My Thoughts on My Neighbor Totoro- A Japanese Animated Film

Simple yet beautiful and extremely captivating. This is how I would describe the film My Neighbor Totoro. Every time I watch a 2D Japanese animated film, I always get the feeling that what I am watching is real – no complicated computer graphics and just authentic hand drawn images digitized to serve a large number of audience.

This film is probably the oldest animated film I’ve watched by far. Initially released on January 1 1988, My Neighbor Totoro is another fantasy film written and directed by the great Hayao Miyazaki and produced by one of the few remaining studios in Japan which uses hand-drawn images for their films, Studio Ghibli. This film also made it to the international stage via Streamline Pictures in 1988, Troma Films in the same year, Walt Disney Pictures on March 7, 2006 and Madman on March 15, 2006. Both Walt Disney and Madman re-released the film with a new dub cast. (
Set in 1955, in the town of Matsuko with vast ricefield, My Neigbor Totoro revolves on the story of two sisters– Satsuki and Mei, who, together with their father, Katsuraba, moved house in order to be closer to the hospital where their mother was confined.

It didn’t take long for the girls to get used to the place. Soon enough, Satsuki, the eldest of the two, made friends in her new school and Mei, the 4-year old girl found new friends in their very own garden.

mei my-neighbor-totoro-crawling-through-bush

One day, while playing in the garden, Mei discovered a mystical creature walking towards their house. Being the playful girl that she is, she started following that creature, discovered another one with a different color, followed them into the trees and found the bigger version- which she called Totoro.

It’s great to see that Mei didn’t show even a patch of hesitation in approaching Totoro. I realized that little kids are really like that- fearless and as always, full of curiosity. She then told her sister and father about her one of a kind experience that day. At first she felt that her father and sister didn’t believe in her. But in the end, she was given the assurance that mystical creatures like Totoro do exists and they are the ones responsible for guarding the forest. The father showed a good example by leading the girls to pay their respects to the forest gods.

totoro-2 in the rain

Satsuki, who was also very curious of Totoro had her wish granted one night. While waiting for their father at the bus stop, Totoro suddenly appeared with a big leaf on his head, also waiting for his own bus. Satsuki then offered the umbrella she brought for her father to Totoro which the latter warmly accepted. One memorable scene for me was when Totoro, enjoying the sound of raindrops on his umbrella, jumped with all his might to have all the raindrops fall on him. I find that scene really funny.

In addition, I also like the part where Satsuki, realizing they have an extraordinary friend, asked Totoro’s help to find Mei. Mei planned to go to the hospital on her own but got lost along the way (she had a fight with her sister before that and was really disappointed and sad knowing that their mother still can’t go home) causing the whole village and Satsuki to look for her. Totoro didn’t think twice on helping Satsuki find her sister. He immediately summoned the Catbus to help his friend find Mei. Of course, the Catbus found Mei in a breeze and also gave them a ride to the hospital so Mei can give the corn she personally picked to her mom. It was such a lovely sight- the sisters and the Catbus on a tree watching their parents have a hearty conversation. From there, they were able to prove that their mother will be fine soon and that all she need is just a little more time to rest in the hospital.

mei satsuki catbus

It was also a great sight to see the village people working hand in hand to find Mei. Satsuki, despite being tired and soaked in sweat, never gave up in finding her sister. That’s love. It was really heartwarming to see them reunited.

I think what makes this film special is because of the fact that it perfectly depicts the kind of love that we all hope to have in such a simple and beautiful way– love within the family, love within the community, and love within an unfamiliar territory. The kind of friendship that these two girls have with Totoro is also something I personally wish to have…literally and figuratively. I strongly believe that there are creatures other than humans and animals who dwell on this earth.

It’s good that in some ways, this film also taught its viewers the importance of paying respects to entities that we rarely or not even see it all.

Hayao Miyazaki is such a genius for crafting a story like this one (I know I sound like a broken record now. I’m running out of superlatives to describe him). All the character in his film perfectly match each other. The fact that Miyazaki also uses his own experiences and drew inspiration from people around him in creating stories and characters make his films even more genuine. It’s like through his films, he is able to converse with the viewers. So if you want to have a hearty and memorable conversation with a great artist like Hayao Miyazaki, watch his films! I’m sure every minute spent will be worth it! 🙂

(Photos not mine, credits to their rightful owners)


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