My Neighbour Totoro

4 Aug

Director: Hayao Miyazaki (1988)

This is a prime example of one of those films I had almost convinced myself that I had seen and most likely raved about how wonderful it was to people when in actuality, I had not. Until now.

I must admit, I’ve not really delved too far into the world of Japanese manga; there are several reasons for this, one of which being something which is exemplified in the opening credits of the film. Namely the childish, borderline terrifying bubblegum flavourings of Japanese pop music that it is perfectly acceptable for adults to enjoy.

This adult does not.

So as the shrill jubilations of the opening track played out I started to fear that perhaps this may have been a mistake. However I persevered and oh how my soul is glad.

The Kusakabe’s, made up of Satsuki, Mei and their father, have moved to the country to be closer to their mother who is in hospital recovering from some elusive, unnamed illness. Their new house, complete with mysterious Camphor tree, becomes a veritable haven for the eager and imaginative young girls who spend almost the first 30 minutes of the film galavanting around chasing ‘soot sprites’- black dust creatures who live in the rafters of the old house. Their (somewhat creepily reminiscent of the witch in Snow White) surrogate  Granny from next door informs them of the existence of such spirits and tells them not to be afraid.

Probably a good job considering these teeny bundles of dust are the least of their worries in terms of their supernatural cohabitants.  Tiny Mei, whose adorable little face and over enthusastic demeanour soon transcends from irritating to endearing, befriends some aforementioned spirits in the garden and does an Alice, following the rabbit like creatures through a briar patch and down the roots of the Camphor tree where she meets Totoro- a huge rabbit with a snoring problem. A beautiful friendships ensues. One that made a part of me wish I had a lovely rabbit mattress at the bottom of my garden- and this is coming from a girl who does not enjoy joy (apparently).

And that is essentially what the film is about. A simple and endearing friendship between two sisters thrown into a strange new place and their adventures as they settle in, make new friends and deal with the sometimes harsh realities of life. It is about exploration, exploring new places in both the physical real world but also inside our imaginations. There is not really any plot but it is hard to notice this lack when you too are mindlessly flying around paddyfields with Totoro and his little umbrella or riding (what might be the most disturbing) catbus around the town.

Sometimes we need a lovely animated film in our lives and My Neighbour Totoro is one you certainly do need in your life. Painting an enchanted pastel world on our screens and in our imaginations, imbued with traditional Japanese culture, the film’s lack of plot is easily eclipsed by our own eagerness to join the girls’ adventures and embrace the simple joys of life. Like running through the forest chasing huge rabbit creatures who don’t mind it when we use their stomachs as trampolines.

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