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As is now a staple for Miyazaki Mania, I’ll tell you what I expected going to My Neighbour Totoro. To be honest, going in, I expected something along the lines of Ponyo. A movie where the plot is just OK, the characters are decent and there are a few too many scenes where it is just the main characters looking cute. I went out of this movie thinking that this is probably one of the best Miyazaki movies...no...one of the best animated movies I’ve ever seen.

The main characters are a very young girl named Satsuki and her four year old little sister named Mei. And right away the inner little boy in me wanted to hate these characters. Because these two are exactly like the little girls I remember from kindergarten to grade two. No joke. They are exactly like them. And right way I have to give props to the writers, the animators and the voice actors for capturing girls of that age so well. And even though the little boy in me wanted to hate these two, every other fibre of my being adored these girls. And I have to admit that’s the part of me that ended up winning in the end. Their actions are perfect. Their expressions are perfect. And above all, their reactions to the mystical things around them are spot on. This is exactly how kids of that age would react to seeing a walking, talking tanuki.
Speaking of which, let’s talk about Totoro. It’s funny because when you really get down to it, Totoro only ever says one thing – which is his name. And when you look even deeper into that, he didn’t even really say his name – he just sort of growled it. So don’t ask me how that makes him one of the most loveable furry creatures since Winnie the Pooh. But on that subject, I think I have one or two answers. First of all, Totoro is very animalistic. The way he moves, the way he “speaks”, the way his expressions change. Along with that, comes a sense of innocence and a sense that he and the children are on very similar wavelengths. Another thing to comment on is that all things considered, Totoro is very intelligent, at least in what he knows. He knows how to make plants grow, he knows how to get on the bus, he knows how to play the flute, and he knows some slight social etiquette. That may not seem like much, but when you really think about it, that’s all he really needs. He doesn’t need to know how to set fire to the ocean or how to cure all diseases, because to be blunt, that’s not his department. Totoro is the spirit of the forest and what he does, he does very well.

As in any Miyazaki movie, there are some things that are never explained but instead are given up to imagination and as in most Miyazaki movies I think it works pretty well here. For example, did you notice how they never say what that mini-Totoro and that little white thing are? It is never explained once in the entire movie. And to be fair, I don’t really feel it needs to be. I think its fine that sometimes things are leaf up to the imagination of the viewing audience. As an aside not I always thought those little ones were four spirits in training, if that makes any sense, because.........I guess even forest spirits have to retire eventually.

One last thing I want to say is this is one of the most purely eastern movies I’ve ever seen. Most people don’t realize just how westernized most anime really is, but my neighbour Toroto has almost none of that. Even if you knew nothing of Japan it would not be too hard to guess where this is set. The shrines from place to place, the way the houses look, the way they take their baths – all of this is so purely eastern in a story that to be honest is a lot more mature than I thought it would be. Not to give anything away, but throughout the movie a bit of a family crisis is going on and the way it’s handled is masterful. But unfortunately saying any of the amazing ways it’s pulled off may be slight spoilers.

I’ll end the review by saying my favourite scene was the scene at the bus stop. Everything about that scene was just perfect. The pacing, the dialogue, the animation of the rain, the cat-bus (don’t ask – go see). It was just a perfect scene. This movie baffles me in just how invested you can get into such a closed in story. I watched Mission Impossible 4 recently and (slight spoiler alert) the entire climax of that movie is based on stopping a nuclear bomb. The climax of this movie, is centred around one lost little girl, yet I found myself so much more invested, and above all, more emotional. It’s hard to explain, but it felt like so much more was at stake in Totoro than it ever was in Mission Impossible. All I can say is go see it now, I can almost guarantee you won’t be disappointed.



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