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I went to see My Neighbor Totoro subbed last night as part of the 2017 GKids Studio Ghiblifest. The theater I went to seemed to have a fairly good turnout for the show, but not as popular as the theatrical SailorMoon Release which I reviewed here (dub) and here (sub)
Still it is nice to see anime getting more coverage in theaters. I drove almost an hour to go see Totoro, but it was still closer than the nearly 2 hour drive I made (twice) to go see Sailor Moon. It’s also awesome to see old anime like Totoro from the 80s and SailorMoon from the 90s finally on the big screen!
The excitement of seeing such childhood favorite films on the silverscreen inspired me to want to do a review for Totoro today.
Also be sure to check out the Studio Ghiblifest home page, there will be other Studio Ghibli films in theaters all summer long, with the next one being Kiki’s Delivery Service on July 23 (dub) and 24 (sub). I like Kiki’s Delivery Service so much, that I might just go to both of them :).
Onto the review:
Title: My Neighbor Totoro
Studio: Studio Ghibli
Release Date: 1988
Genre: Slice of Life, Adventure, Fantasy
Geeky: 2/5 This film is beautiful to watch, even now, 20 years after its initial release. But plot wise, this is a very slow moving film, slow and uneventful for almost the entire film, and then insanely rushed in the last 10-15 minutes of the film. Actually the ending feels really disjointed from the rest of the film and you can read about that under the Conspiracy Theory below. The languid plot and ending that feels out of place make this a hard film to like, unless you’re watching it for the beautiful backgrounds and cute characters. Systematically though, I can’t give it high “technical” points due to the poor writing.
Sweetie: 4/5 Like most Ghibli films, this is super charming with a lot of heart. It depicts every day life of two little girls living in a new home in the forest with their father as they wait for their mother to return from a hospital. The girls encounter magical creatures, and those creatures are super adorable to boot. Blending slice of life in traditional Japan in a quiet countryside rural village, alongside the mystical and fantastical secret world that only the girls can see, and all the new magical friends they make, this tale is full of sweet cute moments sure to appeal to anyone looking for a kawaii cute family friendly and feel good anime. — It loses one point because there is no plot or character development. Unlike other Ghibli films, this one just never seems to get off the ground or accomplish much.
Story: 6/10 The story is a slice of life look at the life of 2 very young girls. Their mother is sick in the hospital with some unexplained illness, and their father has just decided to move the family to a new home in the country, thinking the fresh air from the trees would be good for his wife once she returns back home. While exploring their new surroundings, the two girls stumble upon a magical creature which they dub Totoro. Their father says Totoro is a very old forest spirit, and the father, along with Totoro, teaches the young girls to love and respect nature.
Characters: 9/10 The real reason to watch this show is because all of the characters are cute, unique, heart warming, and funny. Not just the adorable Totoro and his friends, but also the human children. The anime puts a lot of work into making us like and care about the girls and their father. In fact, the entire film, until the very end, is just day to day stuff that the girls find exciting about their new home, or sharing loving family moments with their father. — That said, unlike most Ghibli films, there’s really no character “development” the characters do not change much at all throughout the movie. This, combined with a very slow moving plot, makes the anime feel slow and sleepy at times.
Conspiracy Theory: If you’ve already seen the film, here’s something you may be interested in reading. There are spoilers below here, so proceed at your own risk.
By the way have you heard the conspiracy theory that Totoro is actually a Shinigami and that the girls both die in the film? After watching the film again last night, this seems likely. Studio Ghibli denies those rumors and has even gone as far as asking fans to please stop talking about it.
A Shinigami is angel of death, often appearing to children who are about to die and taking comforting forms such as animals etc to help children cross over. Look at other anime such as Full Moon Wo Sagashite and how “cute” the Shinigami appear there. One of the Shinigami in Full Moon Wo Sagashite is even a white rabbit and there is a very old folk tale / superstition about white rabbits. It says if one appears in a village where someone is very sick, that person is sure to pass away soon. This same superstition is also tied to another superstition that says if you say “rabbit, rabbit, rabbit” (note 3 rabbits) on the first and last day of the month, you will have good luck. And in the movie, there are 3 Totoro (who look very much like rabbits to me). Also the Totoro could be symbolic of the girls and the mother themselves! Mei says there is one GREAT BIG Totoro, a “little” Totoro, and a “tiny” Totoro. The big one could represent the mother, the little one the older sister, and the tiny one the young sister.
Even though Studio Ghibli wants these rumors to end, they just won’t die. And with the re-release of the theatrical movie, we can be sure more and more people will be looking for these clues and debating about if Totoro is actually the god of death.
Most of the film is very cute and innocent, with not much going on. It’s a slice of life about 2 little girls living in a new home with their father in the country side. They go to school, pray at the shrine, play in the forest, and take baths and have dinners with their father. But the ending of the film is just so dark and creepy and weird compared to the rest of the film; for me the biggest clue is when the nanny asks Satsuki if it is Mei’s shoe. Satsuki tells her it’s not, and she does this very quickly without even really looking at the shoe. When she tells her this, the old woman’s face is NOT one of relief (Thank goodness Mei is still alive), but one of sadness, there’s even a tear in her eye, and disappointment (in Satsuki not being able to face reality and accept the death of her sister.) the Granny tries to stop Satsuki from looking for Mei, but Satsuki runs off anyways.
From there, the last 10 minutes or so of the film, feel dark and different. As the sun is literally setting in the film, and time is running out to find Mei, everything begins to get really demented looking.
The catbus even explicitly SAYS he’s going to the GRAVE as his next stop to FIND MEI.
In the end, when the girls are in the tree, the mother in the hospital looks out the window and says she could have sworn she saw her children laughing in the tree, but the father cannot see them, despite them all being right there at the same time.
The film takes place in Sayama, and there was a real life murder/suicide with 2 school aged sisters. The young sister is kidnapped and murdered, and the older one goes to find her, but upon discovering that she has already been murdered, the older sister takes her own life / blames herself. And in Totoro, Mei is the younger sister who “disappears” and Satsuki is the older sister who goes to look for her. Satsuki also blames herself (she had yelled at Mei earlier). Also this murder took place in the month of May and the girls are both named May: Mei and Satsuki (Japanese word for May).
Then there’s the references to Billy Goat’s Gruff. In the fairy tale, there are 3 goats trying to cross a bridge. “Crossing a Bridge” is pretty universal for crossing over into the afterlife. And in the fairytale, it is only when all 3 goats are together that they can cross the bridge. And in Totoro, the three “goats” would be the mother and the 2 girls. The billy goat’s gruff is referenced countless times in the film, peering over the bridges, the story books the mom used to read, and even Totoro’s name is some variation of the Japanese word for troll (supposedly, I dunno what that word is, but it was a trivia thing before the show started asking how did Totoro get his name, and it said it was because Mei mispronounced the Troll from her story book). There’s even a SERIOUSLY VERY CREEPY goat near the end of the film who tries to take Mei’s corn. And in the billy goat’s gruff, the goats get safe passage across the bridge by yelling very loudly. When in Totoro, the Totoros and the Girls scream loudly as they fly around with Totoro, etc.
And if Totoro can be seen by children, why do none of the other children see Totoro or the Catbus when the girls are flying around, they even fly right past the boy that likes Satsuki, and she says “I guess no one else can see us”.
And all throughout the film they keep saying how their house is haunted and everyone is afraid to go inside it, etc.
Lastly, people say that in the final scene, the girls have no shadow when they had shadows in all the rest of the film. Though I think this was maybe just an error or oversight on the part of the animators.
Anyways, it is an interesting theory. It does ask the audience to discount the last 2 minutes or so of the film where the girls return home and are greeted again by the Granny and other children in the village. But aside from that, everything else fits this theory.
End of Spoilers.
Artwork and Animation: 10/10 The backgrounds are lovely and all of the character designs are imaginative, quirky, and cute. Totoro has become so iconic that he is now the mascot for Studio Ghibli and known around the world.
Music: 10/10 I don’t really love the opening song. However, I do super love all the background tracks throughout the film. The ending theme is also catchy.
Voice Acting: 10/10 The two sisters are adorable and precocious. They give very believable performances with a lot of energy and enthusiasm. Totoro’s well timed animal sounds are quirky and cute. And the father and mother both sound very sincere and loving. Granny sounds old and slightly scary, but also warm and loving as well.
Overall: 51/60 85% B “Very Good Anime for Girls”