"My Neighbor Totoro" DVD, Blu-ray Review

3/10/2010 Posted by Admin

DVD, Blu-ray Review

"My Neighbor Totoro"

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki, Written by Miyazaki, 97 minutes, Rated G

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti

Long before the Oscar nominations and Disney distribution started rolling in, Hayao Miyazaki was known pretty exclusively in his native Japan--but even then he was accepted as one of the great Japanese auteurs of his lifetime. Then in 1988, the same year Studio Ghibli co-founder and fellow animator Isao Takahata released his critically acclaimed anime war drama "Grave of the Fireflies," Miyazaki released the film that put him and Ghibli on the map worldwide. It was "My Neighbor Totoro," and it has long been the animator's calling card and the character in its title has even become the logo for Studio Ghibli.

Unlike the Miyazaki films that came before or after it, "Totoro" is a very simple family drama about two little girls, Satsuke and Mei, and their father moving out into the country and coping with their mother being hospitalized for an unspecified illness. Miyazaki brings in his typical fantasy aspects with Totoro, a giant cat-like nature spirit that lives in the forest next to the girls' new house. They befriend him and find that his presence has a strong effect on them and everyone else on the countryside.

Miyazaki tells perhaps his best overall story here. There's not very much to it, but the little episodes featuring the girls exploring their environment and interacting with Totoro ends up being an incredibly effective means of portraying so many elements of childhood. The wonder, the curiosity, the relationship with your parents and neighbors, the younger and older sibling dynamic, the unbridled imagination--it's all here and it's all shown with extreme care and subtlety. Miyazaki often features children as main characters in his work, but this is by far the most accurate depiction of childhood he's done.

As one can almost always expect with Miyazaki, the film also features a broader message regarding the environment and its relation to humanity as a whole. Totoro here serves as less a big goofy fantasy sidekick and more a representation of how a balanced between man and nature can only have good results. He'd done it before and he's done it since, and he's certainly done it better, but this is probably his most low-key approach to the subject. And of course the big fluffy Totoro makes for some fun moments, this is a family film after all.

The visuals are also appropriately low-key here compared to Miyazaki's other work, primarily because there are a lot fewer fantastical elements in "Totoro" than something like "Spirited Away," but also because the use of the more simple and realistic animation makes the rather goofy but interesting appearance of Totoro and the other fantasy creatures all the more fascinating. One of the best images in the film is a giant 10-legged cat-bus hybrid that leaps across entire fields in seconds. There are a couple moments where the creature perches on roof and treetops and its odd and almost unsettling grin (very reminiscent of the Chesire Cat, for example) mixes interestingly with the normal environment.

It's completely clear why "My Neighbor Totoro" served as such a leap for Miyazaki and the acceptance of anime in America in general. It's simple tale and universal themes could be enjoyed by anyone of any race or age. It may not be Miyazaki's greatest accomplishment, but it's one of many obvious reasons he's the undeniable master of modern Japanese animation.

Grade: A

  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Technorati
  • Facebook
  • TwitThis
  • MySpace
  • LinkedIn
  • Live
  • Google
  • Reddit
  • Sphinn
  • Propeller
  • Slashdot
  • Netvibes


  1. Crystal said...

    I LOVEEEEEE THIS MOVIE! It has no plot what so ever, but it is still wonderful! I fell in love with this when i was younger and i still love it just as much as i did when i first saw it! The art work is beautiful and depending what sub over you pick will make all the difference...my fave sub over is the one that was aired on Fox. Try to find that one and your goldn.
    Crystal K.