This post is part of the One of My All Time Favorite Cartoons Blogathon hosted by MovieMovieBlogBlog
My Neighbor Totoro is set in post-World War II Japan (presumably in the 1950s based on the types of cars and technology visible in the story) and follows the Kusakabe family as they move to a new house in the countryside because the mother is in a nearby hospital. Mr. Kusakabe is a professor at a university in Tokyo; eldest daughter Satsuki is in grade school, while youngest daughter Mei is only four.The girls encounter a variety of spirits, starting with dust sprites (black puff balls with eyes), and forest spirits collectively known as “totoro”. Mei sees them first, in a hilarious sequence that has me giggling every time. The two smaller totoro she meets end up leading her to the magical home of Totoro, THE forest spirit of the local area. Totoro is a huge grey spirit, with a big fluffy belly, long rabbit ears and the biggest smile you ever saw (and he also loves to sleep a lot).Satsuki is initially skeptical, but once she meets Totoro at a bus stop one night, both of them become good friends with the forest spirit.
I love the bus stop scene; the smile that grows on Totoro’s face is just infectious. He doesn’t have an umbrella of his own at first, so Satsuki offers him the umbrella she brought for her father. When Totoro hears the sounds the rain makes on the umbrella, it makes him really happy, like, super happy! And the Catbus….well, I love it, but you can’t really describe it. The Catbus must be experienced 🙂
Their mom has been in the hospital for what is implied to be a long time. Her illness is never disclosed, but it is believed to be tuberculosis (as Miyazaki’s own mother spent a long time in the hospital for that reason). Towards the end of the film, the girls receive news that their mother will be allowed home for a short visit, but shortly before the visit, Satsuki receives word that her mother actually can’t come home after all due to a small relapse of her illness. The older Satsuki does her best to take this news in stride, but little Mei won’t have it. Frustrated with having to hold in her feelings for so long, Satsuki finally snaps and yells at Mei, asking if she wants their mother to die. A horribly upset Mei ends up running away to bring some fresh corn to her mother (she gets the idea after hearing a neighbor tell her and her sister earlier that if their mom ate some fresh vegetables she would get better right away). The little girl soon becomes lost and the whole village turns out to look for her. Satsuki is guilt-ridden, but she knows what to go to for help: Totoro!! She finds Totoro in his tree and begs for help, and Totoro is more than happy to oblige! He summons the Catbus who takes an astounded Satsuki to where Mei is sitting lost. And once the sisters are reunited, Catbus offers to take them both to see their mother (and of course they agree!)
The story ends shortly thereafterward, with the girls being brought back home. A series of still images during the end credits reveals that their mother finally does come home for a visit (or possibly for good) and alls well that ends well.
My Neighbor Totoro is one of the greatest animated films I’ve ever seen. For me, it embodies what childhood should be, and I highly recommend it for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet!
I also love all the spirits: the dust sprites, the mini Totoros, and of course Totoro himself, they’re all so beautifully animated, I find myself wishing things like them existed in real life.
Thanks to MovieMovieBlogBlog for hosting this great blogathon! -Becky