My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

 

Written & Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

Will Most Likely Contain Spoilers

The long awaited marathon gets its start with the second Miyazaki I have seen. The first I saw was Spirited Away, so I know what I’m getting myself into. I liked Spirited Away, but I think maybe because I had not seen anything quite like it before that I was unsure what to make of it. I probably need to go back to it after I got this one under my belt. But anyway, my previous experience definitely helped me get through and enjoy this as much as I did. I was not shocked to see the creatures and such like I was with Spirited Away. That said, I think this was the perfect film to start this marathon as it was the most “out there”, given I was supposed to follow up on my Mind Blowing Marathon with this quite quickly. Alas it has been three and a half months, but finally I am here, and I am already loving it.

My Neighbor Totoro opens with a family moving into a new home in the countryside. There are two little girls and their father (the mother is in the hospital for a reason we never learn). The house looks as though it has not been inhabited for some time, with many soot spirits, which are explained by the ever so gentle and wise Granny, an elderly neighbor who was the caretaker of the house. Also nearby is a giant tree. And let me just say that if I lived there I would climb the heck out of that tree, anyone else with me? The girls have such great imaginations thanks to the great imagination of Miyazaki. They collectively create the wonder that is Totoro, a giant fur ball of a troll. He is the perfect neighbor, always helping out and being there for the comfort of the girls, Mei and Satsuki. Mei is the first to find him, but Satsuki, and their father, quickly believe her and encourage her vivid imagination. The main conflict in the film comes late, as Mei is concerned that their mother will die soon because of sickness, though it never appears to the audience that she is ever in that bad of a condition. As such, the 4 year old runs off to the hospital, which is a long way away. She gets lost and must be found by her sister and their faithful neighbors. To no amazement, Totoro, and his CatBus, come to the rescue to find the little girl.

In a movie like this, a perfect world is created. There are no bad guys, nothing scary, no real conflict. Even though we see Mei concerned at her mothers health, I never was worried that she might get worse and face fatal sickness. In that case, the only conflict is that this family loves each other too much. And who can blame little Mei for being afraid that her mother might die? Happiness exudes in this film and I found it to be the product of soaring moments and a great score to go along with it. For instance, I was first sold when the family is bathing for the first time in the house that seems like it may be haunted. The father takes initiative and begins laughing, encouraging his children to laugh and the ghosts will not haunt them. It is a great family scene, but then it cuts to the soot spirits flying away, because they like the new family according to Granny. They fly away into a beautiful night sky with that great theme playing them away. Then we have the awesome tunnel made out of the bushes that Mei follows the mini Totoro down to find the lair that contains the sleeping giant. This first encounter is awesome, seeing the tiny Mei playfully sitting upon the giant, slumbering Totoro. I knew then the creature would be harmless and the friendship would be great. Of course the famous screenshot, which I used at the top, depicts Satsuki offering her fathers umbrella to Totoro as they stand out in the rain, waiting for their father’s bus to arrive. Then there is the magic of the acorn seeds. Totoro gives the girls the gift of a few acorns, so they plant them in the yard and watch intently as they fail to grow. Then one night they spy Totoro doing a dance around them to make them grow, they join him, the trees grow huge in seconds and they are whisked away to a night in the sky on what appears to be Totoro’s magic draddle. They awake the next morning to see that the trees have finally sprouted, but are not fully grown.

Family is what this is all about and its awesome. The “conflict” comes from concern for their mother, which turns into concern for their daughter/sister. The moment in the bath, the fact that the girls went to greet their father at the bus stop, and Totoro came too. Family also means community and we see that with Granny and Totoro, but also with the young boy neighbor, who Satsuki seems to hold a bit of disdain for, but when the time comes, he lends them his umbrella when they have forgotten theirs. One day, Satsuki is at school and Mei is left with Granny, but she longs to be with her sister, so she ends up spending the day at school with Satusuki, much to Satsuki’s dismay, but at the end, all the students enthusiastically say goodbye to Mei, as though they had a great time with her there and would miss her. The girls have great manners too, greeting Granny respectfully and remembering to thank the moving man for helping them in the beginning.

What makes this film so great is the magic in it. Totoro is full of it, yes, but Mei and Satsuki are the true heroes with their great imagination and overall great approach to life. Yes, they are children, but they clearly learned from their father and mother, who also have a great attitude. The father is great at thinking on his feet to explain the littlest of things to the girls to their amazement. Miyasaki is a visionary. After now seeing two of his films, I can say that with confidence. I look forward to more of his magic, but for now I am fully satisfied with the smile he has managed to plant all over my face with this great film.

**** – Masterpiece

Adam Kuhn

Adam Kuhn was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, where he attended Saint Charles Preparatory School. He studied History at the University of Cincinnati, where he was a contributor of The News Record, the twice-weekly, independent student news organization. He has been writing film reviews and blogging since 2009.

One comment

  • Like I said elsewhere, glad you loved this. It's such a simple movie, but so much happiness can be found in its simplicity. It's a lot like a nice walk through the park, all you;re doing is walking through the park, but I'll be damned if that can't be one of the most enjoyable experiences ever.

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