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Film Review: My Neighbor Totoro
In 1988 Hayao Miyazaki released My Neighbor Totoro, based on an original screenplay written by Miyazaki as well. Starring Noriki Hidaka, Chika Sakamoto, Shigesato Itoi, Sumi Shimamoto, Hitoshi Takagi, Toshiyuki Amagasa Tanie Kitabayashi, and Naoki Tatsuta with Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning, Tim Daly, Lea Salonga, Frank Welker, Paul Butcher, and Pat Carroll providing English voices, the box office numbers for the initial Japanese release is unknown. Nominated for the Saturn Award for Best Genre Video Release, it won the Kinema Junpo Awards for Best Film and Reader’s Choice Award – Best Japanese Film, the Mianichi Film Awards for Best film and Ofuji Noburo Award, the Blue Ribbon Award Special award and the Animage Anime Award Grand Prix Prize.
Mei and Satsuki travel to rural post-war Japan to live in the country with their father, Professor Kusakabe, to be closer to the hospital where their mother is recovering from an illness. Alongside the usual moving problems, Mei encounters a creature in her backyard and pursues. Her chase leads her to the forest spirit Totoro.
Very well-made and fun to watch, My Neighbor Totoro is an incredibly cute and heartwarming film that was interestingly shown second following Grave of the Fireflies. And everything in this movie is an excellent antitheses to the other. Much of it revolves around the nature and character of Totoro. Despite his huge size and loud roar, he is every bit as caring and gentle as he looks. Take when Mei is missing and Satsuki is in full-tilt panic about finding her and seeks Totoro out. Not only does he seem incredibly eager to be of help, but he wasn’t in any way disturbed about a frightened human girl waking him up and asking for his help. There’s also when the girls are waiting for their father at the bus stop and Totoro just shows up next to them. His reaction to the discovery that either it shields his head from rain, or his realization that he enjoys the sound of it hitting the umbrella, is incredibly cute. Not only does he jump hard enough that all the rain on the trees falls, but when that’s gone, he knocks all the rain out of the sky.
And being able to knock all the water from the sky is an interesting power that Totoro has as a nature spirit. But as a whole, Totoro’s work as a forest spirit is an interesting sight throughout the film. Another instance is after Mei and Satsuki plant the acorns and anxiously wait for them to sprout, he shows up and the girls see him making the seeds do their thing. But when the girls come out, he gives them the time of their lives by sprouting a giant tree. However, it’s fascinatingly ambiguous as to whether or not the girls were imagining said tree as the next morning, the tree is gone and all that’s there is the tiny sproutlings. The film is just as much an example of the character and nature of Totoro as it is about the girls’ imaginations.
Notable, though, is how the film is named after Totoro, but he really only shows up sporadically throughout it. But that furthers the magic surrounding the character as the audience is constantly hearing about him and what he does. It fosters a feeling of enjoyment when he does make an appearance to see just what he’s going to do next. And every time he comes on screen, it turns into a highlight of the film.
It’s also compelling to see that the soot sprites and totoros aren’t seen by any of the adult characters in the film. It could be that that they don’t want to be seen by them or that it’s because the adults are too old to see them. But even though he can’t see them, the girls’ father doesn’t show any signs that he doesn’t believe anything the girls say and he isn’t angry at all when they don’t have his umbrella.
As far as the human characters go, Mei is as cute as Totoro is in her own special way. Take her chasing the soot sprites and having her attention diverted by the smaller totoro, which she follows and gets lost in the woods. It’s how she eventually meets the titular Totoro and it’s quite cute to see her try to wake him up and then fall asleep on his chest.
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