MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO
Written by Jason Flick
March 12, 2010
In the world of animated films, Disney/Pixar is regarded to be the cream of the crop here in the United States. The same can be said for Japanese animation director Hayao Miyazaki, whose works only became known here in the States with the release of Princess Mononoke in the late 90’s. That was the first film of his I ever saw and quickly fell in love with it. This year Disney the American animation giant and the famed Japanese director, join forces to release three of Miyazaki’s most cherished films. In this article I will talk about the My Neighbor Totoro 2-Disc Special Edition DVD, a film that highlights the youthful innocence of childhood.
In My Neighbor Totoro, we meet the Kusakabe family as the move into a house in rural Japan to be closer to their ailing mother in a nearby hospital in 1958. A university professor and his two daughters Satsuki and Mei settle into a house that is uninhabited and full of black beings called soot sprites as the two sisters find out. These curious little creatures pave the way for the film’s title creature as well as a cat-bus monster.
This film, while light hearted has its sad and dark moments. The main underlying reason that I think was the fact that the girl’s mother has been stuck in the hospital with some unnamed (though probably tuberculosis hinted to by Miyazaki) long-term disease. At first the girl’s seem like they are handling it well but as the movie progresses you find that they are not, especially the oldest, Satsuki. In the bonus features Miyazaki says that his own mother was stricken with a long-time disease too but that was not the reason for putting it in the film.
My Neighbor Totoro like many a Miyazaki film has its truly memorable characters. Totoro, which has now become the logo character for Studio Ghibli, is a strange yet magical creature that holds a few a few tricks up his…fur. There is a scene in the film involving two smaller Totoro and the younger sister Mei that is cute and predictable and adds to the level of innocence that is the key aspect of My Neighbor Totoro. Of all the creatures or characters in the film my favorite is the at-bus monster. This creature while only seen briefly in the film at first reminded me heavily of the Cheshire Cat, which could disappear just like him grin and all. According to Miyazaki it had no influence on his design but rather the shape shifting cat of Japanese legend held this creature’s origin.
My Neighbor Totoro is Hayao Miyazaki's first film set in Japan so this film is a bit different than his first two films. Drawing inspiration from his own surroundings Miyazaki designed this film as if it was being seen from the eyes of a child. This is evident in the way that Satsuki and Mei interact while exploring their new home for the first time and when Mei is playing out in the yard early on in the film. One of the reasons that I like My Neighbor Totoro is that like most Miyazaki there is always some sort of message. In this film his usual topics about respecting nature is present as well as being respectful to others.
Miyazaki’s works are easily distinguishable from other animation directors and it shows time after time. The character designs are all well done and the environments are beautifully animated. This particular film has more of a carefree feel to it. The calm scenes of rice paddies and forests and high paced travel scenes are presented in 1.85:1 Widescreen and look good. The only thing that I will mention is that while the transfer to DVD went well you can still tell the film is somewhat dated. Besides that it the film holds up well.
My Neighbor Totoro features both an awesome score as well as a good voice cast presented in English Dolby Digital Sound. The score which is light and carefree at times as well as mystically upbeat at times is done by Joe Hisaishi. He has done remarkable work over the many years for Miyazaki and this film is no different. You can watch this film with either the English or Japanese audio tracks but I preferred watching this film in English. My Neighbor Totoro features some a rather surprising English voice cast members including sisters Dakota and Elle Fanning. One name that doesn’t surprise me however is Frank Welker who is the voice of both the cat-bus and Totoro. Frank Welker is synonymous with doing voice work in animation such as Scooby Doo.
The My Neighbor Totoro 2-Disc Special Edition DVD contains numerous special features including a look into how the film came to be, his inspiration for the story and the real life locations that came to be what you see in the film. Included on the second disc is a look at The World of Ghibli. Here you can see the work that went into other Miyazaki films. This is a rare look into one of the finest animation studios in the world and should not be missed. Each copy of My Neighbor Totoro 2-Disc Special Edition DVD comes with a collectible lithograph that features the box art for the film.
My Neighbor Totoro is a classic animated film full of imagination, heart and wonder. Hayao Miyazaki is a master at making films that touch your heart and expand your mind with memorable characters and vivid worlds. I really enjoyed watching My Neighbor Totoro and plan on watching it man y times over in the years to come. You can pick up the My Neighbor Totoro 2-Disc Special Edition DVD for around $20 at most retailers. I highly recommend picking up this title as soon as you can.