

Mei starts crying and she runs away and decides to walk to the hospital by herself. She gets lost and the whole village is searching for her. Satsuki is running all over the countryside, and someone catches her and tells her that they found a little girl's sandal by the pond and it might be Mei's.

So Satsuki races there as fast as she can, and you see the adults are dredging the pond. She runs up and an old woman holds up the sandal and asks if the sandal is Mei's. What follows is a ten-second eternity while Satsuki catches her breath enough to answer the question. The whole scene is so well put-together, and while we wait for Satsuki to answer, the frame slowly draws in on the woman holding the sandal, and that effect and the half-hopeful, half-fearful expression on her face gives the impression that the whole world is closing in.

Roger Ebert loved it. It's on his list of great movies.

From the review:

Here is a children's film made for the world we should live in, rather than the one we occupy. A film with no villains. No fight scenes. No evil adults. No fighting between the two kids. No scary monsters. No darkness before the dawn. A world that is benign. A world where if you meet a strange towering creature in the forest, you curl up on its tummy and have a nap.

 There is none of the kids-against-adults plotting of American films. The family is seen as a safe, comforting haven. The father is reasonable, insightful and tactful, accepts stories of strange creatures, trusts his girls, listens to explanations with an open mind. It lacks those dreary scenes where a parent misinterprets a well-meaning action and punishes it unfairly.

 I'm afraid that in praising the virtues of ''My Neighbor Totoro'' I have made it sound merely good for you, but it would never have won its worldwide audience just because of its warm heart. It is also rich with human comedy in the way it observes the two remarkably convincing, lifelike little girls (I speak of their personalities, not their appearance). It is awe-inspiring in the scenes involving the totoro, and enchanting in the scenes with the Cat Bus. It is a little sad, a little scary, a little surprising and a little informative, just like life itself. It depends on a situation instead of a plot, and suggests that the wonder of life and the resources of imagination supply all the adventure you need.
Well, that was a long digression, but this post would have been pretty short without it.

Then it was time to go home after the rest of our group finished watching their panels.

One More Thing

One other thing happened at the con. On Friday night, as we were walking back, Lily met her first person. All the adults walked past him, and she stopped and apologized for not having any money, then picked a flower to give him from a bush near a bank building. We decided at that point to give him some money. I'm happy that she saw him as a human being deserving of respect.She's very good and very gentle, which sometimes worries me, because I think Hemingway was right about what the world does to those kind of people, but mostly I’m proud of her persistence and her compassion.  I was thinking of the parallels between that and how she rescued the stray cat that came to our house. Each time, she saw an injustice, and didn't have the power to correct it herself, so she petitioned someone who did and kept at it until we helped.

All right, enough being serious. The con was fun. I’m really happy I had the opportunity to talk to the organizers from (Re)Generation Who. They’re great people with a palpable enthusiasm for their passions, and absolute professionals about running the show.

We almost got to talk to Peter Beagle, but missed him twice. I didn’t meet with George R.R. Martin, but Nicole did, and she said he was a great guy.  It was a wonderful experience.

Plus, we bought the Kittens expansion for Munchkin. How can you top that?

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