One of the advantages of doing an Anime themed month is that I’m finally able to make a dent in my to watch list for things I’ve been wanting to see for ages. It’s a small dent though, mind you, as I wouldn’t even call my anime to watch list a list anymore. It’s become more like an encyclopedia, one I probably won’t complete in this lifetime. Unless I somehow get turned into a creature who doesn’t need sleep. But I’m getting a little bit of topic here I guess. Moving on. Hayao Miyazaki is a name that many of you are probably familiar with. He is responsible for creating numerous breathtaking films like Howl’s Moving Castle, The Wind Rises and Spirited Away to name but a few of this movies. Often cited as being the Japanese Walt Disney, most of his films are family friendly and can be enjoyed by pretty much everyone. I have seen quite a number of his film, and have always been captivated by his incredible style, both when it comes to the often hand drawn animation itself, as well as the incredible stories he’s told with his films. For some reason though, one of his best known movies My Neighbour Totoro, has always eluded me. As almost all of his films are now available to watch on Netflix, this month became the perfect opportunity to finally watch what I hoped would be another masterpiece.
The two sisters Satsuki and Mei are excited! They are about to move into a new house together with their dad Tatsuo Kusakabe who is a professor at a university. Although new is a bit of a relative term, because the house itself is incredibly old, and though very homely, seems like it could fall apart at any second. So why move there in the first place one would think? There’s actually a very good reason for that. The sister’s mother is currently lying in the hospital near their new house, so in this way they can be closer to her. Upon arrival they immediately begin exploring their new place. But it seems the house is already occupied. Not by anything human though, but by little tiny black creatures, that an old Nanny who lives near them and takes care of a boy called Kanta, identifies as soot spirits. These always occupy houses that are empty but will leave once the girls and their dad are comfortable in the new place. Sure enough they eventually do. One day though, when Mei is out playing in the forests near the house, she finds there’s something else that has taken up residence too. But this creature isn’t tiny, it’s humongous. The large spirit soon gets the name Totoro, and this kind and gentle creature will eventually play a very important role in the lives of the two girls.
Right from the start after the opening credits, I felt myself once again becoming engulfed in the incredible magic that Miyazaki always manages to create with his films. The beautiful hand drawn animation, despite dating back to 1988 looks incredibly vibrant, and the entire color palette of the movie looks absolutely stunning. I’ve always been more of a fan of this style over computer generated animation. Not that there is anything wrong with the latter, but for me personally this just works better. While this is a movie that is clearly aimed at a young audience, unless you are an incredible cynic with a stone cold heart, it’s impossible to not find enjoyment in this movie as an adult as well. It makes you rediscover the inner child that deep down you know has never left you in the first place. It’s a really heartwarming movie, but admittedly I do have to say that I found the story itself not one of the film’s selling points. The focus overall is mostly on the children’s unique relationship with the spirits, and because of this what could have become a really emotional ride considering their mother is sick, that bridge is never crossed. Maybe though that is for the best, as this movie is clearly meant to entertain and delight children, who will really love the ride they are taken on.
Speaking of children, it’s the characters themselves that are the the strong points of the film. Mei is a real firecracker, alive with energy and pretty much fearless despite her young age. She loves her mother, and has a hard time dealing with the fact that she’s not at home. In a way encountering the giant Totoro, is almost the best thing that could have happened to her, as it does take her mind of that fact, at least for a while. The bond with her older sister is equally strong, and the two girls do depend on each other, despite their occasional sibling quarrels. Satsuki is definitely the older sister, both in terms of age as well as acting, pretty much being a role model to the young Mei. I really liked the fact that despite having her own worries about their mom’s condition, she always kept being strong. The few times you see their mother in the hospital, you can see why the girls love her so much. A kind, very gentle woman, she truly defines what it means being a mother. And let’s face it, mums are the best right? However, let’s also not forget the dad’s role in this, as he takes care of the girls on his own, while trying to make ends meet. Despite his busy life, he always has a kind word to say to the sisters, finding time to play with them, and never getting mad. The parent of the year award should definitely be heading his way soon.
It’s Totoro himself, or should I say itself, that is really the heart of this movie. Even though I had never seen the film in my life, I saw his image everywhere at conventions. He kept looking at me with that almost quizzical look of his, as if he was asking me: “ Why haven’t you yet watched my movie?”. It’s a character that has become an icon, and it’s a credit to it’s designer to create something that is so incredibly loveable. I mean just look at some of the pictures in this post, and tell me how you can’t like something as cute as that. He becomes the girls rock to hold on during their difficult times, and helps keep their spirits (pun intended) alive. My Neighbour Totoro is classic Miyazaki. Did the film meet my expectations though? Well, not completely. While I really did enjoy the film, don’t get me wrong, there’s this small voice in the back of my mind that keeps telling me I wasn’t completely satisfied. It’s most certainly not the best Miyazaki I have seen, but it’s definitely one that every anime fan should have watched at least once in his life. You will certainly not have any regrets by doing so, and every once in a while it’s great to feel like a kid again. Not that I have stopped doing that anyway….
I give My Neighbour Totoro a 8 out of 10 score.