MY NEIGHBOUR TOTORO

1988; written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki; 83 mins

See, I just thought this was completely adorable! Enchanting, magical and utterly adorable in all the right ways. As has been the case before on this blog, it’s a film that’s sole aim is to be genuinely nice and make you happy. A welcome relief from the great but tense and nerve-wracking films and TV shows I’ve watched recently…

Satsuki and Mei are two happy, noisy young sisters who have moved to the countryside with their Dad to be nearer their mother, who is in hospital suffering from an undisclosed condition. They are overjoyed by their ramshackle new house but they soon discover that it and the surrounding forest contain a multitude of strange creatures, including the titular Totoro, a massive hamster-like deity with magical powers to help the girls in their exciting new home.

There is pretty much no antagonist in this movie. Aside from Kanta, a young boy who lives nearby but he’s essentially just a boy who dislikes gross girls because he’s embarrassed around them. Equally, Satsuki doesn’t like him because he’s a boy and so he’s gross and stupid too. The film’s about the time in a child’s life when fantasy and wonder at the world around them are still a very real and tangible thing. It’s also when the adults will still humour them, so they are initially afraid of the dustbunnies around the house but Dad (Tatsuo) tells the girls to be happy and laugh until the spirits go away. They are taught to respect and to embrace the ethereal and this is no set up for a fall. When Mei discovers Totoro, she is not afraid, she’s delighted and immediately wants to befriend him. Nor does Totoro ever turn on the girls or get riled by them. Again, when Mei discovers him, he is not at all bothered by her climbing up on top of him and nestling into his fur. It kind of has that feel of Terrence Malick‘s best stuff from The Tree of Life, when the camera is looking up at the ordinary in awe but obviously this film stops short of disappearing up it’s own rear end.

It goes without saying that Miyazaki and art director, Kazuo Oga have created a beautiful little world that reminded me as much of The Wind in the Willows video I used to have and gift shop paintings of the South of England as any anime. The very 80s soundtrack, surprisingly, really works a quiet treat alongside the gentle visuals. Normally, I can’t get on with the pop songs that so often accompany Japanese films but not so here.

Final words should go to Chika Sakamoto and Noriko Hidaka as the voices of the two girls, without whom the whole venture would just be paper and ink. For such a constructed form as animation, the naturalism in their voices brings the characters out into the real world as little children, still in that idyllic bubble, whose innocence will soon get left behind…

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4 thoughts on “MY NEIGHBOUR TOTORO

  1. Yeah, the wonderful visuals of the movie is really what makes it special, but I also love the meticulous animation. simple scenes of carrying a box looks wonderfully animated. Hayao Miyazaki is insanely detailed like this, and his old school style certainly makes this movie amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

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