One of Studio Ghibli’s first films, director Hayao Miyazaki creates a beautiful film to be enjoyed by children and adults alike…
It’s no coincidence that Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbour Totoro debuted in the same year as the genre-defining Akira. Katsuhiro Otomo’s adaptation of his own gargantuan graphic novel set the pace and themes for what followed in Anime, and broke the artform around the world. Yet that same year, in one of the earliest outings from the newly created Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki set out his own manifesto for what he felt should be the themes for films. ‘Non-confrontational’, family orientated, in every sense a world away from what we all expected at the time from Japanese animation… perhaps that’s why it took us so long to catch on?
When two girls, Satsuki and her younger sister Mei move out into the country with their father to be closer to their bedridden mother, they soon find mysterious spirits inhabit the forest next to their new home. Known as ‘Totoro’, they soon embark on several adventures together, helping both to take their minds off their mother illness, and ultimately deal with the situation…
Ahem, and that’s it really!
It’s all pretty wholesome fun, a simple tale beautifully told. There are no cheap ‘looping backgrounds’ or Anime style frozen montages. Instead the painstaking detail with which Miyazaki’s recreate this rural area outside of Tokyo is only too obvious. In fact, this sort of quality of animation hadn’t seen since Disney’s Snow White or Pinocchio. The gentle pace of both animation and story is a complete contrast to the extreme nature of most Anime.
(Recently in an article about the family feud surrounding the release of Tales From Earthsea between Hayao Miyazaki and his son Goro, Kaleem Aftab, a witer for The Independent, over simplified the difference between Manga and Anime, suggesting that the themes of Anime were more violent than those in printed Manga, or comic book form. Of course, Manga itself could be more violent than anything ever brought to the screen in Anime, but the point he makes about Miyazaki’s films is valid – they deliberately defy everything Japanese animation had become best known for.)
The films themes echo the later Spirited Away, as the bizarre world these creatures inhabit happens around us all the time, we just don’t see it. If it lacks the menace of that film, there does at the core seem some implied threat from this world – the large Totoro with it’s large – sharp claws, but perhaps that’s an adult watching with an adults preconceptions. Children don’t have that.
My Neighbour Totoro is an amazing piece of work to be enjoyed by children and adults alike!
My Neighbour Totoro is released UK Double Play (Blu-ray + DVD) on 12th November by StudioCanal.
Review originally published 7 December 2007.
Dual Format details
Distributor: StudioCanal (UK)
Edition: Double Play (Blu-Ray + DVD) (2012)
The already great transfer gets a solid bump up with Blu-Ray quality, making the details of animation even more delightful.
But it's on the new extras that this edition really excels. The original storyboards are joined by a load of fascinating extras including interviews with Miyazaki himself: Creating My Neighbor Totoro; Creating the Characters; The Totoro Experience; Producer’s Perspective: Creating Ghibli; The Locations of Totoro; and Scoring Miyazaki
Wow… does it get better?
Distributor: Optimum Home Entertainment (UK)
Beautiful master of the original film that includes both the original Japanese soundtrack, and the 'Disney dub'. Not much in the way of extras, but an alternative angle function allowing you to view the storyboards for the entire film do provide an unbeatable insight into the making of the film.