My Neighbour Totoro is the cutest Studio Ghibli film I have seen thus far.
My Neighbour Totoro tells the story of two sisters Satsuki and Mei, who meet and interact with friendly woodland spirits who live near their new house.
Unlike the last two Studio Ghilbi films I watched (Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away) this one doesn’t have a super structured story. When you think about the other two movies, there is a reason for the motivations of the main characters. Sophie in Howl’s Moving Castle is trying to reverse the Witch of the Waste’s spell and Chihiro in Spirited Away is trying to get her parents back and change them back into humans, but here, the movie is about two little girls and an adorable wood spirit. That’s it.
Voice Acting in animation is very important because you need the actors to sell the characters and emotion and that is exactly what the voice actors do. Satsuki and Mei and pretty happy-go-lucky character and their voice actors Noriko Hidaka and Chika Sakamoto capture that joy, They also manage to capture the cadence that children tend to have in their voices.
Fun fact about the voice cast, Dakota and Elle Fanning actually voiced Satsuki and Mei in the 2005 version of the film.
Even though the plot appears pretty straightforward, there are still themes hidden beneath the surface. And given the overall happy demeanour of the characters and movie as a whole I didn’t expect the film to deal with themes of loss and familial attachment. And what makes it even better is that the film does not stop to tell you that these are some of the themes. They are seamlessly woven into the story and fit with the overall.
Another thing I have noticed in the Studio Ghibli films I have watched is how much attention is paid to spirituality. The characters in this movie are clearly shown paying their respects utile times. It shows a deep appreciation that the filmmakers have for religion and culture.
The pacing of the film allows us to spend time with and grow attached to Satsuki, Mei and their father. I didn’t know this beforehand but we actually don’t meet Totoro till the halfway mark. However, he steals the show (him and the cat bus). Totoro is a character of few words but manages to convey enough emotion for you as the viewer to feel attached to the character.
I am starting to recognise the Studio Ghibli style of animation. The movies look simple, and that is not to say the animation doesn’t look good, (because it does.) I am saying that it is not as “refined” as other anime.
That slightly faded look could also be attributed to the fact that it came out in the ’80s. In my review of Perfect Blue and Wicked City, I mentioned that I like the vintage anime aesthetic. The colours don’t stand out as much as the lines are less sharp.
And what is interesting is that the stylistic choices made by the animators fit the overall tone and aesthetic of the movie, My neighbour Totoro takes place in a rural part of Japan and it makes sense that it doesn’t super sharp and put together.
I also love the use of colour. Each character has their own unique colour palette that allows them to stand out from not only the background but each other.
The score is magical. The composer, Joe Hisaishi created a score that adds a whimsical element to the film.
Strangely, it stands out while simultaneously blending into the background and usually I prefer to have a score that stands out but this is one of the few times that I didn’t mind. When I noticed it, I found myself humming along.
When I asked Instagram what Studio Ghibli film I should watch, this was up there with Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle and I now understand why. This movie is not only really cute but it is also very heartwarming. It is one of those movies that leaves you with a warm fuzzy feeling on the inside.
Here is what Hayao Miyazaki had to say about the film…
“I wanted My Neighbor Totoro to be a heartwarming feature film that would not only entertain and touch its viewers but stay with them long after they have left the theatres. I wanted the spirit of the film to endear lovers to each other, inspire parents to fondly recall their childhood, and encourage kids to roam around temple grounds and climb trees.”
And I could not agree more.
Originally published at https://www.thecinematicaficionado.com on November 12, 2020.