Original Title: となりのトトロ Tonari no Totoro
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Animation studio: Studio Ghibli
The story takes place in the countryside of Tōkyō, a summer of the 50s. The sisters Satsuki and Mei move with their father to Matsu no Go, to live closer to the hospital where their mother is hospitalized: so begins their journey to the discovery of a new world but especially to the discovery of nature.
Their first encounter is with makkuro kurosuke, soot spirits that occupy the old abandoned houses and that only children can see (the same as in Spirited Away). Later, Mei runs into two spirits, one very small with white fur and one larger with blue fur: following them up into a large camphor tree meets Totoro, a spirit of the woods, huge and soft furry creature. According to legend, they were in Japan before the arrival of man and now live in the forests, feeding on nuts and daytime sleeping in the trees: the father explains her he is the guardian of the forest and see him is a privilege that can’t always be granted.
An evening the two little girls, waiting for their father at the bus stop in the rain, are reached by Totoro who takes a very special machine: the CatBus (Nekobasu), a furry bus with cat snout and 12 paws moving at high speed beyond any obstacle, assisted by trees that deviate to its passage, visible only to children. Satsuki offers Totoro an umbrella and he gives her seeds to be planted in the garden: Totoro, in fact, is a nature spirit, who brings the wind, rain and growth.
The story of My Neighbor Totoro has a difficult scan, the plot doesn’t follow the usual pattern and lacks a strong counterpart, a villain character capable of catalyzing the attention of the public.
To make this movie, Miyazaki did something that never been repeated so firmly in his other works: took inspiration by his life (the girls’ mother suffers from a disease that resembles tuberculosis of which also suffered the mother of the director when he was a child). The world where the movie takes place is one of the most real created by the master, a Japan of the ’50s where, unbeknownst of almost all, there are the spirits of nature.
Totoro is a metaphor for life, often interpreted as a kami (spirit) of shintō: his home, the camphor tree, is a jinja, a shintō shrine with a torii and surrounded by shimenawa, braided ropes of rice straw used for the purification in shintō ritual; with Totoro the director told for the first time the world most dear to him, that of children, where the most insignificant detail is a great find and a little beaten path is the beginning of a great adventure.
In Totoro Miyazaki‘s creativity is at the highest levels: the “family” of Totoro, the small entities made of soot, the soft and sly CatBus (which children can meet “live” at the Ghibli Museum in Japan), the incredible intelligence and poetry of some sequences (the waiting for the bus in the rain, maybe the most emotional in its graceful simplicity) show the absolute value of the film.
A modern fairy tale, a movie openly for children but from whom adults can and should learn, where is contained the whole poetic of Miyazaki: there is the love for nature, for children and the regret for a past when society was kinder to the next. What amazes of the movies is its innate freshness twenty years later its debut in Japanese theaters.
Totoro is also the symbol of Studio Ghibli, since unexpectedly the sale of its fluffy toys, made two years after the release of the movie and not related to it, was able to cover the shortfall in production costs of the other movies of the Studio: were the early years for the company founded by Hayao Miyazaki that had the not easy goal to produce only movies of high artistic quality.
More a creative organization that a company for commercial purposes, the Studio, without the providential intervention of Totoro, was about to close; over the years, Totoro has become a character so popular in Japan (and worldwide) that was even dedicated the name of an asteroid and is often mentioned in works of other authors.
1989 – Special Award at the Blue Ribbon Awards
1989 – Kinema Junpo Award at the Kinema Junpo Awards as “Best Movie”
1989 – Readers’ Choice Award at the Kinema Junpo Awards as “Best Japanese Movie”
1989 – Mainichi Film Concours as “Best Movie”
1989 – Noburo Ofuji Award