My Neighbour Totoro (1988)
Dir: Hayao Miyazaki
“You haven’t seen Totoro?… Go watch it, now, go, enjoy”
With those words my brother hung up the phone on me, and I did as I was told. I sat down to watch this beautiful japanese anime film made by the famous Studio Ghibli and its co-founder Hayao Miyazaki.
The story follows two little girls who move into a new house in the country with their father to be nearer their mother who is convalescing in a hospital. In and around their new home they encounter a variety of magical creatures, the main one being the Totoro of the title, a very large slightly rabbit-like creature who lives in the forest and can only be seen by the girls when he wants to.
For those not familiar with Studio Ghibli anime, this sort of storyline is nothing unusual, in fact it is Totoro who features in the company logo, and this genre is their mainstay. Ghibli films often have a beautiful and charming portrayal of childhood, using their hand-drawn style of animation, featuring distinctive expressions, sounds, and techniques. Often they weave in little pieces of Japanese folklore, such as the ‘Yōkai’ (phantoms) that feature in this story.
‘Yōkai’ actually means ‘weird’, and in any other hands that’s exactly how you might describe many of the Ghibli elements, as surreal or weird. In fact, this film features a character that is very much like the Cheshire Cat of the animated Disney version of ‘Alice in Wonderland’. However, rather than these aspects of their films being just odd, when handled by Ghibli, they invariably take on a lovely charming quality.
If you haven’t ever tried a Ghibli film yet, firstly my brother would be shocked at you, but he would also be quite right, and ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ is a wonderful way to introduce yourself to the work of the unique Studio Ghibli.