My Neighbor Totoro review by Jackass Tom

Satsuki (voice: Dakota Fanning) and her younger, fearless sister Mei (voice: Elle Fanning…THEY ARE MULTIPLYING!!) move to an old home in the country with their father (voice: Tim Daly). The purpose of the move is to put the kids closer to their hospitalized mother. The two young girls explore the home and the surrounding area with a limitless energy that children seem to possess. Their first encounter with the unknown happens when they enter their new bathroom and see a cloud of black puffballs hurriedly exit the room. They are later told by their elderly neighbor, Granny (voice: Pat Carroll) that the little puffballs are “soot sprites,” something that lucky children are able to see. The children, Mei in particular, are enchanted by the new magic that the woods and countryside offer.

The second encounter with the unknown occurs a few days later. Once Satsuki starts going to school, Mei is free to explore the grounds on her own and discovers a pair of round bunny like creatures, one grey and one white. Borrowing from Alice In Wonderland, Mei follows the two forest sprits through a hole in a grouping of bushes leading her to the home of a gigantic, fluffy, round bunny like spirits which she names “Totoro”.

For the remainder of the movie, Mei and Satsuki both have chance encounters with the Totoros. One time they meet the giant one at the bus stop in the rain. Instead of taking a normal bus, the Totoro hops aboard his own bus (which is a gigantic cat with 12 legs). Late one night, Satsuki and Mei join the three Totoros outside their house during a tree growing ritual and then go for a fly through the village. Finally towards the end, the giant Totoro helps Satsuki find her little sister who had run away to try to see her mother at the hospital.

My Neighbor Totoro is a wonderfully imaginative movie that is perfect for many children. It creates a playful atmosphere that reinforces children’s imaginations and fantasies without making the adults in the film seem distant or ignorant. All the spirits of the woods, (Totoro’s, the cat bus, soot sprites) are only visible by the two children and their presence explains common unseen, natural phenomenon. The wind for example gusts through the village as the Totoro’s are flying or as the cat bus is galloping to its next stop. Later viewings reveal similar gusts of wind seen by the girls’ father towards the beginning of the film, hinting at the unseen presence of forest spirits. The late night ritual preformed by the Totoros also offers a fantastic explanation for how the acorns transform into sprouting trees.

As I mentioned in my review of Ponyo, Miyazaki shies away from the traditional Good v. Evil struggle. There are no villains in his films, just struggles with everyday life. The girls’ main struggle is to deal with their mother’s illness and their disappointment when she is unable to leave the hospital as planned. And on that note, both children have a very good relationship with their parents without any signs of conflict; another theme in Miyazaki’s films. Their father enables their fantasies by playing around with the idea of wood spirits. Of the Miyazaki films I have seen so far this is my favorite.

8 out of 10 Jackasses
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