My Neighbor Totoro

Studio: GKIDS

Oct 19, 2017 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Towards the beginning of My Neighbor Totoro, Tatsuo asks his daughters – 11-year-old Satsuki, and four-year-old Mei – to go open up the back of the fixer-upper home they’ve just moved into. Satsuki pops loose the lock and they throw open the door to a dark bathroom, the sudden sunlight scaring hundreds of small, black soot gremlins scurrying into the corners. Satsuki and Mei stand, eyes wide, frozen in fright for several seconds before letting out belting screams. These howls aren’t because they’re scared, but to scare away the mystery creatures living in their new house. It’s moments like these that occur throughout My Neighbor Totoro that ring more true of childhood than what you’ll see in almost any other film ever made. We’ve said before that Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli portray kids more accurately than any other filmmakers, and 1988’s Totoro has to be their most shining example. Whether they’re playing, comforting one another, or fighting, Satsuki and Mei are two of the most realistic siblings you’ll see in any movie.

The film follows these two girls over their first few seasons in a new home. It’s the mid-1950s, and their mother is recovering from an extended illness at a nearby hospital. As the time slowly passes, they explore their surroundings and get to know their new neighbors – including the rotund, towering Totoro and his fellow forest spirits.

The brilliant My Neighbor Totoro hardly needs its commendations rehashed all over again. The film and its titular character are cultural touchstones in Japan, and it’s widely treasured outside of its home country, regularly appearing on lists of the greatest-ever foreign films and frequently topping ones compiled specifically for international animated movies. Numerous, respected cinema fans – from Roger Ebert to Terry Gilliam – have cited it among their favorites. We’ll concur that My Neighbor Totoro deserves all of the praise that’s been heaped upon it.

As with the best of the best children’s films, My Neighbor Totoro is equally as appreciable for the old as well as the young. For kids, it’s a story about characters who look and act just the way they do, and it's packed with adorable creatures. For adults it seems to hit a special nerve, serving as a strong reminder of carefree days when we were younger, when the world was still largely unknown and felt so much more magical. But it’s more than nostalgia-tweaking; if you’re a parent, the stressful final act likely won’t leave you with dry eyes.

As simply as we can put it, My Neighbor Totoro is a masterpiece of children’s animation. There’s no one we wouldn’t recommend it to.

GKIDS’ new Blu-ray/DVD dual edition comes with a healthy assortment of special features. Nearly all are ported over from the previous release so an upgrade from the prior Blu isn’t really necessary, but those who missed out on that one have every reason to grab this now. Most importantly, this version includes the stellar 2006 English dub rather than the poorer one from the ‘90s; real-life sisters, 12-year-old Dakota and seven-year-old Elle Fanning, did an excellent job voicing Satsuki and Mei.




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