My Neighbor Totoro
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Voice work by Hitoshi Takagi, Noriko Hidaka, Chika Sakamoto
Review by Jordan
1988 saw the combined release of two of the most beloved and tonally distinct Studio Ghibli films.
Grave of the Fireflies, Isao Takahata’’s harrowing WW2 drama would go on to become one of the most revered animations of its type, but at the time it was Hayao Miyazaki’s joyously optimistic My Neighbor Totoro that captured the imagination of kids and the young at heart in Japan. With the plump image of Totoro himself now the Studio mascot and shelves adorned with plush toys of the large, sleepy creature and his forest friends, this characteristically charming film is undoubtedly the most recognizable among its peers the world over; it’s glowing reputation the result of its uplifting message and distinct visual palette.
Sisters Satsuki and Mei move with their father to the countryside, with their ill mother being treated at a nearby hospital. Their new house is old and decrepit; a place of mystery and instigator of adventures, and before too long they encounter small, dust like creatures hiding in the shadows, revealed by their father to be soot sprites who have called the house their own. Once the house becomes a home, the sprites disappear, and venturing into the forest the girls discover it’s eccentric and wholly adorable guardians, led by the initially imposing but clearly harmless and helpful Totoro.
With their mother having been unwell and perhaps critically so for a long time, and a drastically new environment to accept, these neighbours and their magical world offer hope for Satsuki and Mei and an outlet for their imagination, both being essential for children dealing with difficult situations. They find an inner strength to deal with the changing nature of life, and are also aided by a caring father and community.
My Neighbor Totoro is a children’s film first and fore-mostly, aiming to dazzle eager eyes and instill wonder, and in an incredibly refreshing manner it never gives into the temptation to add undue drama above what is known at the start nor introduce a villain. From a critical perspective, this refrain from narrative depth might mean there is less to explore than say Princess Mononoke or Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, but it’s intention is entirely different and it should be celebrated for it. Moments of understandable sadness are rescued by renewed optimism and whenever Mei is feeling alone Totoro is there to make her smile. Sometimes we all need an outlet like this.