Welcome to my second Studio Ghibli film and I'm sure it won't be the last. Whilst this film is number 137 on the top 1000 greatest films of all time that's not the reason I'm watching and reviewing it now. After me and my housemate Anna watched Spirited Away, we were in the mood for watching another Studio Ghibli film. On hand we had either Princess Monoke or My Neighbour Totoro and we opted for the much more light-hearted My Neighbour Totoro.
How it all goes down:
Set in post-war rural Japan, Tatsuo Kusakabe and his two daughters Sasuki and Mei move into a country house, where they can be closer to their mother who is in hospital recovering from a long term illness. One day when Sasuki is at school, Mei follows two rabbit-like creatures into the nearby forest, where she meets Totoro, the spirit of the forest. When the sisters find out that their mother won't be coming home as soon as they expected, Mei decides to attempt the three hour walk to the hospital to give her mum a present of some freshly grown corn. Upon getting lost, Sasuki leads a desperate search to find her with help from Totoro.
What I love most about this film is its simplicity. Spirited Away works so well due to how it combines so many elements together into one single film and My Neighbour Totoro works for the opposite reason. At heart the film is a story about a little girl trying to bring a present to her sick mother to make her feel better. There aren't any explosions or plot-twists just a simple character-driven narrative that works extremely well. One reason it works is because of the excellent inventions of Totoro and also the Catbus, which Totoro travels around in. Both of which have become icons of Studio Ghibli and they are both adorable and extremely creative. They are friendly and welcoming towards the viewer. I would love a life-sized Totoro cushion or a Totoro onesie. *Cough cough* Christmas present idea *Cough cough*
The music in this film is also great. Whilst, I have always considered Spirited Away as having the best sound track, My Neighbour Totoro also has some great music in it, such as its happy theme song. The character-driven narrative also lent itself to some brilliant instances of dramatic tension. After Mei had become lost and Sasuki was desperately trying to find her, I felt that the suspense and drama was very immediate, which is surprising considering that this is only a cartoon. It kept me engaged throughout and I liked the supporting cast which were constituted of an array of great characters, from the wonderfully awkward Kanta to his loving and caring grandmother.
The film was also animated brilliantly especially Totoro. Some of the funniest moments of the film emerge from his interactions with Mei. From his wide eyes to his iconic Cheshire cat grin to him shivering when raindrops fall on him, every single animation of Totoro bring charm and humour to the film.
What didn't work:
It is difficult to fault this film really. It is funny, charming and very entertaining. Whilst you can argue that Mei and Sasuki are a little annoying throughout the film, I think this is only because the English dubbed version of the film has them voiced by American actresses, thus making them sound brattish and whiny. That notwithstanding, I do feel that something holds it back. Perhaps it's the short run time. Maybe in a two hour film, rather than just 90 minutes, we'll get to find out more about Totoro, whom I would have liked to learn more of.
What was ugly:
Whilst watching this film, Anna told me about a dark fan theory, which the film-makers have denied is true. She said that Totoro is the God of death and only those close to death can see him. When Mei goes missing and what is thought to be her sandal is found in a pond, Mei actually drowned. Sasuki then kills herself over the guilt she feels for Mei's death. After the two girls find out their mother won't be coming home, they get into a fight and Sasuki harshly chastises Mei, leading to the latter running away. To whoever thought up this theory, what the hell is wrong with you? Why would you want to turn an adorable children's film like this into something as dark as concerning death and suicide? Seriously? Why would you do this? You're ruining my childhood!
Another great Studio Ghibli film and one of my favourites. It is an excellent celebration of childhood innocence and discovery and is definitely one to watch if you're an anime fan!