[From September Issue 2012]
My Neighbor Totoro (Directed by MIYAZAKI Hayao)
Praised at film festivals around the world, including Venice and Berlin, this is the third full-length animation film made by Studio Ghibli. Like the first and the second films, “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind” and “Laputa: Castle in the Sky,” this third film, released in 1988, was also written and directed by MIYAZAKI Hayao.
It’s a fantasy about how six-grader Satsuki and her four-year-old sister Mei encounter a mysterious creature in the woods and how they become friends with it. In 2005 a new English dubbed version was made and released in the U.S.A. The loveable Totoro character was very popular as a stuffed toy and even made a Cameo appearance in “Toy Story 3.” Totoro is also the logo of Studio Ghibli.
Satsuki and Mei move from the city to the countryside with their father to live in a detached house. This is so that their mother, who is due to be released from hospital soon, can stay in a place that has plenty of fresh air. However, the sisters are scared when they are told by Kanta, a boy living in the neighborhood, that the old house is haunted. Some time later, Mei meets a mysterious creature in the back yard.
When Mei follows this creature deep into the woods, she finds a bigger creature with grey fur sleeping there. This is “Totoro,” the Lord of the forest, who has been living there since ancient times. Only children can see Totoro.
After some time, Satsuki meets Totoro at a bus stop. Totoro appears beside Satsuki in the middle of a rain storm as she is waiting at the bus stop for her father. When a giant cat-shaped bus with ghosts for passengers arrives, Totoro gets on it and rides away. Thus, Satsuki and Mei become friends with Totoro and his pals. Totoro has magical powers like the ability to make a fallen acorn grow into a huge tree in an instant, or to fly in the sky by riding on a spinning top.
One day in the summer holidays, a telegram comes from the hospital. Mei suspects that her mother’s condition has worsened and sets out to visit her by herself taking along an ear of corn as a gift. However, she gets lost along the way. Satsuki desperately searches for Mei but cannot find her. Then, Satsuki asks Totoro for help saying, “Please search for Mei.” Totoro responds by jumping on top of a tree and calling for the cat-shaped bus.
One of the attractions of the movie is that it depicts everyday life during the late ‘50s. Many people are nostalgic for those times, when Japan was being reconstructed after the war. When the 2005 World Expo was held in Aichi Prefecture, the detached house that Satsuki and Mei lived in was reproduced as an exhibit. The house was built with the same methods employed during those years, and is still exhibited in the Expo 2005 Commemorative Park (Mori-Koro Park).