I think so far we have reviewed a wide spectrum of films over the last few weeks. We’ve covered the brutal, the shocking, the dramatic, and the tame. I defintely consider myself to have an ecclectic taste in films. My Neighbor Totoro is a film with no villains. No fight scenes. No evil adults. No fighting between the two kids. No scary monsters. No darkness before the dawn. Sisters Satsuki and Mei have just completed moving to a new house with their father. Their mother, however, is in a nearby hospital sick. Soon after moving in, Mei stumbles across an unusual neighbor, a totoro– a furry raccoon-ish spirit. Spectacular things occur.
Miyazaki’s films are above all visually enchanting, using a watercolor look for the backgrounds and working within the distinctive Japanese anime tradition of characters with big round eyes and mouths that can be as small as a dot or as big as a cavern. Miyazaki doesn’t rub the audience’s face in glitzy animation tricks; he supervises a more complex style that relies on humanity rather than razzle-dazzle. Clearly the studio aimed this movie at kids but it is indeed a wonderful piece for the child in all of us. The way the kids react to the new house suggests that country living can be more beneficial than the city; and greater at feeding the imagination. While exploring their home they discover moth-like Soot Spirits.
This film feels like a celebration of the wonders of the natural world. Writer-director Miyazaki explores themes of the environment, health, growth, curiosity, family and understanding. Unless you’re the type that only watches anime for blood, guts and titillation, then My Neighbor Totoro should be a delightful experience. The background artwork is meticulously detailed and contains some beautiful renderings of the countryside. The character animation is very smooth and nicely detailed as well.
I know it seems that every Miyazaki movie is deemed as an automatic classic but I personally feel if that is the case, then Totoro is perhaps his most personal film, a reflection of his own childhood. By now, if you haven’t already seen this film, you’re likely scratching your head and about to give up even trying to follow along with this movie synopsis. “Weird, largely unnamed, practically indescribable, and basically mute creatures are central to this film?”, you ask. “And I’m supposed to care?,” you follow up. The answer to both of those questions is, without a doubt, yes. Call it Miyazaki magic or the power of imagination, but My Neighbor Totoro is a prime example of captivating, story-driven cinema.
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