Spotlight on Japan: My Neighbour Totoro

No matter how many Japanese films I see and write about, I find myself returning to Studio Ghibli’s work – more specifically Hayao Miyazaki’s films. After two adventure-driven films, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Laputa: Castle in the Sky, he engaged on a different kind of adventure. My Neighbour Totoro depicts the wonders of real life through the eyes of two cheerful kids. The sheer energy of the film and the honest depiction of childhood have earned the film many fans – it has become one of the most beloved “kids’ films” which also offers genuine entertainment for all ages. The titular character was even included in Ghibli’s own logo.

While their mother is in a hospital, Satsuki and Mei move to the countryside with their archaeologist father during the summer. They explore their new home and its surroundings with rampant enthusiasm and curiosity as the film unfolds. Miyazaki doesn’t need to shoehorn fake drama into this premise – it works so damn well on its own. This is what being a child really means and feels like. Even after the younger sister comes across a Totoro the film doesn’t veer off into pure fantasy, but instead it gives the imaginary creatures a really tangible presence that makes them even more real than the other characters in the film. They are not only regarded as the products of childish imagination, but rather the natural part of growing up and enjoying life. The parents are not depicted as the opposing force like usually – the father even encourages the children to let their imagination run wild. That way Miyazaki wisely avoids the pitfalls of movies aimed at kids: the main conflict must take place elsewhere.

Great visuals have become synonymous with Ghibli and Totoro is naturally not an exception. The very first images of the rich countryside scenery always floor me. The stunning amount of details, the warm and inviting colors and the sheer beauty of the countryside are essential for the experience. Miyazaki’s eye for composition is at its peak here – in Totoro he creates some of the most astonishing shots that will always stay in the back of my mind. Character design is magnificent and I’d like to especially mention the mother who might not look that special at first, but the way she stands out from the other characters is unbelievable yet subtle.

As much as I can praise how great the film looks the sound must not be forgotten. In fact, I believe that Miyazaki’s magic lays first and foremost in his marvellous use of music, sound effects AND silence. The countryside is full of subtle sound details that accumulate into a truly wholesome experience. Joe Hisaishi’s soundtrack is very inspiring during the story’s ups and downs. It captures the joyful spirit of the children and yet proves to be really moving when the film takes a turn for the serious later on. Miyazaki doesn’t overuse Hisaishi’s brilliant work and whenever he relies on silence the film hits you with unexpected power. Furthermore, the voice acting is top notch – especially the kids give pitch perfect performances.

If you are not humming to the theme tune with a wide grin after seeing My Neighbour Totoro, I would advise you to check whether you still have your humanity.

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About Oz
A Finnish film buff who has taken a huge interest in language and Japanese cinema. Can be contacted via email (johlauri@hotmail.com), Twitter (@OzymandiasJL) and a Private Message on EvaGeeks (Oz).

2 Responses to Spotlight on Japan: My Neighbour Totoro

  1. Kutta says:

    A recent study found that not liking Totoro predicts homicidal tendency with greater accuracy than any other variable.

    Just kidding

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