Anime Film Review: My Neighbor Totoro

My Neighbor Totoro is a film written and directed by Hayao Miyazkai. It was originally released in Japan in August 1988, as part of a double feature with Grave of the Fireflies.

My Neighbor Totoro
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: Chika Sakamoto, Noriko Hidaka, and Hitoshi Takagi
Run Time: 86 minutes
Rated: G

In 1993, 50th Street Films produced a dub of the film, which was released on VHS and DVD by Fox Video. Both of these entities lost their rights to the film in 2004, and Disney produced a new English dub with new voice actors. The new English dub made its debut on October 23, 2005. Disney’s version of the film was released on DVD on March 7, 2006.

My Neighbor Totoro takes place during the 1950s, and opens with a Tokyo university professor and his two daughters, Satsuki and Mei, moving into an old house in rural Japan. The girls’ mother is staying in the hospital due to illness, so the move was made to be closer to her. When they get there, the girls discover the house is inhabited by small creatures called soot sprites, which represent the girls’ apprehension of moving into a new house. After they become comfortable there and are able to laugh with their father, the soot sprites leave.

One day while Satsuki is at school, Mei plays outside and sees a creature with two white, rabbit-like ears. She follows the creature under the house, and discovers two magical creatures; the creatures lead her through a briar patch and into the hollow of a large tree. Mei meets and befriends a bigger version of these spirits; the big spirit identifies itself through a series of roars, which Met interprets as “Totoro.” Later, Satsuki meets Totoro. At the same time, Satsuki and Mei also encounter the Catbus, which is a large bus-shaped cat, for the first time.

One day, after believing her mother’s condition has worsened, Mei heads out on foot to the hospital. Satsuki launches a frantic search, and ends up enlisting the help of Totoro and the Catbus.

While My Neighbor Totoro clocks in at under an hour and a half, it’s still an enjoyable film; in fact, the story probably would have been weakened if Miyazaki had tried to make the runtime longer. It’s a very sweet story, and Miyazaki has created child characters who are actually rather compelling. Satsuki is having to grow up a little quicker than she might have otherwise, since she’s trying to take her mother’s place and help take care of Mei. Mei, meanwhile, doesn’t always listen to Satsuki and is missing her mother. Even with what is going on within their family, both the girls are still able to find ways to enjoy life and do some of the things that kids do. Being able to meet Totoro and the Catbus also helps the girls during this trying time for their family.

The look of the animation in My Neighbor Totoro is perfect to accompany the story of the film. The fantastical creatures like Totoro and the Catbus are very endearing, and Mei is simply cute. My Neighbor Totoro is definitely a very family-friendly anime film, and I would highly recommend it.

When Disney released My Neighbor Totoro as a two-disc DVD. There are three extras included on the first disc. The first extra is a five-and-a-half minute documentary called, “Behind the Microphone,” which features interviews and footage from recording sessions with several of the voice actors: Dakota and Elle Fanning, Lea Salogna, Pat Carroll, and Tim Daly. This is a pretty decent special feature for what it is.

The second special feature has textless versions of the opening and ending credits. The third special feature is the original Japanese theatrical trailer for My Neighbor Totoro.

The second disc only has a storyboard version of the film. I know I keep saying this, but I just can’t understand the appeal of watching a storyboard version of the film.

My Neighbor Totoro is a classic film that should be in the home video collection of not only viewers who are fans of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, but it should be in the home video collection of anyone who considers themselves to be an anime fan.

I wrote this review after watching a copy of My Neighbor Totoro that my husband purchased for me as a gift.

Additional reviews of Studio Ghibli films:

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