My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

“Well, ghosts are a lot harder to see. But when you suddenly move from a lighted room to a dark one, you can’t see for a second, and that’s when the dust bunnies come out.”

‘My Neighbor Totoro’, directed by Hayao Miyazaki in 1988, is a Studio Ghibli animated childrens film. It tells the story of two sisters who, with their father, move to the Japanese countryside to be close to their mother who is in hospital. Once there they explore the village and woodland around their house and discover a variety of spirit creatures including the large and gentle Totoro of the title. It’s a magical film, as soft and gentle as ‘Grave of the Fireflies’ is edgy and profound. The creatures in the story, including Totoro itself, a colony of sooty sprites and a giant cat bus, are weird but not creepy in the way that they are in ‘Spirited Away’. Totoro in particular has that degree of comical charm, for example when he shelters beneath a ridiculously small umbrella, to give him that feeling of safety and to dispel any feelings of threat towards the children. There are hints of Lewis Carroll in the creatures and in the plot, the younger sister at one point literally falls down what could be a rabbit hole. What I took away from the film though was its focus on nature and the way it created a consistent and believable village for the setting. When the children explore you have the feeling the roads and paths they traverse are planned and mapped by the artists. This consistency extends to the almost Tarkovsky-like use of rain, water and weather to give the film an extra texture. Despite the fact it is an animated fantasy, unlike no other film I had the sense of having experienced rural Japan.

Would I recommend it? Yes – with ‘Grave of the Fireflies’ as an interesting counter-point or even ‘Alice’ – if you can take the taxidermied rabbit… Or even ‘Paddington’, because everyone needs to see ‘Paddington’.

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