miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro

16 Feb

this is a fond glance at a well-loved anime classic…

The other day, while I was rearranging my CDs, I stumbled across an old anime favorite (Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro) that got mixed up in the pile by mistake. Without further ado, I popped it in my player.


As the familiar strains of the upbeat opening song wafted into my tiny living room, I was once again gently reminded why I (and thousands of other viewers) like his films so much. As nostalgic trips go, this film is note-perfect for its insidious charm that soothes you down like a comfortable pair of slippers.

Among Miyazaki’s animated films, I’ve always found My Neighbor Totoro (Tonari no Totoro; 1988) the easiest to relate to because, notwithstanding its supernatural elements, the story is essentially grounded in reality (with subtle autobiographical brush strokes) and takes place in a sleepy rural setting.

The movie has no overt violent scenes, which should make this animated feature fairly suitable even to young children, although it does deal with the threat of loss and pain as only a child can sense it. The film teems with childlike wonder, discovery and ready acceptance of extraordinary incidents. Basically, it’s one anime title that I’d be pleased to recommend to anyone regardless of his/her age.

hayao31.jpgThe animation, as expected for a Studio Ghibli offering, is top-notch, and the characters are well delineated. The story focuses on two young girls who, along with their father (a college professor), move into an old country house — a quaint, rustic structure complete with cobwebs, rotting posts and rattling windows — in order to be near the hospital where their mother is being treated. In one of her rambles, 4-year-old Mei (and later, along with the her older sister Satsuki) stumbles into the slumbering guardian spirit of the forest — a huge, cuddly, bear-like creature called Totoro, who’s apparently only visible to young children…

Without giving away the rest of the story (I really don’t want to spoil the experience for those who still haven’t seen it), there are several items in this film that should be fairly obvious to a Miyazaki enthusiast. The main protagonist is a young girl (or in the case, girls) who’s learning to grapple with the complexities of life (a recurring theme in many Studio Ghibli films such as Spirited Away, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Laputa Castle, Porco Rossi, etc.). There’s also an endearingly clumsy young boy, Kanta, who shows an abiding interest in planes/aviation (Kiki’s Delivery Service, Laputa Castle), a trait that Miyazaki shared as a child. This movie likewise highlights, in unobtrusive but touching instances, the way the Japanese show respect for their old and the ‘natural’ spirits around them.

totoro31.jpgI don’t know how much of what is shown in My Neighbor Totoro actually reflects Miyazaki’s childhood, but I’ve read somewhere that he was quite close to his grandmother and that his mother had also suffered from a serious ailment (TB) which required a lengthy hospital treatment. He’s known to care deeply for his female relations and I think it shows in the way he presents his female characters, even those who are initially perceived as the villainess of the piece.

2 Responses to “miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro

  1. Liz March 23, 2008 at 11:21 pm #

    I have watched this movie numerous times. It was my all time favorite movie growing up and I still enjoy it today! Now at 16yrs old I still pop it in and watch it! Sweet memories. I recommennd it for anyone! ^_^

  2. onyxx March 25, 2008 at 11:19 pm #

    finally — a kindred spirit! 🙂
    whenever somebody asks me why i like watching anime, my usual reply is: “have you watched My Neighbor Totoro?”

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