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My Neighbor Totoro: Special Edition DVD Review

My Neighbor Totoro: Special Edition

March 18, 2010

Director: Hayao Miyazaki,
Starring: Noriko Hidaka, Chika Sakamoto, Shigesato Itoi, Sumi Shimamoto, Tanie Kitabayashi, Hitoshi Takagi, Yûko Maruyama, Machiko Washio,

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DVD Review

Hayao Miyazaki’s films have the ability to put you back into that innocent mindset when you were a child and that is what 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 than 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. 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 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 films. My Neighbor Totoro is the perfect marriage of your childhood experiences and your childhood dreams.

Special Features:

There is a feature that allows you watch the entire film in its original Japanese storyboard form.

“Behind the Studio” is comprised of six featurettes that cover various aspects of My Neighbor Totoro. The film started off as a storybook that Miyazaki wrote and that helped rekindle his love for Japanese landscapes. He also talks about how he came up with the name Totoro and the various sizes of the character throughout the film. The film’s producer talks about the origins of the studio’s name. A 28-minute featurette explores the locations that inspired the film with footage of the actual places in this fascinating extra. The film’s composer talks about specific musical cues, like Totoro’s theme and how he felt that the character’s first appearance should have a musical introduction and not just sound effects.

Also included is the original Japanese trailer.

“Behind the Microphone” takes a brief look at the American version of My Neighbor Totoro with some of the voice actors talking about their love of the film and how they approach the job of dubbing their respective characters.

Finally, there is “Enter the Lands,” which allows you to take a brief look at various characters from several of Miyazaki’s films.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 95%

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