Posted November 8, 2012 by Greg Evans in DVD/Blu-ray
 
 

My Neighbour Totoro


Hayao Miyazaki, the legendary Japanese animator is one of the most beloved figures in all of film.

Hayao Miyazaki, the legendary Japanese animator is one
of the most beloved figures in all of film.

Not only is he loved by alternative kids for his eccentric characters and
beautiful use of colour, his work is also widely appreciated by film fans and
critics alike. Memorable characters, fantastic stories and good wholesome
messages have seen him become one of the leading figures in animation, equal to
Walt Disney. Like Disney, some of Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli films
are masterpieces. Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away and Nausicaa of
the Valley of the Wind
are in some circles hailed as some of his best
films. However, My Neighbour Totoro is not only his best, its one of the
best films ever made.

Satsuki and Mei are two young sisters,
who we first meet as they are moving into a new house with their Father. This
is a rural house, close to a nearby hospital, where unfortunately their ill
Mother is staying. Spirits though are not down. The girls are positively
ecstatic to be in their new surroundings. They run around with an unbridled
enthusiasm, trying to find every new exciting feature that is available to
them. They befriend their new neighbours but more importantly they make some
new unlikely friends. A popular belief in Japan is that spirits and gods once
inhabited and cared for the forests of the country. These spirits are present
in My Neighbour Totoro and come in many different forms. Little soot sprits
scuttle around the house, plus a mad half cat, half bus rampages around the
landscape. Of course though the true star here is Totoro. A huge
creature, that is somewhere between a bear and a rabbit, who spends most of his
day sleeping inside a huge tree. When he’s not asleep he takes care of the
forest and looks out for the two girls whenever they are in need.

Along with the likes of Woody, Buzz,
Sulley
and Shrek, Totoro is one of the most iconic and loved
characters in modern animation. Completely weird and original, Totoro, despite
his status and size, is just as inquisitive as the girls. One of the films best
scenes is when the sisters are waiting for the bus in the pouring down rain.
Totoro also happens to be waiting for a bus but doesn’t have an umbrella to
hand. Satsuki very kindly offers him a spare one so he can keep his large frame
dry. Totoro though discovers the small sensation of raindrops pattering down on
top of the umbrella to be thrilling. This sense of wonder over the most mundane
of things and not being straddled with imperfections like language makes his
mass appeal undeniable. Other characters are just as entertaining. Mei and
Satsuki are the real focal point of the film and their story is the real
vehicle that carries it. Like other similar Miyazaki characters, they are
youngsters still learning about the world. They have been dealt some hardships
but overall their bravery and goodwill sees them through.

One of the strongest features in any
Studio Ghibli feature is the pure use of animation. You’ll never see a single
piece of CGI in any of their films. Everything is hand drawn in beautiful
detail. The scene where Totoro summons a ginormous tree from the earth is one
of the most magical and mesmerising things you’re ever likely to see in a film.
The fact this is all now on Blu-ray only heightens the beauty. In conjunction,
the soundtrack is the perfect compliment to the films aesthetic. Joe Hisaishi’s synths and chimes
echo around the film, creating an ambient but fun feeling to the overall
quality of the movie. Equally Azumi Inoue’s vocal songs are as funny and
touching as anything Randy Newman produced for the Toy Story trilogy.

So where does My Neighbour Totoro’s
legacy lead? Its story is so simple and enjoyable that it will be watched by
generations of children to come. But this isn’t strictly a children’s film. The
surreal cat bus could have come straight from the mind of Tim Burton,
plus the scenes between the parents will resonate strongly with anybody with
small children. As for Totoro himself, he’s practically become an institution.
His image is now at the start of every Studio Ghibli film. You can buy backpacks
and hats resembling him. The guy even made a cameo in Toy Story 3.
Without question he has become one of the most recognisable faces in modern
cinema history.

In the BFI’s recent Greatest
Films of All Time list Totoro ranked in at 154th. It shared this
spot with films like Once Upon a Time in America, Vampyr, The Shining,
Solaris, Brief Encounter
and Black Narcissus. If a quirky little
children’s film from Japan about two girls making friends with a spirit, can be
judged to be as good as films from the likes of Andrei Tarkovsky and Stanley
Kubrick,
then what better testament is there to the brilliance of this
film.


Greg Evans