Animated film (1988 Japan; trans as My Neighbor Totoro 1988 US but not released until 1993). Studio Ghibli. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki, starring Chika Sakamoto, Noriko Hidaka, Hitoshi Takagi. Screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki. 86 minutes. Colour.
Professor Kusakabe (Takagi) takes his daughters Satsuki (Hidaka) and Mei (Sakamoto) to the Japanese countryside, in an attempt to distract them from their mother's hospitalization with a serious illness. Exploring the forests around the ramshackle farmhouse, the children meet the friendly, primal Totoro spirits, and witness their interaction with the natural world. When Mei becomes lost in the forest, Satsuki calls on the aid of her new friends in finding her sister.
Conceived in deliberate reaction to Television cartoons, Totoro was intended by its writer/director to demonstrate the feasibility of a Fantasy narrative that avoided formulaic conflict between good and evil. It also contains strong foreshadowings of Miyazaki's later concerns, particularly his nostalgia for the rurally-centred Ecology of his own childhood, and his ardent respect for, and belief in the resilience of The Child, both as character and audience. Magic and the Sense of Wonder, in Miyazaki's avuncular Pastoral, can be found in the everyday simplicity of a trip to the country, here presented in animated form for the benefit of urban latchkey kids who might otherwise face an endless diet of crime-fighters and alien invaders. In a melancholy sense, Totoro presents a 1940s childhood itself as another Lost World.
Notably, Totoro explains very little about its milieu or its Supernatural Creatures. In a perceptually limited move common to many of his films, Miyazaki treats every element – camera angles, obstacles and dialogue – solely in terms that would be comprehensible to children. Hence, the Totoro creatures and the similarly Magic Realist dust-bunnies of the farmhouse are simply accepted at face value, as mundane encounters invisible to the adults (> Wainscot Societies). Miyazaki would take this approach to its logical, lipogrammatic conclusion in his later Gake no Ue no Ponyo ["Ponyo on the Cliff"] (2008 Japan trans as Ponyo, 2009 US), in which the audience is blinded or deafened to concepts, explanations and even jeopardy that would not be readily understood by the infant protagonist.
Widely regarded as Hayao Miyazaki's most perfect film, and hence one of the best Anime ever made, Totoro also provided the Ghibli studio with an enduring cartoon mascot, and the source of much of its spin-off merchandise for the next two decades, particularly in the form of plush Totoros and the film's iconic Cat-Bus, which is precisely as the name describes it. The film also netted Miyazaki his second Seiun Award, after Kaze no Tani no Nausicaä (1984). [JonC]
see also: > Children in SF.
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