This week’s “Miyazaki Monday”focuses on one of the most memorable films by Miyazaki because it features one of the most memorable characters in all of animation. That character is Totoro and the film is My Neighbor Totoro
My Neighbor Totoro is set in 1958 Japan. It features the Kusakabe family. Tatsuo Kusakabe is a university professor. His wife Yasuko is in the hospital receiving long term care. So Tatsuo takes his two daughters Satsuki and Mei and move into an old house closer to the hospital. Satsuki and Mei encounter dust creatures that turn out to be house spirits called susuwatari that inhabit abandoned houses. Once the creatures realize that the family is living in the house, they move on to another abandoned house.
This turns out to only be the beginning for the magical creatures that Satsuki and Mei encounter. One day, Mei finds two small rabbit looking creatures coming out from under the house. She follows them through a briar patch into a large hollow tree. There Mei meets a larger version of the smaller creatures. Mei calls the creature Totoro because that’s the sound he makes when she asks who he is. Later, Satsuki meets Totoro when she and Mei are waiting in the rain at a bus stop.
It’s a fun magical adventure these two sisters take as well as dealing with the reality of a mother who is sick. Miyazaki does a great job of balancing the fantastical with the reality. Many of his films balance this well and My Neighbor Totoro. This was the first of his films to be set in Japan, so there is more roots in reality than Nausicaa and Castle in the Sky but there are definite elements of fantasy.
When this film was released in Japan in April 16, 1988, it was released on the same day as another Studio Ghibli film Grave of the Fireflies that was directed by the other co-founder of Studio Ghibli Isao Takahata. These two films in and of themselves are some of the most influential films but to be on the same bill is extraordinary. My Neighbor Totoro first got an English dubbing in 1993 under the title My Friend Totoro. Once Disney got the rights to distribute the film in 2005, it released its own English dubbing. The voice actors for that dubbing include Dakota and Elle Fanning, Tim Daly, Frank Welker and Pat Carroll.
The character of Totoro has become synonymous with Studio Ghibli. It is featured in every intro to a Studio Ghibli film and has even crossed over into another beloved film series here in the United State. Totoro made a cameo in Toy Story 3 as a plush doll who lives in Bonnie’s room.
To close out, here a clip featuring Pixar honcho John Lasseter introducing the film during the month long celebration of Miyazaki films on Turner Classic Movies back in 2006. When it aired on TV during this celebration, it was the television premiere of the Disney English dubbing. They aired both this version and the original Japanese version with English subtitles. My Neighbor Totoro is one of the most memorable Miyazaki films and has left an indelible mark in cinema.