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My Neighbor Totoro

Totoro (book cover)To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the family-favourite animated movie, My Neighbour Totoro, Viz Media published the story in novel format, as well as featuring a new edition of the previous picture book. Released in 1988, My Neighbour Totoro was the third movie of Studio Ghibli, producers of other highly successful and beloved titles like Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle and Princess Mononoke.

Set in the post-war rural Japan, the classic follows the adventures of 11-year-old Satsuki and her younger sister Mei, who move away from the capital to be closer to their sickly mother. While enjoying their small adventures only the countryside can offer, they meet the spirit of the neighbouring forest, Totoro. Then, when one day Mei disappears, it’s up to Satsuki to find her with the help of her fuzzy, curious friends.

Through pastel colours and a simple setting, the movie presents a child’s fantasy of the peculiarities, which come from living in a previously abandoned, almost haunted house surrounded by greenery and a mysterious atmosphere. Regarding the bordering woods, Miyazaki mentioned this during one of his interviews: “I had been thinking about the forest settings of Totoro for 13 years before starting the film.” Hence, it should come as no surprise that the landscape is always shown in elaborate detail.

Totoro (poster)The story lacks any sort of deeper complexity, but the childish excitement and the magic of the forest creates a rather enjoyable fairy tale for kids and adults alike. On one hand we get to experience the life of a close-knit family made up of the two high-spirited girls and their relaxed father, who sets up a new, refreshing home for them for the sake of convenience. There is however a level of melancholy and sadness involved, as the source of these changes are their mother’s illness. This hints at the possibility of the girls’ smiles being masks hiding their fear and uneasiness. By retreating into fantasy and spending time with Totoro, this traumatic period slowly turns into a more joyful experience with nature being their playground and acting as a makeshift parent.

Whether the forest spirits are real or just the creations of Satsuki’s and Mei’s hopeful imagination is left up to the audience to decide, though it is important to notice that adults cannot see them. One of the elders remembers the bouncy black fluffballs called soot sprites from her childhood, but she notes that even though she still believes in them, with time they had disappeared from her life.

Rather than being a traditional movie with a distinct structure, it’s a leisurely paced series of whimsical episodes featuring adorable leads. The whole story flows with a gentle serenity, as it weaves together childish antics with a touch of earthly enchantment. It’s also interesting to observe that there is generally no background music throughout the animation, but this is compensated with plenty of lively sound effects.

Totoro's Magic Sprouts by gabychanThe illustrated novel features watercolour art by original creator and director Hayao Miyazaki, and the adaptation is written by children’s author Tsugiko Kubo. Each chapter comes with an illustration, which boils down to ten altogether.

Oddly enough, the book doesn’t feature the part of the story, which is depicted on the cover. This also makes it worth to watch the film, if you want to enjoy some extra scenes – and this goes vice-versa, as some of them are given more depth by the novel. Explanations are also offered in a more generous fashion, so if you give Totoro a go in both formats, the gaps left behind by one or another should become clear.

My Neighbour Totoro delivers a message of the importance of childhood and bonding with nature (the latter being a recurring theme in Ghibli movies). It celebrates the simple wonders of exploring flora and fauna, taking some moments to rediscover that which we take for granted. Whether you are new to the title or an old fan, both will surely prove to be rather delightful ways to spend a couple of hours, days, or by reaching for your Totoro DVD and its new hardcover sibling, even years.



  1. Avatar Lynn says:

    I love this film!
    Lynn 😀

  2. […] Media brought the English translation, adding it to their extensive Ghibli library. The review of the classic fairy tale is now up on Fantasy Faction. Enjoy, and don’t forget to comment […]

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