Synopsis: In My Neighbor Totoro, sisters Satsuki and Mei have just completed moving to a new house with their father. Their mother, however, is in a nearby hospital sick. Soon after moving in, the sisters encounter some supernatural oddities in their house. And to top it off, Mei stumbles across an unusual neighbor, a totoro – a furry raccoon-ish spirit that resides in the nearby forest who plays a major role in their lives.
My Neighbor Totoro’s Highlights
Visuals: Reminiscent of earlier Ghibli works.
Setting: Enchanting and infused with magic.
Music: Wonderful and soothing
Characters: Charming and relatable.
My Neighbor Totoro is a Delight
Review: I was deep into my adult years when I watched My Neighbor Totoro for the first time. Even though the movie is ostensibly for kids, there was an energy and an imagination to it that was riveting. How could one feel any other emotion but delight when the catbus makes its jaunty entrance to carry Totoro away?
If the enchanting parade of soot sprites or the appearance of the eponymous teddy bear-like totoro are all the movie had to offer, it would still be a fine film. But what elevates it beyond a kid’s flick is its portrayal of the Kusakabe family.
Satsuki and Mei occupy center stage in this film and their day to day concerns are immediately relatable. There’s the unrestrained joy at the prospect of moving into a new house and the eagerness for the adventures that are soon to follow. There’s the simmering hopefulness that picks up during the hospital visits that their mother can join them in their new abode. And, of course, there’s Mei’s stubborn desire of wanting to be at her older sister, Satsuki’s, side. Never mind the fact that Satsuki must attend school or that they must wait in the rain for their father’s return.
And speaking of their father, his presence in the film is understated, but nevertheless brims with compassion and warmth. Throughout the film, the wealth of support he offers his daughters was touching. Whether he was divulging factoids about the world or taking his daughters at their word when they recounted their encounter with the fantastical Totoro, his interactions with Satsuki and Mei were always patiently reassuring. His demeanor precisely captured the sort of parent I wanted to be.
And then I became a dad. And when my daughter turned 3, I was able to share Totoro with her.
She took to the film right away. The way in which she seamlessly empathized with the characters was striking. Not surprisingly, she saw the younger sister Mei as a kindred spirit. She’d imitate Mei’s explorations around the new house, squeal with delight when the smaller white totoro appeared, and even copy the motion the characters made when the totoros came to help the plants grow. And yes, she cried when the two sisters argued about their mother’s illness and when Mei got lost.
Those conflicts would raise the stakes high enough to make for a satisfying payoff. My daughter’s eyes would light up when Totoro lent the sisters their aid. The journey the girls took to resolve it filled her with joy and wonder. Sure, she might sing the Totoro theme song just a bit too much and I might have to bear her humming the “Wind” theme from Joe Hisaishi’s excellent score for days on end. But it’s a testament to Miyazaki’s vision that Totoro‘s magical qualities can so effortlessly touch viewers young and old alike.
Rating: Very Good