Saturday, July 07, 2018

Tonight's Movie: My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

It was 114 degrees here yesterday afternoon, but it was lovely inside, with the A/C running and MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO (1988) playing on our TV.

MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO was written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. I loved Miyazaki's THE WIND RISES (2013) and have been wanting to delve into his earlier work. MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO was a wonderful start.

MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO is a gentle tale about two little girls, Satsuki (Norida Hidaka) and Mei (Chika Sakamoto), who move to the country with their father (Shigeseto Itoi), in order to be closer to their hospitalized mother (Sumi Shimamoto).

The mother is in the hospital for a long stay, one assumes due to tuberculosis. (In this regard the plot has something in common with THE WIND RISES.) The father is a professor who sometimes works from home, and neighboring Granny (Tanie Kitabayashi) and her grandson Kanta (Toshiyuki Amagasa) also look out for the girls, though Kanta doesn't want anyone to know it!

The film drifts into fantasy as first Mei and then Satsuki meet creatures of the neighboring forest including the furry, kindly -- and very large -- Totoro. Only children can see Totoro or his friends, including the amazing Cat Bus.

One is never quite sure if what the girls experience is real or their vivid imaginations, but Totoro and the Cat Bus, in particular, help the girls through a challenging time in their lives. Life may be difficult for the little girls, with their beloved mother dangerously ill, but they are always surrounded by love from their parents and neighbors, including those very special friends unseen by grown-ups.

I wasn't sure where the movie was going at first but as it went on I became increasingly enchanted by the delicate story. The film is positive, charming, and quite creative; the Cat Bus in particularly really wowed me, especially its role in the film's climax.

I also liked the way the story has subtle -- and not-so-subtle -- allusions to classic children's literature such as MARY POPPINS and ALICE IN WONDERLAND, with umbrellas and falling down a hole being among the significant plot points. It doesn't feel as though it's copying those stories, but rather using familiar elements to build on and add to a child's fantasy world.

I was a bit surprised to find myself tearing up at the end of the film's 86 minutes, but I really appreciated its gossamer beauty. The film manages to address big life issues while also being incredibly light on its feet and reassuring. It's a treasure.

I watched the film in the original Japanese, with English subtitles.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated G.

MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO is available on DVD or in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. I watched it on Blu-ray and look forward to delving into the plentiful extras.


October 1, 2018 Update: I had a wonderful opportunity to see the subtitled version on a big screen as part of Cinemark's Ghibli Fest and enjoyed it even more. Such a special movie!


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