An inarguable masterpiece of gentle, sweet storytelling combined with gorgeous hand-drawn animation, My Neighbor Totoro is an indisputable classic of anime from famed Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli. Aimed squarely at tots, but utterly enjoyable by all ages, Totoro manages to be both squealingly cute and sweetly melancholy.
Satsuki and her little sister Mei move to the countryside with their father. The family is moving closer to the hospital, where the girls’ mother is interred. Though you never know quite what ails their young mother, it is obvious that it is a long-term illness; the girls are promised that their mother will get to visit home for a weekend, only to find the visit canceled, yet again. The film plays this subplot very well, as it is told from the perspective of the girls; you only know that they miss their mother terribly, but they always have hope that she will one day come home.
The family’s rental house is haunted by mischievous dust sprites that scurry into corners from the light. But it isn’t scary… the girls are at first curious, then simply delighted. And simple delight is a mood that runs throughout this wonderful film as these city girls view all aspects of the country life with wonder and pleasure. This movie has perhaps the highest amount of half-orange smiles and collapses of giggles as any Ghibli film, and of course that is a good thing.
If things weren’t already exciting a new, they meet Totoro, a magical beast of the forest who is huge, rotund, and soft, with a yawning roar that can shake the gigantic camphor tree in which he resides. Totoro is one of those creatures that perhaps can only been seen by children, or perhaps only be seen by those who believe in him. The girls’ father is trusting enough that he believes the girls’ story of Totoro and his trusty transport Catbus (!!!!)… and when drama strikes later in the film, Satsuki knows that Totoro can help.
My Neighbor Totoro is so sweet and good in so many ways. There are nice messages about respecting nature, and respecting your elders; the importance of family, and the importance of community. Simply put: Take care of each other. Whenever I watch My Neighbor Totoro, it seems that I’m watching it for the first time, it is so rich and wonderful. And unlike so many films, it manages to convey so purely a fresh wonder at the world. Even if you are not a child, this wonder is a treat to hold on to, if only for awhile. Simply put, this movie is a treasure.
Disney presents another Stateside re-release of Studio Ghibli’s My Neighbor Totoro in a 2-disc Special Edition DVD set. It comes with a collectible litho, and all the extras are on the second disc. Fascinatingly, it includes all the storyboards from the film that are assembled so the story is told, full feature-length with the soundtrack put real-time to the rough sketches (this would be a treat for animators). Also, a slew of featurettes are included under the banner of “The World of Ghibli,” including new interviews with director Miyazaki (yay!), the producer of Totoro, and the composer of all of Miyazaki’s films. Plus there are interactive maps of various Ghibli films with trailer-like previews and character descriptions.