5 out of 5 stars
My Neighbour Totoro (or Tonari no Totoro as it was originally called) is yet another amazing anime from writer-director Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. The embracing plot line and adorable characters remind us what it is to be children and innocent. Like Europe’s Winnie the Pooh, Totoro is a fantasy character that is both caring and cuddly. His silence is offset by his expressive face and his ability to enthrall the watchers; both young and old.
My Neighbour Totoro follows two young sisters; Satsuki and Mei as the move to be closer to their sick mother. They move into a large, traditional, country Japanese home that is completely covered in dust. As the girls explore their new home, they discover dust bunnies (susuwatari) throughout the house. They quickly scurry away from the light, so until Mei catches one, neither girl is sure of what she is seeing. All in all, it is a slightly scary introduction for two young girls to a new home. This was great symbolism for moving into the unknown. Not only is the house literally covered in the dust of the past, the girls are continuously discovering new aspects of their new lives; from dust bunnies to having to pump their own water.
Mei, the youngest and by far the most energetic of the two children embodies every aspect of a younger sister, the relationship between her and Satsuki is exactly what I have experienced with my own sibling – happy rivalry; jealousy and frustration; and a deep-seated care for one another that can never be shaken. This is shown when Satsuki risks everything to find Mei after she runs away. She even asks the mythical Totoros (more specifically their leader, O Totoro) for help.
This film reminds us what family is all about, it is full of laughter, happiness and love. From their father, Professor Tatsuo Kusakabe, and his attempt at raising two very energetic children whilst helping his wife to recover from a long-term illness. To the quiet acceptance and love of both the mother and the kindness of their elderly neighbour. Miyazaki highlights the importance of family and love even in the toughest of situations.
My Neighbour Totoro doesn’t only focus on familial love and kindness; there is also a heavy ecological emphasis. And that’s where Totoro comes in. The Totoros (there are a number of these cute fuzzy things, with O Totoro acting as the large, supreme leader) are nature spirits. Or as Professor Tatsuo Kusakabe tells Mei, the keepers of the forest. When Satsuki hands Totoro her umbrella, he thanks her by giving her a gift of seeds, which the girls then plant. Later that night they watch as the Totoros do a ritualistic dance around their present and the seedlings begin to sprout.
Totoro shows us that nature is able to help us if we are willing to reciprocate. It reminds us of the beauty and simplicity of the natural world and the innocence of childhood. Every time I watch this film I am left with a feeling of contentment and happiness at my family and the nature surrounding us.