Miyazaki Showcase: My Neighbour Totoro

July 1, 2004 on 11:38 pm | In My Neighbour Totoro | Comments Off on Miyazaki Showcase: My Neighbour Totoro

Despite being a film in which essentially nothing happens, My Neighbour Totoro is one of the simplest and greatest pleasures that anime has to offer.
The film is nothing more or less than the story of two girls who move to the countryside with their father while their mother convalesces in hospital and occasionally meet Totoro, the “kings of the forest”. There’s little more to it than this, as it’s really just a collection of events in the children’s lives with a sad bit thrown in and a moving ending.

It’s very hard not to like this movie; it’s enjoyable even in its FOX dubbed form (which will soon go out of print and be replaced by the Disney dub). The Totoro are memorable characters but in reality receive very little in the way of screen time. Satsuki and Mei are the film’s true stars and the reason it’s such a lovely effort is because Miyazaki perfectly catches a child’s sense of wonder. Everything is so perfectly innocent and honest.
Mei herself is at the age before children have come to understand social mores or general volume control. This is essentially licence to allow her to say anything, and very loudly. While Satsuki is less brutally honest, it’s their childish acceptance of circumstance and bizarre situations that makes the film such a delight. The other layer to their characters is that young children are, of course, prone to crying. These girls are not afraid of much, but when they do cry the drama quotient rises quite effectively. The final fifteen minutes of the film are quite harrowing and the very, very happy ending makes for a most excellent pay off.
Because I’m quite prone to crying (at anime) myself, I was hit.

The production values are typically high for a Studio Ghibli film; lush backgrounds and simple character designs. Miyazaki’s concerns are traditionally environmental, and at times he has been accused of coming on too strong. While My Neighbour Totoro stars the environment, it can in no way be considered a film with any sort of message. The design of films such as this are what makes so many people fall in love with Japan. The presentation of a Japan that may never have existed, a perfect Japan not overrun by industry, with some dilapidated but still present links to its strong spiritual roots.
The beauty of the countryside shown in this film is essentially justification for the frequently strong environmental messages of anime, because it’s not the most easily replenishable natural resource. The ideal Japan, free of political struggle, able to recognise itself. To some it may seem to be dangerous nostalgia, but it’s the irresistably romantic lure that seemingly can only be found in anime.

My Neighbour Totoro could be described as the base Miyazaki film. At their core, all of Miyazaki’s films are essentially the same. This should not be construed as a criticism, as Miyazaki has clearly composed a diverse oeuvre of film; it’s just that each of these films boast the irrepressible spirit of Miyazaki, and it is this vitality that has made each of his films as timeless as they are. The forestry of the film links it closely to Princess Mononoke, the sense of nothing happening but being led on a journey gives the impression of Spirited Away. Each film stands alone, but the ability of Miyazaki to make the audience reflect on other works and issues, is testimony to his ability.

My Neighbour Totoro is a 90 minute examination of the time two girls spend living in the countryside. It does not profess to being anything else and succeeds admirably. It’s less a film than it is the commission of emotion to the animated form. As horrible as it sounds to say it: My Neighbour Totoro is an experience, and one that an anime watcher should not be without.

Postscript: After having written this, I realised I hadn’t mentioned anything of the Totoro. Their appearances are fun, heartwarming and hilarious, but they’re surprisingly quite incidental. The family unit is the important part of the film.

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