In its founding pictures (both released in 1988) Studio Ghibli could not have released two more different films. With Takahata opting to highlight the plight of war, its suffering and the effect on the common person, while other founder Miyazaki instead utilised the genre as a means to create a world of whimsical creatures and magical landscapes. For at its root, that is the exact feeling generated by his most famous film, My Neighbour Totoro.
Featuring the official first entry of the Ghibli mascot, this production removes the need for a typical structure so as to instead highlight the exuberance of childhood, with its simple and joyous plot-line. For audience members who require a form of direction in their films, My Neighbour Totoro will most likely annoy, with the lack of consequence given to the narrative. However, where Grave of the Fireflies handled mature themes for a more mature demographic, Miyazaki has built his vision to cater younger viewers.
Beginning with a typical 80s theme tune, My Neighbour Totoro follows two young girls, Satsuki and Mei, as they relocate to the countryside. With their mother hospitalised for an unexplored reason, the two girls begin to explore their new surroundings and the neighbouring woodland. Making acquaintance with a giant creature that serves as the forest spirit (the titler Totoro), Satsuki and Mei are shown a magical landscape just beyond the world of imagination. Interacting with a multitude of different characters, including a freaky cat/bus hybrid, the two girls begin to adapt to their new surroundings, all the time waiting for their mother to return home.
With no real direction, and no featured antagonist, My Neighbour Totoro feels somewhat different to other animated productions. Where the film lacks the sense of progression it makes up with a whimsical charm that is sure to delight any audience type. This comes at the cost of pacing, with the film being somewhat slower than what could be expected. In truth, Miyazaki film carries a lot of the same staples that the studio is renowned for. With his direction resulting in a film that feels magical, childlike and fun throughout.
Known for this film title character, Studio Ghibli is branded in the west around this creation. For this reason My Neighbour Totoro is an intriguing watch in how the character was first introduced and developed. Although the introduction of such an iconic piece of Japanese culture will indulge the studios fans, like most everything else in the film the character is shortchanged in exposition or development. With none of the characters being fully explained or explored, My Neighbour Totoro instead asks audience members to interpret them in the manner which best suits their personal understanding. By using the characters in this manner, Miyazaki allows his creations to be envisioned in a multitude of different ways and such carry enough appeal to last long after the films close.
One area that My Neighbour Totoro excels within the English dub is with the casting of the Fanning sisters as the film lead two characters. Portraying sisters, the two actresses are able to use real life chemistry to present the individual personalities in a realistic manner. This elevates the feeling of the two characters beyond that of the screenplay, resulting in a more engrossing a likeable pair that the compliments the wider production.
My Neighbour Totoro is an easy viewing, unstructured film that carries a lot of charm within its narrative. Famed for the introduction of a cultural icon, Miyazaki has developed a timeless fable that works in bringing a level of fun through high standard animations.