''I bet you're Totoro.''
When two girls move to the country to be near their ailing mother, they have adventures with the wonderous forest spirits who live nearby.
Noriko Hidaka: Satsuki
Tonari no Totoro(My Neighbour Totorro)(1988) is probably the film that introduced many western audiences to the work of esteemed Japanese animator/director Hayao Miyazaki and his celebrated production house Studio Ghibli.
The decision to re-release all of the Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli productions as a collection of re-mastered DVD editions, including everything from his Lupin III instalment The Castle of Cagliostro to the more recent epic fantasy adventure, Howl's Moving Castle(2004) is a blessing.
Similarly to almost everything that Miyazaki has been involved with before; the piece offers us a series of intricate story lines, breathtaking visuals, memorable characters and a general approach to bold, imaginative, unique and utterly compelling family entertainment that will almost certainly appeal to anyone, at any age. My Neighbour Totoro remains, perhaps, the definitive Studio Ghibli production; Miyazaki here perfecting the visual style that would subsequently become his signature move, as well as developing variations of thematic devices that would be further explored in later projects Kiki's Delivery Service, Porco Rosso and of course Spirited Away.
The story takes place in the rural Japan of the 1950's, where two young girls and their father move into an old house near the forest in an attempt to distract the girls from the absence of their mother; whom is recovering from tuberculosis in a nearby convalescence home. Whilst exploring the forest, the two girls discover a family of forest spirits, the biggest of which they christened Totoro(a mispronunciation of tororu, the Japanese word for troll); whom allows the two girls to partake in their nightly adventures. With the film, Miyazaki and his team create a depiction of the perfect summer and the power of imagination, as they use the two children to act as a representation for the audience. Mei, the younger of the two sisters, comes to represent the youngsters within the audience, as she approaches the Totoro characters with wide eyes and enthusiasm and generally accepts each of their adventures to be a continuation of her imagined child-like sense of fabrication. Satsuki, the older of the two girls, straddles the line between childhood and pre-teen adolescence. Her character is often more cynical and level-headed than her younger sister, and therefore she is the perfect representation for an adult audience who may need to put aside their own sense of scepticism when approaching a film that is so shameless magical.
The story is fantastical, with Miyazaki allowing the action to unfold gently; bringing the girls (and us the audience) into the world of Totoro slowly.
The introductions of the soot spirits and the mythical king of the forest doesn't seem too unestablished when placed into a tale that evokes such plausible and believable depictions of reality(as with all the films of Studio Ghibli; Totoro has a keen obsessive attention to detail; with the texture of the locations and the use of light and shadow drawing you further and further into this world). The atmosphere throughout is perfect, whilst the characters (both in design and portrayal) are exquisite, with the two young girls setting the template for Miyazaki's aforementioned later films, Kiki's Delivery Service and Spirited Away, whilst the design of the mythical Totoro would become an important piece of iconography within Japanese animation (he's the chief mascot, as the Studio Ghibli logo, and is available in a range of plush-toy figurines).
The majority of Miyazaki's work explore deeper themes lurking beneath the surface of the story... Here, it is the idea of childhood and imagination being worn down by the creeping approach of adolescence. It has also been seen as a metaphorical study; with the relationship between the girls and Totoro being an imagined one in order to take their minds off the temporary loss of their mother relating to their concerns over her health. Whether or not you choose to interpret the story on such a level is entirely a personal venture, with the film working just fine as a lovely piece of family entertainment, with a warm and ultimately uplifting story being elevated by that gorgeous design/animation, the larger than life characters, and the story.
Tonari no Totoro is an exceptional film... one that has the power to entrance children and adults alike; with its evocative story, memorable characters and study of life and imagination. If you've never seen a Hayao Miyazaki film before, then this is a great place to start, and is really an essential piece of art alongside Spirited Away, and Howl's Moving Castle.
Only qualms would be the ending of it all but only because we wanted more; another masterpiece from Hayao Miyazaki.
''To-to-ro? You're Totoro!.''