My Neighbor Totoro

March 15, 2011 § 7 Comments

There is something about watching a Miyazaki film that leaves you feeling overjoyed, exuberant even. His animation is beautiful, sparkling with little details that are often overlooked in most Disney movies. I recently watched My Neighbor Totoro (1988), one of Miyazaki’s earliest films, and it left another stunning impression upon me. Totoro is definitely one of Miyazaki’s most kid-friendly films, especially when compared with some of his darker films like Princess Mononoke (1997) and Howl’s Moving Castle (2004). This childlike feel, however, does not detract from the film, in fact, it adds an extra layer of amusement and meaning.

When watching a Miyazaki film, one must suspend a great deal of disbelief, especially as an American watching a film created by and for a Japanese culture. In Miyazaki’s films, as well as in other Asian cinema, the disconnection between the natural and the supernatural is blurred so often, that it almost doesn’t exist. Spirits, ghosts and gods are a part of everyday life and show up everywhere, even if sometimes you can’t see them. This is exactly the way it is in Totoro, from the very beginning. When Mei, Satsuki and their dad move into a new house in the country while their mom is in the hospital, Mei quickly becomes sad and bored, a natural thing for a five-year old girl. While her dad is studying, being a professor, and Satsuki (Mei’s older sister) is off at school, Mei quickly discovers these small bunny looking creatures, which lead her to Totoro. Totoro is a large, adorable creature that the film affectionately calls a “troll” and he shows up in strange places and eventually ends up helping both the girls adjust to their new life.

There are two things about Totoro that stood out to me personally as I watched the film. The first is in respect to the girl’s father. When Mei tells him and Satsuki about Totoro, he responds graciously without a hint of condescension, and even brings the girls to a shrine to offer thanks to Totoro. If this was an American movie, it would be obvious that the father is humoring his daughter if he told her that he believed what she experienced. Here, probably due to the way the Japanese culture looks at things like magic and spirits, the father is loving, giving his daughter the ability to believe in herself and encouraging her, instead of bringing her down. I hope to be that kind of father, one who takes his children at their words and lets them experience the world and use their imaginations without squashing them before they can flourish.

The other thing that My Neighbor Totoro captures so perfectly is the way that children look at the world and see it full of wonder and excitement. Whenever I see films that spark my imagination and draw me toward the wonders of this life, I ask myself why I forget that this world is full of so many amazing things. So often I am content to sit around inside, busying myself with work and “adult” things while outside the beauty of Creation is awaiting, willing to give me its treasures if I only take the time to see them. In Totoro, Miyazaki captures the childlike sense of wonder at the smallest things, and endues his fantastical world with sights and sounds that force us to use our imagination like the cat bus and Totoro flying on a top. It is this quality that makes My Neighbor Totoro a film that everyone should see, kids and adults alike. In fact, as much as this is a film for kids, it may do more to boost the ailing spirit of imagination and wonder in adults than it ever will for children.

This is part of the Japanese cinema blogathon. Please visit the links below to check out other great blog posts on Japanese cinema and consider donating some money to the Red Cross for relief efforts in Japan.


Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

§ 7 Responses to My Neighbor Totoro

  • […] My Neighbor Totoro « Losing Sight of Land said this on March 15, 2011 at 10:52 am | Reply […]

  • JapanCinema says:

    Don’t forget, we are also sponsoring this event as well!

    Will add you to the list.

  • […] March 15th: YAM Mag reviews Mamoru Hosoda’s サマーウォーズ (Summer Wars) Twenty Four Frames reviews Kurosawa’s High and Low (1963) Classic Forever reviews Tokyo Drifter (1966) The Chosen Juan’s Tumblr reviews Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away Laura at No Lies, Just Love writes about how she discovered Japanese Cinema Clara at Via Margutta 51 reviews Isao Takahata’s Only Yesterday Carl at Losing Sight of Land reviews the classic anime film My Neighbor Totoro […]

  • Amy says:

    Totoro makes me feel like a kid again =) – and I didn’t even grew up with Totoro! How was I able to do that? xD

    Love how you mention the contrast in the American/Japanese view on spirits. It’s something… difficult to try to grasp… I mean, as a westener – do you encourage it? do you celebrate it? do you brush it off?

    Plus, that song. Aruko! Aruko! Watashi wa genki!

    • Carl says:

      Hey Amy, thanks for your comment! I didn’t grow up with it either and yet it has that uncanny ability to make you like a kid again!

      As to your question, it’s a difficult thing for me to wrestle with. I definitely believe that there are many things in this world that we don’t see and can’t explain, however, I’m not sure I completely agree with the extent that the Japanese view the spiritual side of the world. That being said, as westerners I think it’s important for us to realize that there are different ways of looking at things, and we should try to understand them even if we don’t ultimately agree with them.

  • Marc says:

    At first I didn’t get the pace of the film since I had been introduced to Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli with sweeping plots and dazzling animation like Spirited Away, Howl and Ponyo. But seeing it a few more times I realize there’s a beauty in the intricacy of the mundane. Sure nothing’s going but doesn’t mean it’s not pointless.

    Good call on the encouragement Mei’s father gives the kids as opposed to blowing them off. Also it’s true that the film shows even the simplest things can be filled with magic in the eyes of children.

    Glad I happened upon your blog. I have such a love for the films of Studio Ghibli that I created a tournament where my readers get to vote on the best Miyazaki/Takahata/Ghibli film. We’re calling it “Miyazaki Madness”. It’s in the second round and Totoro is still in the running! Hope you can make it over to have a look at what we’re doing and cast some votes:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading My Neighbor Totoro at Losing Sight of Land.


%d bloggers like this: