My Neighbor Totoro – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Tonari no Totoro

 

Related: Mei and the Baby Cat Bus (spin-off)

Similar: Wolf Children

Spirited Away

Howl’s Moving Castle

Natsume’s Book of Friends

 

Watched in: Japanese & English (Disney version)

Genre: Supernatural Adventure Comedy

Length: 1 hr. 26 min.

 

Positives:

  • Disgustingly adorable.
  • Heart-warming characters and emotion.
  • Ghibli quality standards.
  • Excellent child writing and acting.

Negatives:

  • Could do with more adventure.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Right now in your house, balls of black puff called soot gremlins hide in your bathroom and behind the oven. Can’t see them? Ah well, I guess you’re too old then. That’s My Neighbor Totoro’s premise as it explores childhood innocence from the view of two sisters.

Satsuki and Mei move to the countryside (did Miyazaki relocate a lot as a child, or something, to have this recurring setup?) with their father while the mother is in hospital. Soot gremlins hide in baths, scurrying away at first sight, and rabbit-raccoon-like Totoro spirits live in the forest next door. The adults see naught, too busy with work and life to notice the magic beneath the canopy, but children, they possess the imagination and wonder to look deep in the forest and find the magic within.

This film is so cute. The opening sequence alone was enough to have me in a seizure of cuteness. How do they do it? How does Ghibli make everything so adorable? The three Totoros are cute enough, but add in Studio Ghibli’s perfect depiction of children and it’s overkill. Miyazaki, you have a death on your hands, for you slew me with cuteness. Older sister Satsuki is at that stage where she’s learning of the real world, on the precipice of losing innocence, yet with a little encouragement for little sister Mei, she can still embrace imagination.

One of my favourite moments was with the lunchboxes. Satsuki makes everyone lunch, and Mei loves the lunch box so much that she can’t wait to eat it. Just after Satsuki leaves, Mei – too young for school – is running in the background to her father’s work and asks if it’s lunchtime. Breakfast hasn’t even gone down yet! It’s such a kid thing to do. Does it add to the story? No. It sums up Mei in a single scene, however.

Following the acorns, which Totoro love so much, she soon meets those very creatures, including the Snorlax of Totoro, Big-Totoro (or King-Totoro). She’s fearless in the face of his roars. They also meet a Catbus. No, not a cat with a bus, but a cat that is a bus. Creepy, certainly, but still I find it adorable. It must be what inspired Harry Potter’s Knight Bus, as trees jump out of the way and people can’t see it zoom by.

After smothering you with cute, My Neighbor Totoro brings matters down with heavy emotion. Not too much as to become Grave of the Fireflies (please not again, I beg of you!), though still enough to add weight to the story and make you ache. The family drama is just right.

I found only one major problem in the otherwise great My Neighbor Totoro. It doesn’t have enough adventure. Mei and Satsuki play with the creatures but a little before the third act (when drama dominates). I would have liked an extra fifteen to twenty minutes within those first encounters to go on an adventure. Think Chihiro’s first time working in Spirited Away’s bathhouse, Kiki’s first delivery, or Sophie’s excursion downtown in Howl’s Moving Castle. This film misses that segment. Outside that, I love it.

My Neighbor Totoro is filled with imagination, capturing that sense of childhood innocence in a manner few films can boast. I had returned to my infancy until the credits ended. If a child ever told you they saw a Totoro, you’d be sure they were lying, but a part of you may just think it’s the truth.

Art – Very High

Gorgeous art and animation (I feel like I’m repeating myself with Ghibli at this point). Creative with its adorable creatures.

Sound – Very High

Custom orchestral soundtrack to match the movements like classic Disney. Great acting – the dub is fantastic – perfect kids supplied with natural child dialogue.

Story – High

Moving to a new house in the countryside, imagination permits two girls to befriend spirits of the forest. Disgustingly adorable and heartfelt, but My Neighbor Totoro could have extended the adventure portion of the film.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch. My Neighbor Totoro has to be Ghibli’s most adorable film (there can’t be cuter, can there?) and is an easy recommendation for all ages.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

CharmFluid AnimationStellar Voice ActingStrong Lead CharactersStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

9 thoughts on “My Neighbor Totoro – Anime Review”

  1. Coming from such a critic like you, I’m surprised you gave so much praise to such an overrated movie just because it’s “cute”. I guess that’s the power of moe.
    Me, however, I look towards a good story and well-written characters, none of which can be found in this movie, which is kind of dissapointing considering Miyazaki did some amazing movies like Mononoke or Howl’s. The children are just cute for the sake of being cute, and the adults have no personality whatsoever and seem to be there just to serve as plot elements. They used the old narrative of a busy father and a sick mother (which has been overused since ancient times) but at least they could have explored the reasons behind this situation.
    However, my biggest complain with this film is that it has no real plot. There’s no real central conflict upon which the narrative builds upon, and thus no real resolution. The story seems to have been written on-the-go, adding elements just so the characters could react to something. Sure you could argue that there was some “drama” by the third act, but it seems to have been introduced just to have some pseudo-climax to finish the movie. Moreover, this final conflict conveniently arises just to provide some sense of plot development (and purpose to a random character), which feels kind of cheap in my opinion.
    Nevertheless, I got to admit the art and the music are perhaps the best out of there, and some scenes really evoke nostalgic feelings of a past childhood.

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