Made by Studio Ghibli in 1988, this gorgeous animated film is directed by the awesome Hayao Miyazaki, co-founder of the studio, and director of its best works. Totoro has become the studio mascot and is one of the most recognized characters of Japanese animation.
The plot surrounds two young girls who move to the country with their father, while their mother is recuperating in hospital from a serious illness. While exploring the woods surrounding the house, the youngest girl, Mei, comes across a creature who identifies itself with growls that sound like ‘to-to-ro.’ Mei is very young (four, maybe) and is not remotely bothered by the appearance of this rather strange and spooky creature. She tries to lead her father and sister to the spot but is unable to find it. Her father, (who is a very cool dad), tells her that she’s seen a forest spirit and it will show itself again in its own time. The older girl, Satsuki, eventually meets Totoro as well, and the remaining story involves their interactions with the creature and their family life.
What strikes me about Totoro is that the creature does not look particularly cuddly. He looks strange, and he has a lot of big teeth in a very big mouth, giving him a rather fearsome look. He does not speak, just roars and growls. He is not cute in the Disney sense, at all. I like this, because it means that the viewer is wondering about him on first seeing him. We wonder if Mei is safe, if this creature is going to be nice or nasty. That level of uncertainty is not something you would expect in a Western children’s movie, but when we understand that Totoro is a friend, and a good friend, his otherworldly appearance becomes a part of the package. I couldn’t help but feel that he’d defend the girls if that was every necessary, and that he could be fierce if required.
I found the characters of the children very true to life. I think sometimes children in film are depicted as a little too adult, especially when they are the main characters. But you believe that Mei is very little, and that Satsuki, for all that she tries to be grown up and responsible, is not that old either. They act their age, including their fights and Mei’s tantrums. Given that the children had faced a huge disruption in their lives with their mother’s illness and moving to a new area, these aspects simply made the girls real.
Then there is the Catbus. I absolutely love the Catbus. This is a big cat, shaped like a bus. It can carry passengers inside itself, its eyes are headlights, and it can take you anywhere you want to go, even if you don’t know the way yourself. Its big grin and vanishing act make it reminiscent of the Cheshire cat from “Alice in Wonderland”, and I believe that must have been the inspiration.
“My Neighbour Totoro” is a sweet movie, and despite it’s status as a children’s movie, I would recommend it to adults just as much. Watch this to put a smile on your face.
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