My Neighbor Totoro

My Neighbor Totoro ★★★★½

“To-to-ro? You're Totoro!"

While My Neighbour Totoro is one of the lightest Ghibli films when it comes to their signature fantastical stories, it is defintely not lacking when it comes to delivering some strong heartfelt emotion.

I'll admit I was a little underwhelmed the first I saw this, because I was expecting the same level of adventure as one of Director Hayao Miyazaki's other films like 'Spirited Away' or 'Howl's Moving Castle'. So this time I adjusted my expectations about getting to see much of Totoro, and found that this approach allowed me to connect much more with the little girls at the center of the film.

“Everybody, try laughing. Then whatever scares you will go away!”

In the story two little girls named Satsuki and Mei move into an old house in the country side with their father, while their mother is recovering at the hospital. The girls notice a hint of magic when they see these mysterious soot gremlins hiding in the shadows of their spooky new home.

“That's wonderful ... I've always wanted to have a haunted house. It's been my lifelong dream!”

The film is mostly told thru the prospective of these girls during this difficult time in a new setting without their mother, and these fantasy elements can be seen as a metaphor for what the children are coming up with in their imagination to help them coop.

For instance when Mei is left alone to play by herself for the day, she needs help to pass the time, so that's when this huge bunny like creature appears to help entertain her. No explanation is provided, Totoro just roars and we are left to come up with our own ideas about what this forrest spirit is all about. But it is clear that he only appears to the children in their times of need, to help bring a smile to their faces.

"Hey let's go, hey let's go ... I'm happy as can be!"

Similar to 'Ponyo', the music of My Neighbor Totoro is super whimsical and had me and my kids humming the themes for days. I also enjoyed the creative sound design used in quiet moments, like when it was raining and we get to hear these fun pinging sounds that play into the music, similar to the sounds a child may come up with in their mind to fill a quiet moment.

Hayao Miyazaki's beautifully animates these realistic settings, which really helps to highlight the fantasy elements when they are occasionally introduced.

By far my favorite scene each time has be the cat bus scene. That may be one of the most imaginative characters I have ever seen with him having headlights for eyes, stretching to help people get on, running as fast as the wind, and being invisible to grown ups.

Spoilers...

Being so immersed in the story of these two sisters, I found myself really feeling that sense of dread the community and Satsuki have when Mei goes missing. The part where they find a shoe floating in the water, and they ask Satsuki if it belongs to her sister is so perfectly timed to hold the tension of the moment, before providing that release as we learn that it is not Mei's shoe. Then we get an excellent pay off as Totoro sweeps in on the cat bus right at the peak of the girl's critical time of need, to help them reunite and go see that their mommy is ok.

So where I original thought Totoro's character was not used enough, I now feel the film is so much more well rounded since he perfectly comes into play in each situation when the girls need him, which also increases in intensity throughout the story.

My Neighbor Totoro is a fantastic animated film to introduce young kids into the magical world of anime cinema, and as long as you are expecting a simple and gentle story from the prospective of a child, you may also find yourself being taken my Totoro's cute and magical awesomeness.

“I'll be back.”
- The Terminator

Happy movie watching ... SKOL!

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