Shin-seiki: I'd say it's pretty likely that this was intended as an homage to "My Neighbor Totoro". (NGE is full of such nods to other anime.) This image of Mei and the statues is included in a book I have about Miyazaki, so I made the connection when I took a good look at the shot of Shinji.
The statue is of Jizo-san, a Buddhist diety who is the patron of travelers and children, and a common sight along rural roads in Japan. Here is the caption for the shot of Mei in the book I mentioned above:
Seated by a line of statues, Mei wonders what to do now that she is well and truly lost. The statues represent a Buddhist deity who takes care of all children, so the Japanese audience knows she'll be okay…
[Helen McCarthy, “Hayao Miyazaki: Master of Japanese Animation”, p.134]
Dr. Nick: The possibility of an homage isn't really that far-fetched, considering how the boys and girls of Gainax are apparently big Studio Ghibli fans.
Reichu: And whoever isn't should be hunted down and shot.