MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO (TONARI NO TOTORO) (Hayao Miyazaki, 1988)
no time at all sisters Satsuki (Noriko Hidaka) and Mei (Chika Sakamoto)
enjoy exploring the new home they moved into with their father
(Shigesato Itoi) in MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO. They laugh about its less than
pristine condition and are intrigued by the dust bunnies--or soot
sprites, as an elderly woman (Tanie Kitabayashi) nearby calls them--that
scatter when they throw open the doors and windows to long-closed
rooms. This new place suits them fine, although they’d prefer for their
hospital-bound mother (Sumi Shimamoto) to have joined them already.
Satsuki is at school and her father works in his office, four-year-old
Mei wanders around the garden where she spots two small, unfamiliar
creatures. She chases them into the forest and encounters a much larger
one that also resembles an egg-shaped cat and rabbit hybrid. Mei tells
her sister and father that she met a totoro, or a troll from one of her
storybooks. She wants to introduce them but is unable to find the way
back to the spirits. The totoro reappear from time to time to enhance
the girls’ appreciation of nature and to comfort them when distressed.
a hangout movie for kids, MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO pleases with its easygoing
pace, curiosity about the natural world, and sweet spirit. It’s not
quite a plotless film, but there’s an ambling feel to the unfolding
story, as though these are just a few days plucked from the stream of
Satsuki and Mei’s time. They play, they learn, and they rest. Discovering the totoro is as and no more noteworthy than spotting any
other woodland animal.
NEIGHBOR TOTORO lacks a villain, although the illness of the girls’
mother is a concern to the youngsters. Here again writer-director Hayao
Miyazaki takes a different tack, choosing not to impart major lessons
or have his characters pursue self-actualization. Instead he portrays
such a matter as part of life rather than an all-consuming worry. The
children fret but are reassured by both parents and the old woman who
sometimes looks over them.
characterizes the children as children in all of their brash,
inquisitive, creative, and vulnerable ways. MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO respects
where kids are in their development and provides them an unhurried
space to continue to explore at their own speed. Not much happens, yet
every day is an adventure. Few films understand childhood in such terms
and present it in such beautiful imagery.