U – 86mins – 1988
I first watched My Neighbour Totoro during a Studio Ghibli marathon a few years ago. The “Japanese Disney” was all very vogue at the time, in the period following the huge success of Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle (both superb). My expectations sky-high, I will admit to being somewhat disappointed by Totoro ‘s twee and simplistic storyline, but I appreciated that it is a children’s fairytale, albeit rendered anime style.
Upon a recent repeat viewing, I was absolutely spellbound by the opening half an hour or so – the Kusakabe family moving into their “haunted” house in rural Japan, daughter’s Satsuki and Mei’s unrepentant delight at all of life’s little joys despite their mother’s illness, their discovering of the “soot sprites” and Mei’s curious wonderment upon seeing two magical creatures disappear down a rabbit hole into the woodland jungle at the bottom of their garden (a clear nod to Alice in Wonderland).
Simple though it is, iconic auteur Hayao Miyazaki’s fable is so quaint and lovely, and the attention to detail in the characterization is superb, particularly in Satsuki’s sense of responsibility in lieu of her mother’s presence (which often spills out into irritation at her sister’s childlike innocence) and Mei’s adorable penchant for excitedly repeating what her elders say.
Crazy though this may sound, I actually found that my attention wandered following this first thirty minutes (which coincides with the lovable bear-like Totoro’s introduction) as the magical aspects take precedence over the real world (Totoro flies to the tip of a camphor tree on a metal spinning disc, and the girl’s take a trip to the hospital in a living bus which is a giant hollow cat). Although I was aware that the phenomena were more than likely a product of the girl’s creative imaginations, I still found the film more beguiling when the magic was more whimsical and less palpable.