In 1950s Japan, Tatsuo Kusakabe relocates himself and his two daughters, Satsuki and Mei, to the countryside to be closer to their mother, who is hospitalized due to long-term illness. As the girls grow acquainted with rural life, Mei encounters a small, bunny-like creature in the yard one day. Chasing it into the forest, she finds "Totoro"—a giant, mystical forest spirit whom she soon befriends. Before long, Satsuki too meets Totoro, and the two girls suddenly find their lives filled with magical adventures in nature and fantastical creatures of the woods.
In 1988, Tonari no Totoro won the Best Film and Ofuji Noburo awards in the Mainichi Film Awards, the Special Award in the 31st Blue Ribbon Awards, the Grand Prix in the Animage Anime Awards, and the Best Film and Reader's Choice Award: Best Japanese Film awards in the Kinema Junpo Awards.
Childhood is a blossoming period of learning and developing one's own idiosyncrasies. It has always been a sedate stage in which little youngsters define themselves through their senseless antics—ones that appear innocent but are of an elusive nature, and are merely an inadvertent expression of the capricious phase that is childhood. However, since kids are so full of youthful tendencies, very few directors have managed to portray the rascals in a sincere and realistic manner. But among those select few is an irreplaceable Ghibli film which has become a sensation both within its native community and the western world—and that film is Hayao Miyazaki's My
My Neighbor Totoro is, simply put, a child's imagination brought to life; fanciful tales that become reality, replete with picturesque wonders that reveal the magical and mysterious. Hidden from adult eyes, the otherworldly rewards only those of pure heart. Spirits and mystic guardians of the forest, they embody the creativity and candidness of children—content to experience the simple joys of life and the beauty of nature. With down-to-earth characterization, Satsuki and Mei are splendid lenses into the film's world, their optimism and enthusiasm ensuring every little discovery resonates with the audience—a magical tale that is an adventure for kids, and an opportunity to revisit childhood for adults; a genuine moment of reflection.
Although the setting lacks depth, My Neighbor Totoro alleviates this by deftly weaving together fantasy and realism. Very little is explained and detailed, but its integration of the imaginary is both natural and unobtrusive. A big house nestled amidst greenery, uninhabited for decades, a likely home to the mysterious. Satsuki and Mei, true to their age, are explorers of the unknown—their interactions with the rich environment are not only a delight to observe, but also a reflection of the curiosity inherent within every child.
Unveiled with mystique, uncanny soot creatures emerge from the house's floor and scamper into the shadows as the heroines enthusiastically tour the dark rooms of their new abode. Even if slightly scared at first, Satsuki and Mei's fear quickly gives way to curiosity, then excitement, and finally delight. The two adventurous sisters stumble upon a new world, and like any child would, wholeheartedly embrace its magic. This very sense of wonder is what leads them to the mythical spirit Totoro, protector and guardian of the forest. Intimidating in size, but gentle in nature, the fuzzy giant embraces the two of them with otherworldly tenderness. In an ever-so-subtle way, he becomes a link between the characters and the forest itself, introducing them to many of its magic wonders.
In essence, My Neighbor Totoro is more about inspiring one's imagination—an honest message about the importance of childhood and a connection with nature—than creating a fantasy backdrop. Complexity is absent, but the presentation is delivered with finesse and flair. Much of this is due to the laid-back pace and the amiable guidance of the protagonists, slowly hinting at the mysteries that may be hidden in the nooks and crannies of dark rooms and lush forests. All the viewer needs to do is to sit down, relax, and enjoy the magic unfold.
Allowing their daughters the liberty to go and explore the surroundings of their new home, Satsuki and Mei's parents are often absent physically, but present in spirit. As caring guardians, the parents concern themselves with their troublesome daredevils in an earnest and honest fashion. These carefree dynamics connect the otherwise distant adult world with the children's, instilling a sense of trust and intimacy among the family. In this sense, Miyazaki makes a conscious effort of displaying human relationships in a sincere and natural style.
True to Ghibli's reputation, My Neighbor Totoro's visuals are masterfully crafted with great attention to even the most minute details. Rich with body language and facial expressions, the screenplay succeeds in the art of showing and not just telling, breathing nuance and realism into the cast's actions and interactions. These subtleties add striking believability to the characters, as adults and children alike look and behave according to their ages. The physical environments, too, are vividly detailed, setting the stage for the integration of the cast and fantasy—be it the cluttered rooms of a house recently moved into, or the green vastness and richness of the countryside.
Likewise, the film's sound department is remarkably well-polished. Joe Hisaishi's compositions harmoniously blend with the mood of the scenes—the tempo is upbeat in situations of excitement and discovery, while smooth when tension is low. The timing is delicate, but more than anything, the tracks themselves are what stand out most. Charming and varied, the melodic tunes make extraordinary scenes even more memorable. The careful management not only soothes body and mind, but also permits the soundtrack to lace key scenes with vivid and meaningful tonality. Interesting to note, though, is that for most of the movie, there is no background music. Instead, focus is placed on environmental sounds, allowing the countryside setting to weave its own atmosphere. In concordance with the naturalistic tone of the story, this adds a more organic touch to the presentation—one focused on painting nature in its purest form.
A tale intended for kids, yet a journey fit for audiences of all ages, My Neighbor Totoro is a splendid story that encapsulates the beauty of childhood. The film's wonderful portrayal of Satsuki and Mei's imagination conveys a true sense of jollity present in most children. Beyond its realism, the film delivers a dazzlingly magical experience by way of its supernatural encounters with the manifestations of nature. But this occurs ever so gently, that one could consider it a dream-like tale that both begins and ends in blissful serenity. A true classic, My Neighbor Totoro will remain in the hearts of many as a heartwarming experience of one of the purest and most beautiful memories: a frolicsome childhood, never to be forgotten.
This review is the final product of a team composed of members from the "Critics and Connoisseurs" club. The writers were:
I remember Totoro was my favorite anime. I'd pop it in the VCR player (yes, old school, I know) and watching it with my little brother when I was a little girl. Somewhere around 14 years later, it's still my favorite movie, and probably always will be.
Totoro's story is incredible: it captures the imagination of two girls with very different personalities. Satsuki, the older, responsible girl who takes care of household responsibilities while her mother is sick, and little Mei, a veritable firecracker who's curiosity knows no limits. What made this movie so incredible was how well it captured the imagination of kids their age.
Just watching it makes you think back about all those fun things you did when you were younger, whether you're helping your parents with chores or you're outside picking acorns off the grass. I think thanks to this movie, I spent a good chunk of my childhood looking through bushes and trying to find crevices in trees so I could find where Totoro's house was! Ah, lots of memories...
Miyazaki's artwork is stunning. Despite the fact that by now, it's obviously somewhat older, the animation is still superior to anything Disney can throw at us. His specialization in artwork of nature make this film a delightful piece of eye candy.
The music! How cute! The opening sounds like one of those little tunes my mother would sing to me in Korean when I was younger. I've always loved the music in Miyazaki's movies and this one is no exception.
Totoro is easily still my favorite movie in the world for over a decade. Highly recommended to watch, rewatch, and watch with everyone else.
It's often easy to get carried away in the everyday vices and tribulations of life. We often want to reminisce and look back on the better days, full of adventure and enjoyment. Well, this movie does an excellent job of bringing me back to that feeling. It is full of heart-whelming adventure, and exploration.
I always seem to watch this movie or any Studio Ghibli film for that matter, when I am wanting to experience a child-like sense of adventure. Miyazaki does am excellent job of creating a world, in which you would love to explore and experience. From the stellar landscapes, to the loving Characters,
it is all here to enjoy.
Overall, please watch this move and many more of Miyazaki's films. They are pure magic.
My Neighbor Totoro is the flagship of Ghibli and one of the first Japanese animated feature films to receive wide critical acclaim in the west. As much as its successor 'Spirited Away' capitalized further in terms of revenue, Totoro stands as one of the most influential anime, with the ubiquitousness of Totoro plushies and pop culture references to it still present today. But there are reasons beyond its success that attributes it as a must watch on the checklist of any avid fan of anime.
Whether this was your first anime movie as a newcomer, as a kid, or as a moviegoer, none can contest
the brilliance of Miyzaki in developing a world filled with awe and wonder, boundless playfulness and imagination, whilst proficiently capturing the natural innocence and curiosity present in every child, conveying a true sense of realism in the most heartwarming way possible. It's impossible to come out of Totoro without a big smile of satisfaction while feeling peckish for more Miyazaki.
I would call Totoro's aesthetics a marvel considering its time (1988), with the use of tradition cel animation (hand-drawn), adding to the film's fluidity and polish in the realm of character designs and scenery, altogether toning matrimonially with the "friskiness" the music orchestrates.
My Neighbor Totoro is not only a visual spectacle, but also encapsulates childhood in a little box. Even as a story tailor-made for kids, older audiences can still identify and project that sense of accomplishment after finding that four leaf clover or discovering an assortment of big acorns under that big tree, long long ago.
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