a.k.a. Tonari no Totoro
Satsuki, along with her little sister, Mei, and father, move to the country side just outside of Tokyo. Their house is in need of repair, but it is close to her hospitalized mother and it’s home. The house’s proximity to an ancient, sacred tree puts the two girls in close contact with the local forest spirits. When they tell their parents of these encounters, Satsuki and Mei are looked upon as children with imaginations running wild.
summary by Kain
Highs: Miyazakish animation and narration; Hisaishi soundtrack; charming feel
Lows: Scenes drag at times; some key elements lost on Western viewers
Once upon a time (OK, 1988), a financially risky movie about two children and a forest spirit was released. To help its viewership, this movie was packaged with another that was destined for greatness, Grave of the Fireflies. Today, Totoro can rightfully stand on its own two feet as one of anime’s best.
Judging by the movie’s premise, the intended demographic can be deceiving. While many consider it an anime for children, it is in fact aimed at adults. Thus in lies Totoro‘s greatest asset: the ability to invoke nostalgia for a simpler, more innocent time. Few anime have left so many with a longing for childhood as this one has. Fans of Miyazaki’s works will feel instantly at home with the artwork and the story. I expect nothing less than to be willingly sucked into one of his fantastic worlds. This movie relies on character relationships and the realistic conveyance of childlike behavior to get its message across. The fact that Hisaishi Jo’s music feels so right for this movie is icing on the cake.
Through the forest of charming characters and creatures, one can see an anime that needs some help with pacing. Scenes here and there are stretched out for the sake of “dramatic pause”. I didn’t feel this technique was necessary to help even out the flow of events. Contrary to popular belief, Miyazaki films are not easily translatable for a Western audience. Seeing as how many of his anime are based on the intermingling of mankind and nature, his motifs rely heavily on Shintoism and Buddhism, not necessarily widely understood religions on this side of the pond.
Nevertheless, no anime “career” is complete without seeing this movie once. Or ten times. Make it a must on your list.
Highs: Great animation; imaginative but believable; fitting music
Lows: Could be a lot shorter
After watching so many movies full of violence and killing, it was great to take a break with a really fun anime that anyone can get into. While I was very skeptical in the beginning, I gave it time and was patient. I am glad I did because My Neighbor Totoro is creative, imaginative, and just plain fun.
The animation is simply amazing. The characters move so fluidly and humanlike I often forgot that what I was watching was hand-drawn. The music always seems to go perfectly with the scene; simple and goes with the mood. As for the story, it’s nothing that will give your brain a workout. It’s very simple and great if you just want to smile.
Totoro is not perfect. Yes, the story is fun, and the animation is top notch but the average anime fan that is accustomed to watching action-packed fight scenes will probably find it a little too kiddy. I basically felt like I was watching a Disney movie. Whether or not you enjoy that is something you should decide before picking this one up.
Like many out there, My Neighbor Totoro is a love it or hate it anime. You will either watch it and fall in love with it, or count the minutes until the end. Whether you are the first or the latter, I recommend that you watch it.
Highs: Incredibly believable characters; gorgeous sceneries
Lows: Missing details in story
Having any other director at the helm of this same story would have probably only amounted to some kind of marketing scam to sell Totoro plushies. But with the animation quality of Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki Hayao‘s almost unique ability to make children-oriented movies not only accessible to all but loved by all, the simple story of 2 girls moving in a new house becomes a wonderful experience for every age group.
Miyazaki Hayao’s movies all possess this wonderful depth in scenery that makes any ordinary or extraordinary place come alive, but My Neighbor Totoro shows him at his best in this field. One can only gasp at the first sight of Satsuki and Mei’s new home with all its little imperfections and randomly (or so it seems) placed objects, making it look more real than on actual pictures. The feeling of constant awe wears off as you get used to it, but every part of this film remains as minutely detailed and accessorized.
It might have been intentional that details about Totoro, the move and their mother’s sickness were left out since most children are not interested in such things, but I definitely was. A little bit more maturity in the storyline might have left me with fewer questions and more fulfilment. Nevertheless, you feel great after watching My Neighbor Totoro. The incredible authenticity of the voices, animation and reactions is enough for any viewer to relate to characters whom they barely know.
Regardless of your age, for these 86 minutes, you are a kid again. And everyone needs to feel that way once in a while.
My Neighbor Totoro can be downloaded legally in the United States HERE.