Genre: Slice Of Life / Fantasy
Version reviewed: English Dubbed
Date of Review: 23 Apr 2006
revised 15 Jan 2010
A simple tale that is nothing short of amazing, Hayao Miyazaki works his usual magic in a tale of childhood wonder.
Satsuki and Mei have just moved to an old house in the country with their father, as their mother recovers from illness in a nearby hospital. There, they discover there are spirits in the house and the forest around them that only they can see, and soon make friends with them.
In a break from my normal practice of watching the Japanese language incarnation of anime first, I decided that my first viewing of Totoro would be in English, with real-life sisters Dakota and Elle Fanning providing the voices for Satsuki and Mei. As expected, the dub for this gem in Hayao Miyazaki’s crown lives up to expectations, with good acting all around. Having real sisters play sisters in the film made those parts especially believable, since they don’t have to act so much to play off of each other; it just happens naturally, and genuine interplay is the result.
As for the movie itself, I once read somewhere that this film was made for anyone who is, or ever was, eight years old. Watching it makes it easy to see why. My Neighbor Totoro is the wonder and amazement of the world seen from a child’s eyes put into a tangible form. Eleven year old Satsuki and four year old Mei are the main characters of the film, and in their world, the presence of sootball gremlins (which would reappear in Spirited Away) and Totoros is perfectly within reason. Another fantastic creature that lives in this world is the Catbus, which has to be seen to be believed. The humor that Totoro and the Catbus each bring to the movie despite no spoken lines between them shows how effective visual humor can be.
Though often referred to as a children’s movie, you don’t need to be a kid to enjoy it. It is far more subtle and sophisticated than what often passes for ‘kiddie fare’ in the US, and any adult that feels embarrassed to watch My Neighbor Totoro is denying themselves a magical experience (and probably their inner child, too).
My Neighbor Totoro is Hayao Miyazaki at the top of his game, and Ghibli’s third overall venture (debuting as a double feature along with – of all films – Grave Of The Fireflies). An absolute must see.