Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Shintoism, Death Spirits, & Totoro

my-neighbor-totoro-respect-camphor-tree1Lady Geek Girl: My Neighbor Totoro is nothing more than a fun family movie produced by Studio Ghibli, right? Well, not according to some people. One popular fan theory says that My Neighbor Totoro is not the happy movie that we thought it was. Rather, it’s a story about death, and Totoro is actually a god of death or death spirit. As such, the theory goes that the two girls, Mei and Satsuki, can only see Totoro because they are about to die, and at the end of the film Mei runs off and accidentally drowns. When their neighbors find a sandal in the pond, Satsuki claims it’s not Mei’s, but the theory continues that Satsuki was so distraught and in denial about her sister’s death that she lied about the sandal. Satsuki runs to Totoro and he opens up the realm of the dead by calling Catbus, who transports spirits, so she can find Mei. Then, Catbus takes the two girls to visit their mother at the hospital. Their mother sees them because she too is close to death. At the end of the movie Mei and Satsuki also don’t have any shadows, further indicating that they are dead. Studio Ghibli has denied this theory, but nevertheless, it persists among fans. But are there any connections between the Shinto themes of the movie and this theory?

Trigger warning for mention of suicide after the jump.

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Final Fantasy X: A Prequel to Final Fantasy VII

wallpaper-dirge-of-cerberus-final-fantasy-vii-03-1920x1200I recently just replayed both of X’s games and VII, because hey, they are my favorite Final Fantasy games. With the exception of direct sequels, most Final Fantasy games are completely independent from each other. That’s not always true—we have the Ivalice Alliance games such as XII and Tactics that both take place in the world of Ivalice, albeit a thousand years apart from each other. But unless we’re specifically told otherwise, it’s always been safe to assume that the Final Fantasy games have no impact on each other. At least, that was the case until X-2 happened. During an interview for Final Fantasy X-2 Ultimania, Nojima confirmed that X and X-2 are prequels to VII. While the stories in the games are still more or less independent from each other, this connection allows for some interesting social and religious implications, specifically for the Al Bhed.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Redemption or Lack Thereof

black widowRedemption seems to be a key element in most religions. Many religions believe that if someone does something wrong then they need to be forgiven and become a better person; in other words, they need to do good so that they can redeem themselves of all their wrongdoing. While redemption is prominent in Buddhism and Abrahamic religions, it is especially important in both Islam and Christianity. For this reason, it is surprising to me that a lot of Western film, which is heavily influenced by Christianity, may discuss religion, but very rarely truly explores redemption in an interesting or profound way.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: A Tale of Two Tails

ariel little mermaid

I love fairy tales, both old ones and new versions. It’s fascinating how you can tell the same story twice and get two totally different meanings. You can see this with Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid. Both the original and the beloved Disney version are very much influenced by Christian moral frameworks, but in two totally different ways.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Do Robots & Androids Have Souls?

VisionWho has a soul? The question seems pretty simple when we first think about it, but can get complicated very quickly. Do animals have souls? Unborn fetuses? Plants? The soul is a tricky thing to discuss, largely because there is no way for us to truly quantify or fully understand the soul. People who are religious tend to think of the soul from everything as the spirit that lives on after your death to that spark of God that truly makes you you. Most people will say that living things have souls. But what about your computer? Does it have a soul? This is a question that sci-fi authors have asked about robots and/or androids over the years. Can something man-made have a soul in a similar way that a human does? Is it something more than an inanimate object or more like a human being? Age of Ultron is one recent movie that gives us a glimpse of this issue.

Spoilers after the jump.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Religious But Not Spiritual

A while ago Stinekey wrote a post about people who call themselves spiritual, but not religious. What people generally mean by this is that they do believe in a “something more”, but they’re not attached to a specific religious belief system. While pondering a topic for my own post I considered that the opposite, things that are religious but not spiritual, are also a common feature in media.

What do I mean by that? Well, I mean that different forms of media often use religious figures in their stories without showing any spiritual aspect of said religion. And while I think this happens across faiths, a lot of pagan pantheons get this short shrift more often, probably because the general public doesn’t usually think of Greek or Egyptian or Norse deities as being worshiped in the modern day.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: The Faith of Fury Road

mad max fury road war boy armyIf you haven’t seen Mad Max: Fury Road yet, you’re really missing out. It’s more or less a complete feminist masterpiece, set in a strangely intriguing post-apocalyptic sci-fi world, with lots of awesome explosions. There are so many things I could say about the film, but today I’m going to stick with the way it plays with religion. Fury Road isn’t a movie that hits you over the head with a moral or a message (unless you count the wives shouting “We are not things!”), but like all good science fiction, it has a lot to say. In this case, I was pleasantly surprised at the complexity of the film’s use of religion. It shows us how the power of faith can be used both to inspire the best in humanity and to utterly destroy it.

Spoilers abound below.

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