BOT: My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

BOT stands for Back on Track and this is the feature’s third post.

Before I start my very positive review on the first BOT animation, I would like to specify that the version I saw was the dubbed English version with the Dakota sisters as Satsuki and Mei (also sisters). I don’t know if this changes a lot but I just know that I myself felt a bit more comfortable with the dubbed version as supposed to the subtitled one. Besides, I loved My Neighbor Totoro a lot, so I think there’s no need to emphasize my laziness regarding subtitles any longer and it is time to continue on with more important things.

I didn’t know much about My Neighbor Totoro except the fact that I had countless of times seen the image of Totoro in the vast space called the Internet. I must say, he is a delightful creature and probably a very practical one for little kids as a pillow. Surely the fact that he was a pillow for Mei inspired me to say this but I think it’s okay since that scene was the cutest ever. Anyway, I’ll try to focus a bit more because I keep getting these cuteness flashbacks and getting all emotional over a character that had almost no verbal interactions what so ever, and that is not helping me at all. So, My Neighbor Totoro is a sweet family movie about two sisters who are playful and happy despite the fact that their mother is in the hospital.

My Neighbor Totoro has won several awards in Japan but it is still word wide known. As proof, the movie is #172 on the IMDb Top 250 list among many Miyazaki animations in that list. Exact number is revealed in the post.

The first time we meet these two little girls is when they are moving to the country side with their father, into a house that the neighbor boy calls haunted – which it actually isn’t if you count out the small black furry looking things that have eyes and are able to fly. At first I assumed it was the imagination of the kids that created them but now I just think that all the weird animals were meant to be real but just invisible to the grownups. The more I think about it, the more similarities I find with those imaginative animals with the modern culture – such as the cat bus that reminded me of Harry Potter’s wizard bus. Not a total copy but just the idea of it was a bit familiar which is not to be meant as a bad thing, I think it is very important to have inspirational things and I feel like My Neighbor Totoro is a brilliant source of ideas. Together with the decent family values and sisterly love it makes a great family animation and not at all weaker than the ones running in cinemas nowadays.

The thing I liked the most about the sisters, I wrote it down and underlined it three times, is the fact that they were very curious and brave. It was evident in the beginning when they were going to the second floor to open the window and it continued to make me smile when Mei found Totoro sleeping – such a big animal and she had no intention of running away. Instead, she played with it and despite his big mouth and powerful roar she fell asleep on top of Totoro. That was the scene that created the biggest smile on my face for sure! And this time I was reminded of Monster’s Inc., an animation that is probably as cute as My Neighbor Totoro and also in the IMDb’s Top 250 movies! Is it too much to call Totoro an inspirational animated character at this point? I think he is because the whole idea of the animation was to be uplifting and cheerful, give out of this world creatures warmth and make them lovable (such as making dragons adorable in How to Train Your Dragon) and I feel like My Neighbor Totoro managed to do that without too much fuss.

That brings me to my main point, the fuss was missing and I guess that was the thing that captured me the most. The animation didn’t raise any problems or didn’t cause much drama around any serious topic to be honest. We know that the mother is in the hospital but no apparent danger is raised by it, we see the creatures in the house yet Mei and Satsuki aren’t afraid of them – no conflict comes of that as well. We even see the girls fight off the horrifying things with laughter as their father tells them to do, so we never feel like the girls are put into danger by something. The whole plot just flows through situations and curiosity when exploring their new home but as a single trouble in this movie, through no fault but the girls themselves, an incident takes place and Mei gets lost. This is kind of the high point of the story, the culmination but yet it doesn’t feel as important as the moments in the beginning and the feeling in the end when the sisters see their parents in the hospital. In a way, the bad things aren’t as prominent in our minds after watching My Neighbor Totoro as the funny ones. Probably why I almost forgot to mention the getting lost scenario because it wasn’t as dramatic or tragical but felt like “she got lost, she’s alright” from the moment it happened.

Another thing I want to point out is that it was definitely funny but my favorite thing about it was the way humor was delivered. Rather than make it all about the dialog or verbal interaction, the best and most memorable moments were created by silent scenes – therefore carried only by animation! Best example is the scene where Satsuki meets Totoro for the first time at the bus stop. He is wearing a leaf over his head and the girl offers him an umbrella which he comes accustomed to right away. The small details in that scene, the way Totoro looks while standing in the rain, the water drops falling on his nose and his joy when he realizes how practical and useful the umbrella really is. Just thinking about that scene is making me smile again, I really had no idea how much this animation would appeal to me before I watched it. I’m a big fan of animated movies but still, I’m quite surprised that My Neighbor Totoro became such a favorite that most definitely deserves to be watched again and again.

Though I feel like I have to watch many Hayao Miyazaki (director, writer) animations now, and I probably will, I won’t include them in my BOT series. I have now planned this list out in such lengths that I can’t simply fit them in there anymore but I will consider making a special BOT: Animation feature after I’m done with this one. Which is thrilling for me but for my school probably not so much!

Behind this movie is the talented Hayao Miyazaki, a man who wrote and directed the movie that is most likely a favorite of many animation fans. The man is talented and that’s a fact because IMDb Top 250 list has listed, wait for it, SIX of his animations as the best of the best! Not to mention the fact that rest of his feature length animations having pretty high scores as well. If this does not prove talent and likability from the masses, I don’t know what will. (One might argue the credibility of the IMDb Top 250 list but I still think it is quite accurate because it has been conducted by the general public.) The reason I’m glad with my choice of picking My Neighbor Totoro as my BOT post in general is that now after loving this one so much I have no way possible of knowing the meaning of love after I watch Miyazaki more known Spirited Away (2001)!

PS: Next BOT will be the most classical addition so far, such a classic that it is a black and white one! Stay tuned and don’t forget to comment if you think Totoro is the cutest or if you want/have Totoro as a pillow at home for yourself or your kids!

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