Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Brief Look at "My Neighbor Totoro"

Another example of beautiful animation, one can see why this film has produced one of the most well-loved creatures in animation. It also, however, highlights why Miyazaki is known as one of the best animators ever, not one of the best story-tellers.

“My Neighbor Totoro” is fairly anemic on story. A couple girls move into a country house with their father, and discover the local animistic deities that live there. Their mother is in a hospital not too far away, and when the younger sister tries to go see her mom and gets lost, it is prayers to the local gods that are answered and bring the girl back to safety. The real charm here is in the drawings, the animation, and the general artistic direction.

If one discounts the “cat bus” creature, the spirits and beings in this film are fascinating and cute. But the magic realism of this story doesn’t feel like a literary invention but rather a cultural reality for many in the world. Because even Theists (like Christians) who are in no way traditional animists, still often fall into a world view that is animistic. But there is a fundamental difference between believing in a spiritual dimension to reality and believing in local deities or powers.

But none of that really has anything to do with this film. It is really more of a pretty exploration into the world of a couple of girls who experience something amazing. Just not as amazing as one might find in other stories of this ilk.


  1. Much of the appeal of the movie is in its animation, yes, and I'd add atmosphere. I think it's partly about evoking a particular place and time, too--the rural Japan that Miyazaki must have seen when he was young. My mom lived in Japan in the 50s and she always mentions how much it reminds her of then.

    If you watched it in English, I hope you saw the older version that doesn't feature Dakota Fanning (I think?) as one of the girls' voices. That new dialog is a crime--so irritating.

    1. Unfortunately, Jean, I saw the Fanning version. I do think there is a value to the way this film reminds us of the capacity children have for wonder. That is something I think we should never lose no matter how much the world tries to make us think such childlike qualities are silly or naive.


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