My Neighbor Totoro (1988): the best Studio Ghibli movie?

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my neighbor totoro
my neighbor totoro

My Neighbor Totoro is a 1988 Studio Ghibli movie written and directed by the famous creator Hayao Miyazaki.  Set in 1950s rural Japan, the animated movie tells the story of sisterly love, innocence, and of magic that seeps into everyday life.

I have recently watched it and fell in love with its every aspect, from the original voice acting and soundtrack to the story. My Neighbor Totoro is available on Netflix. Here is the trailer:

The plot of My Neighbor Totoro

University teacher Tatsuo Kusakabe moves to a village house with his two daughters, waiting for his wife’s discharge from the hospital. They discover the beauty of rural life but also confront its volatility. Satsuki, the eldest daughter, takes charge of little Mei’s upbringing while also helping her parents and being a good student. On the other hand, 4-year-old Mei explores her new home and, one day discovers a gateway to a fairyland, where she meets Totoro and his little helpers. The god-like entity, visible only to the sisters, joins and protects them throughout the movie.

Reality and fantasy blend, thus illustrating the Shinto philosophy, which states that nature is alive. Totoro itself is supposedly a forest spirit who commands the trees and the weather.

Some bad news about the mother’s health disturbs the family’s life, separating its members. After a  fruitless search, Satsuki asks her gentle neighbor Totoro for help.

SPOILER ALERT

My Neighbor Totoro has a happy ending. I started to fear a dramatic turn at some point, and I really, really, really hoped nobody was going to die. Well, Hayao Miyazaki gave us a peaceful closure instead. So, rest assured and get comfy: this fairytale is the perfect balm for an aching heart or a tired mind.

So, what‘s to love about My Neighbor Totoro?

Everything, I’d say. From the character design to the story, every element blends seamlessly with the others, creating a dreamlike experience that fills the soul with joy.

In Studio Ghibli productions, the scenery plays an equally important role as the characters. As viewers, we discover the beauty of Japanese village life through two enthusiastic young girls’ eyes. It’s almost like we have moved in with them. The vibrant colors, the peaceful landscapes, and the innocent dialogues make emotionally invested in the story without even realizing it.

Even though I am a single child, I enjoyed the dynamic between Satsuki and Mei. It felt realistic with its ups and downs, but the childish conflicts gave way to the unconditional love between siblings.

Another element I’ve appreciated about My Neighbor Totoro is its realistic location – at least up to a point, of course! Therefore, it gives us glimpses into everyday Japanese customs and culture, such as cuisine, the traditional lifestyle, and speech patterns. As somebody who had wanted to visit Japan since childhood, watching this animated movie was a precious experience.

Lovable characters

My Neighbor Totoro focuses on Satsuki and Mei and their journey to adapt to their new lifestyle. The other characters, mainly the adults, are merely sketched through dialogue, which fits a child’s egocentric way of thinking.

Let’s start with few words on Totoro, the lovely giant who lives in a camphor tree. His design inspires gentleness and playfulness, a mix that makes you want to hug him. That’s precisely what Mei and Satsuki do many times, finding comfort in Totoro’s arms when their father was busy or when they were frightened. Some kids have imaginary friends; the Kusakabe managed to befriend a spirit god instead. Their relationship appeals to that forever young part in each of us that dreamed of discovering new worlds and making friends with mythical creatures.

Satsuki is my favorite character (besides the titular) due to her complexity. Always down for some mischief, curious, she is Mei’s model and protector. Even so, she has a superior level of understanding and displays a mature way of thinking. She’s a responsible student by day and explores the magical realm in her dreams. Satsuki is at the border between children’s and adult’s life, between mundane and spiritual. She has trouble balancing every aspect of her life because she is still so young, but her heart is in the right place. Her efforts to reconcile with Mei when she was hurting too speak volumes of her growth as a person.

My enthusiastic rant has come to an end. Whether you’re new in Hayao Miyazaki’s universe, or you’re a die-hard fan, My Neighbor Totoro is the best choice when it comes to movie night. The gentle giant and his human friends will warm your heart!

Lastly, suppose you want to explore Studio Ghibli’s animated movies further. In that case, you can read a review on Howl’s Moving Castle here.

 

 

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