Just forget the words and sing along

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Films of Hayao Miyazaki: My Neighbor Totoro

For those just joining us, I'm spending my free time this August by sitting down and watching every Hayao Miyazaki film and reviewing them here on the blog. Today, we're watching his 1988 family film, a beloved fantasy epic, and that would be....

My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

Celebrity Voice Cast
For the Disney dub, Disney recruited Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning, Tim Daly, Lea Salonga, Pat Carroll, and the legendary voice actor Frank Welker.

My absolute very first exposure to the works of Hayao Miyazaki is My Neighbor Totoro. For those not geek enough, the famous independent studio Troma Studios actually dubbed and released My Neighbor Totoro to theatres way back in 1993. And, I learned about it like how I learned about most foreign films back in that day. I watched Siskel and Ebert review it. Roger Ebert loved the film, even putting it on his 10 best list at the end of the year. Gene Siskel...not so much. All I remember is that they had one clip of the film that they always showed, and truth be told, that one clip always kind of creeped me out. And that's the scene of the little girl and Totoro at the bus stop.

And that was my very first exposure to Miyazaki's films. It wasn't until I finally got my hands on the DVD last year that I was able to see the film from beginning to end.

Japan in the 1950s. Young Satsuki and Mei just moved to an old house out in the countryside. Their dad is a college professor, working hard to put food on the table. Their mother is away in the hospital, battling an illness. As they settle into their new home and meet their neighbors, Satsuki and Mei start aquainting themselves with some of the spirits that inhabit the nearby forest. First there are the soot sprites...little balls of fluff with big eyes. Then they encounter the small, white, rabbit thing. And finally, the keeper of the forest, the big, fuzzy being known as Totoro. We then follow the adventures of Satsuki and Mei as they adjust to life in the country, their encounters with the forest spirits, and their anguish as they wait for their mother to come home.

What I Liked
Our little girls are very likable and very real. Totoro himself is a rather cute creature. It really is nice to see the rural side of Japan. I always seem to come in on the urban side. Great music, great animation, just great stuff.

What I Didn't Like
The film really doesn't have much of a plot...it's just a series of connect scenes in the country side. And, despite what legions of Japanese children and otaku tell you, I still find the catbus kind of creepy.

Final Verdict
Fun, heartwarming, but really, nothing new.

3 Nibs

Fun Trivia Fact
When first released in Japan, My Neighbor Totoro was shown as part of a double feature with another Studio Ghibli film, the very dark and somber Grave of the Fireflies, about two orphans trying to survive in war-torn Japan near the end of World War II. There are several theories as to why the two films were shown as a double feature...some say it's because Grave of the Fireflies is so dark, that My Neighbor Totoro was added to cheer people up. Others say it was because My Neighbor Totoro was expected to bomb, and Grave of the Fireflies was expected to be hit, so putting the two films together was a way to recoup any expected loss. Either way, I wouldn't mind watching the two films back-to-back someday.

Next Time
Running down Miyazaki's filmography, the next one is going to be the first Miyazaki film I saw in its entirety, and it's still my personal favourite. It's the coming-of-age story of a 12 year old witch. That's right...Kiki's Delivery Service.

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