Since its debut in 1988, Studio Ghibli’s My Neighbour Totoro has become not only one of the most defining animated films of all time, but one of Japan’s most iconic productions. Created by legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki, Totoro focuses on the everyday adventures of the Kusakabe family after they move to a ramshackle house in rural Japan. The plot centres on the lives of sisters Satsuki (Noriko Hidaka/Dakota Fanning) and Mei (Chika Sakamoto/Elle Fanning) as they explore their new world, make new friends and try to come to term with their mothers illness.
Miyazaki succeeds in creating an idealised homage of the traditional Japanese family and landscape in a work that draws very much from his own life growing up in post-war Japan. The characters are charming and likable with the titular Totoro himself being a surreal, yet adorable companion for Satsuki and Mei.
With this being a Studio Ghibli production the visuals are unique and breathtaking, with there being a series of long panoramic shots to really showcase the Studio’s ability to create enchanting environments. The plot may be somewhat simplistic due to it primarily being a kid’s film but it is completely captivating, with its visuals and theme doing much to create a deeper experience.
Voice acting is superb but it is worth to note that the film is much better with Japanese audio and subtitles rather than American dubbing; whilst the translation is done very well, you can’t help feel that something is lost in the translation.
One of the main struggles when it comes to Totoro, like many Studio Ghibli films, is that it is a film that plays a lot on traditional Japanese culture. Some elements of the film can be very confusing if not approached either with a knowledge of Japanese culture or a very open mind, with much of the plot drawing from the traditional religion of Shinto, something still fairly unheard of in the West. You don’t necessarily lose too much without a knowledge of Japanese culture but some scenes may be confusing at first, an example of this would be Totoro’s habit of flying around on a giant spinning top or the introduction of the Cat-bus.
The special features are on the whole rather robust. Whilst there may be a couple of minor things such as trailers and opening/closing scenes without credits, there are also a series of fascinating interviews with both Miyazaki and some executive producers. The main bulk of the extras comes in the form of a half an hour excerpt from a Japanese documentary covering the real places which inspired the location of the film. With the visuals being such a selling point for the film the documentary was both a welcomed inclusion and a fascinating insight into the sights of rural Japan and the efforts that Miyazaki went to in creating Totoro.