My Neighbor Totoro (1988)


Food: There’s a cute little spot that sits on a corner of a quiet street in Greenpoint called Five Leaves. A spot that Heath Ledger had intended to own, and then ended up going up in his memory. My friend and I split roasted cauliflower which was topped with shredded carrots and some various garnishes. Then, we each got the lamb Shepherd’s pie, which came served in a miniature cooking pot. It was not the best I’ve ever had, but it was warm and tasty enough. I got a Moscow mule and my friend enjoyed a glass of red wine. Great atmosphere, especially in the summer.

Film: Created by Hayao Miyazaki, ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ is an acclaimed Japanese animation feature about two young girls who move to the countryside with their father while their mother is sick. This tale captures the imagination and innocence of childhood in such an authentic way. Each scene is handled carefully, supplanting melodrama and action, for simplicity. The characters are written with incredibly lifelike personalities, as we watch them explore their new home, play in their yard, learn to care for nature and watch things grow.

Miyazaki has proven himself an incredibly filmmaker and artist, hand drawing all the animation himself, and releasing a series of well renown tales, notably ‘Spirited Away’ (2001), “Kiki’s Delivery Service” (1989) and ‘Princess Mononoke’ (1997), but ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ was one of his firsts and it surprisingly struggled to get made in the beginning. It was initially rejected by Tokuma Shoten Publishing Company, but Miyazaki and his producer Toshio Suzuki tried again in 1987. Many felt that the setting being in a quiet area of rural Japan in the 1950’s would not engage audiences. When talking about it in an interview, Miyazaki noted, “Entertainment back then was all about guns, action, and speed. I wanted my movie to be peaceful, tranquil, and innocent. I wanted to create that kind of world. Also, I wanted to prove that a movie like this could be successful.” Miyazaki modeled the landscape after a place where he had lived in Sayama Hills, Tokorozawa, which is now nicknamed “Totoro Forest” and holds a statue inside the House of Kurosuke. As it turns out, the tone of the film is one of the most loved aspects of it, as it has remained a renown piece of cinema even after thirty years.

There are so many wonderful aspects of this film, but what stands out is the way many of the situations are handled within the story. Rather than using fear and threat to ignite the plot, we merely follow these young girls as they explore. They have a loving father, who responds to their imaginative tales with interest as opposed to disdain, never dismissing their outlandish ideas. The way that it is written so accurately depicts the innocence of childhood – the way that we relate to or understand our environment when we are young. There is a scene where the youngest, Mei, stumbles through the forrest near their house and finds a creature whom she calls “Totoro.” There are similarities here to the later 2006 film by Guillermo Del Toro, ‘Pan’s Labrinth,’ where the lines are blurred between reality and fantasy in such a seamless way – illustrating a child’s ability to escape their world and find magic within the world. ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ captures the small details of life and what it is like to be a kid in the most wonderful way. Everyone should see this film. I certainly wish I had seen it much sooner.


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