Wednesday, November 07, 2012

My Neighbor Totoro


In 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.

While 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.

As 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.  

MY 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.  

Miyazaki 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.  

Grade: B

No comments:

Post a Comment