Yesterday while I was rearranging my audio CDs, I came across an old anime favorite (Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro) that got mixed up in the pile by mistake. Without further ado, I popped it into my player.
As the familiar strains of the upbeat opening song wafted into my tiny living room, I found myself sliding into this mellow, nostalgic mood that automatically kicks in when I’m watching something that I really like.
Among Miyazaki’s animated films, I’ve always found My Neighbor Totoro (1988) far easier to relate to because, notwithstanding the supernatural element of of old forest spirits, the story is essentially grounded in reality (and roughly autobiographical on Miyazaki’s part, according to some) and takes place in a sleepy rural setting.
Also, it’s not particularly violent, which should make this animated feature fairly suitable even to young children. Basically, it’s one anime title that I’d be pleased to recommend to anyone regardless of his/her age.
The animation, as expected for a Studio Ghibli (founded by H.M.) product, is top-notch, and characters well drawn. The story focuses on two young girls who, along with their father (a university professor), moved into an old country house — a quaint, rustic structure complete with cobwebs, rotting posts and rattling windows — in order to be near a hospital where their mother is being treated. In one of her rambles, 4-year-old Mei (and later, along with ther her older sister Satsuki) stumbles into the slumbering guardian spirit of the forest — a huge, cuddly, bear-like creature called Totoro, who’s apparently only visible to young children…
Without giving away the rest of the story, there are several items in this film that should be fairly obvious to a Miyazaki enthusiast. The main protagonist is a young girl (or in the case, girls) who’s learning to grapple with the complexities of life (a resurring theme in many Studio Ghibli films such as Spirited Away, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Laputa Castle, Porco Rossi, etc.). There’s also an endearingly clumsy young boy, Kanta, who shows an abiding interest in planes/aviation (Kiki’s Delivery Service, Laputa Castle, Porco Rossi), a trait that Miyazaki shared as a child. This movie likewise emphasizes, in unobtrusive but touching intances, the way the Japanese show respect for their old and the ‘natural’ spirits around them.
I don’t know how much of what is shown in My Neighbor Totoro actually reflects Miyazaki’s childhood, but I’ve read somewhere that he was quite close to his grandmother and that his mother has also suffered from a serious ailment which required a lengthy hospital treatment. He’s known to care deeply for his female relations and I think it shows in the way he presents his female characters.
My Neighbor Totoro still ranks (and will undoubtedly remain) as one of my top 10 anime favorites.