The 1988 Japanese animated film My Neighbor Totoro is what is considered to be one of Hayao Miyazaki’s best films (not to mention, Totoro is the mascot of Studio Ghibli as Mickey Mouse is to Disney). Studio Ghibli has produced films such as Kiki’s Delivery Service, Ponyo, Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle and the famous/infamous Spirited Away (by contrast, My Neighbor Totoro will leave you a lot less confused).
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The plot centers on sisters Satsuki, (which means May in Japanese) dubbed over in the American version by voice actor Dakota Fanning, and Mei, (the phonetic pronunciation of ‘May’ in Japanese) by Elle Fanning. Firstly, Miyazaki perfectly portrays the whole older sister/ younger sister relationship as the girls vary between playing and quarreling throughout the movie.
The story begins as the two girls and their father move into a new home in the countryside in order to be in closer proximity to their mother who is suffering from an illness in a nearby hospital. One of the most alluring aspects upon viewing My Neighbor Totoro is the rich quality of the scenery, which will have you wondering if you are looking at a children’s cartoon or an oil painting.
The sisters soon find they have magical new neighbors, who are forest spirits that can only be seen by children. Some of the spirits include soot sprites, a ‘cat-bus’, and most notably, Totoro, the King of the forest (who only roars throughout the film, but is interestingly portrayed by the same voice actor who plays Scooby doo.)
One critique would be the limited screen time of the iconic “Totoro.” We only actually get to see him for maybe about a quarter of the movie or so, and he doesn’t show up until half way through the movie. On the other hand, this could also be beneficial. It makes his selective appearances even more special, and you end the movie still wanting more (or wondering where you can buy the plush version).
One of the most memorable scenes is when Totoro and the girls take a ride in the magical cat bus.
It would seem that “My Neighbor Totoro” is geared toward children, but it is more than appreciable for all ages. There are a few dark scenes, one where Mei goes missing, some eerie depictions of their haunted house, and the condition of their sick mother, but nothing unsuitable for children. At the end of the day, this film proved to be a refreshing contrast to the ADD-driven, action packed mainstream movies that are more prevalent today- check it out if you haven’t!