CHECK : My Neighbour Totoro (1988)


Studio Ghibli released two films in 1988. After Isao Takahata’s first film with Grave of the Fireflies Studios, which dealt with the aftermath of World War II in Japan, Hayao Miyazaki’s next film was much lighter. Nausicaa and The Castle in the Sky were a mix of fantasy and steampunk, but My Neighbor Totoro would have been smaller and more down to earth. Aside from the appearance of fantastic creatures like Totoro and Catbus, the story is pretty straightforward and doesn’t differ from the daily lives of many real people. As a lighter, less philosophical work from the studio, I think My Neighbor Totoro is a film that people enjoy more passively. The character and tone of the story have something childlike, and the plot is as simple as can be. Of course I couldn’t leave that out, and I think sometimes it’s interesting to engage with films that feed off atmosphere and mood. Let’s see.

My Neighbor Totoro follows a family that moves to the countryside. Sisters Satsuki and Mei have become friends and enjoy playing in their new home, but they find it hard to bear being separated from their hospitalized mother. Young Mei befriends a forest spirit named Totoro, who becomes a source of comfort for both girls. When the family learns that their mother is too ill to return home for the scheduled weekend, May disappears. Totoro and his friend Catbus help Satsuki find Mei, who was on her way to the hospital to bring fresh corn to her mother. Cutbus takes the girls to the hospital, where they see their parents laughing together. Satisfied with the sight of their smiling mother, they leave the wheat to her.

My Neighbor Totoro is one of Studio Ghibli’s simplest films in terms of plot. I have a feeling that must have been what Ervig and the witch intended. My Neighbor Totoro has a warmth and a childlike sense of wonder about its world and especially its characters. Although the plot is fairly standard and most of the characters speak for themselves, the film never bores and always delivers the right emotions. I don’t usually like children’s characters, especially when they are so young. But every time I see this movie, I am so enthralled by the sisters and their adventures that I worry when we see their mother at the end. The movie doesn’t even say she’ll get better, it’s more of a feel-good ending. I like that, despite the film’s positive ending, things aren’t immediately resolved.

I also love the characters in My Neighbor Totoro. Satsuki is the older sister, trying to be a role model and perhaps growing up too fast without her mother. She tries to help take care of May, but loses her temper when May throws a tantrum because her mother won’t come home. After all, Satsuki is also a child. And in general, she’s kind to May and lets her stay with her at school. May is very funny, and her heightened emotions are understandable given her age and circumstances. She reminds me of Setsuko in Grave of Fireflies, about the same age and desperately missing her mother. Thankfully, this story is not as dark as Grave of the Fireflies. The sisters are played in the English dub by Dakota and Elle Fanning, and they do a great job, especially for child actors. I think it would be wise to have the real sisters Satsuki and Mei voiced, as their interactions seem organic and believable. Dad is played by Tim Daly, who played Superman in the Animated Universe series. He is adorable and the way he plays with his kids is so cute. It feels like a real family, and I think that benefits the plot when so much depends on their feelings. The grandmother is played by Pat Carroll, Ursula from The Little Mermaid. There are moments where it’s obvious it’s the same actress, but it’s a totally different rendition for a totally different character. I wish Carroll had done more vocal exercises; she was also very good in a small role in Tangled: Series. Leah Salonga doesn’t have as many lines as her mother, but she does well with what she gets. Salonga performed the role of Eponine in the 10th anniversary concert of Les Misérables on the Dreamcast and provided the voices of the Disney princesses Jasmine and Mulan. She’s best known for her stage roles, but I absolutely love her. Totoro is voiced by Frank Welker, who is known as the voice actor of many animal characters, including Scooby-Doo and the Gargoyle Bronx. I’m glad Totoro doesn’t talk, but communicates through growls and body language. It’s easy to see why he became the studio’s mascot; he’s charming, funny and downright adorable.

My Neighbor Totoro is wonderful to watch.  I especially like the contrast between the small scenes, like a family taking a bath, and the imaginative ones. Totoro flying through the forest with girls, meeting Catbus and growing acorns are definitely highlights. Joe Hisaishi’s score is pretty good, and the two songs in the film will stick in your head for days to come. My Neighbor Totoro is a movie I listen to a lot, and Hey, Let’s Go definitely makes me want to see what comes next, even if it is a bit simplistic.

And that’s what I think of the film as a whole. It’s simple, and it’s intentional. The story leaves a lot of room for organic interaction and character development, and it’s just delightful. My Neighbor Totoro is not my favorite Studio Ghibli film, but I have absolutely no problem with it. My Neighbor Totoro is a simple film with a sense of life. It’s more of an experiment than a deeper message, but the excellent cast and charming characters make it an absolute delight.

Plot – 10
Action – 10
Control/Assembly – 10
Music/Sound – 10
Animation – 10



My Neighbor Totoro is a simple film with a sense of life. It’s more of an experiment than a deeper message, but the excellent cast and charming characters make it an absolute delight.

frequently asked questions

What is the moral of My Neighbor Totoro?

Nature is a place where Satsuki and Mei can shelter and dream, where they find hope in the moments they miss their mother. For director Miyazaki, instilling a love of nature in children is very important. For him, the connection with nature is what can save and liberate us, and children need to know this.

Is My Neighbor Totoro worth watching?

Absolutely. It’s worth it at any age!

Does the mother die in Totoro?

According to different variations of the same fan theory, Mei is actually dead in the movie and Totoro is the god of death.

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