My Neighbor Totoro (G)
ANN; Ghibli Collection; Ghibli Wiki; GKIDS; IMDb; Nausicaa.net; Online Ghibli; Rotten Tomatoes; TV Tropes; Wikipedia; Wild Bunch
streaming sites: Amazon; Google Play; iTunes; Vudu; YouTube
This movie first came out in 1988 in Japan; in 1993, it was released in the U.S. as "My Friend Totoro," but I never got around to seeing that version. In 2005, Disney put out a new version with the original title, and a new English dub. But, again, I didn't see it until the 2010 release of Disney's special edition DVD. So, by this point, I was already familiar with a few Miyazaki films that had come out later. But I've wanted to see this one for a long time. Anyway, while his films are usually family friendly, I'd say this one skews younger than most; but as with all his films, they can just as easily be enjoyed by adults, especially if you're young at heart. I can also say his films are always rather magical, and this is no exception, though I think I found it a bit less magical than I might have hoped. And the plot wasn't very complex at all. Still, it was good. There was never a moment I didn't like, and there were several moments I loved, but overall, I just think most of my appreciation for the film was based on already being a fan of Miyazaki films in general. I have to wonder, if this was the first one I ever saw, would I have ended up becoming as much of a fan of his work as I am? Would I have liked the movie less for having no expectations, or more... for the same reason? I dunno. It's not important, it's still a good movie.
Well, anyway... there are these two girls, Satsuki and Mei Kusakabe (aged about 10 and 4, respectively), who move with their father to an old house in the country. Meanwhile, their mother is in the hospital, with some long-term illness. The girls soon discover "soot gremlins" (or soot sprites) living in the house, which always scamper away when they open a door. And there's a shy neighbor boy named Kanta who says their house is haunted. There's also an old woman called Granny, who looks after the house, and also looks after Mei, while their father is at work and Satsuki is in school. And there's an enormous Camphor tree nearby.
One day, Mei spots a couple of small, magical creatures, which she follows into the Camphor tree, and falls through a sort of tunnel, at the bottom of which she finds a much larger version of the creatures. She asks it its name, and its growls sort of sound like "To to ro," so she decides its name is Totoro. Later, Satsuki and their father find Mei asleep outside, but Totoro is nowhere around. Father tells them spirits of the forest can only be seen when they want to be. Satsuki hopes she gets to see Totoro someday, too.
Well, I don't really want to spoil anything else, but the girls do see Totoro again a few times, as well as another magical creature called a "Catbus" (which, as the name suggests, is a large, bus-shaped cat, which Totoro uses for transportation). Of course, only children can see magical creatures (though Granny remembers having seen soot sprites when she was a child). I do wish we could have seen more of Totoro and Catbus in the movie, and part of me wished to see some larger, magical world, or something. Maybe I'm just too spoiled by other things, though. It's not like what happened wasn't magical enough, I guess. And anyway, the animation is beautiful, as always; it's not like I don't love realistic anime, so there's no reason for me not to love it as a backdrop for a slightly fantastic story (or, in a way, perhaps the fantasy is more a backdrop for reality). Because, really, the most important thing about the movie is how the girls missed and worried about their mother, and in the end, the magical stuff tied into that, somewhat. I might say one is left with the feeling that there are aspects of real life that are magical, in their own way. And... that's all I can think to say....