My Neighbor Totoro
March 30, 2006
Hayao Miyazaki’s movies have the ability to put you back into that innocent mindset when you were a child and that is was makes them so superior to the current crop of meager Disney fare. His films are filled with beauty and wonder and this is no more apparent then in his 1988 film, My Neighbor Totoro, which follows the adventures of two little girls, Satsuki and her four-year-old sister, Mei. They have just moved into a new home in the country with their father. Their mother is sick in the hospital with Tuberculosis (much like Miyazaki’s mother when he was young). Much to the girls’ delight their new home is near a stream with fish and a huge tree that towers over the house. They spend their time exploring all the rooms in the new house and run into several soot spreaders (that would make an appearance in a later Miyazaki movie, Spirited Away) that hide from them. Because these little girls are innocent, only they are able to see magical creatures like the soot mites.
Satsuki and Mei help their father and the Nanny clean up the house. While Satsuki is at school during the day, Mei plays outside in the yard and spots a little bunny-like ghost that disappears and then appears before her very eyes as if playing a game with her. Mei then spots something that resembles a cross between a cat and a rabbit and chases it into the large tree. Deep inside the tree she comes across a gigantic sleeping cat (a cautionary tale to cats everywhere – this is what happens if you eat too much!). She names the large, sleepy feline Totoro after the troll in her picture book.
Miyazaki introduces the magical elements gradually with the brief appearances by the soot spreaders (that, at night, fly up into the sky and head for the large tree near the house). My Neighbor Totoro evokes those endless summer days when you were a child and would spend hours playing outside, losing all track of time. The film captures perfectly how little kids amuse themselves with the games that they invent. In a nice touch, instead of scoffing at Mei’s admittedly fantastic story, her father encourages her to pay respect to the tree and the denizens of the forest.
My Neighbor Totoro celebrates the simple pleasures in life, like playing in the puddles when it rains. Like all Miyazaki films this one is filled with images that are at once stunning and whimsical, like the bus that is a huge cat with its eyes as headlights (and a huge Cheshire grin) that is able to fly and travel along power lines. My Neighbor Totoro is a great example of magic realism with beans sprouting suddenly into a huge tree and a large flying cat transporting the two girls across the night sky. In a way, this fantasy world is how Satsuki and Mei deal with their mother being sick as they are forced to face the real possibility that she might die – something that a lot of children don’t confront in these kinds of movies. My Neighbor Totoro is the perfect marriage of your childhood experiences and your childhood dreams.
“Behind the Microphone.” The American voice actors talk about how much they enjoyed working on a Miyazaki movie. We get to see them in action, recording their dialogue. This is a standard puff piece as everyone gushes about the project.
“Opening and Ending Title Sequence Art” lets you watch the animated sequences that book end the film without any text so that you can admire their artistry.
Also included is a theatrical trailer.
The second disc allows you to watch the entire film in its storyboard form.