My Neighbor Totoro: Hayao Miyazaki and The Heart-Warming Tale From Studio Ghibli
Warning! This article contains spoilers from the movie, My Neighbor Totoro (1988), as well as minor spoilers from another Studio Ghibli movies, such as Castle in The Sky (1986), Princess Mononoke (1997), and Spirited Away (2001).
Several days ago, I decided to watch a lot of movies from Studio Ghibli. The first film I watched was Spirited Away, one of the most famous movie from the studio. It tells a story of a ten year old girl named Chihiro, who ventured in what-seemed-to-be a spirit world to find a way to save her parents who had been turned to pigs. It was a brave and courageous story about love, family, and friendship; with dazzling, enchanting, and gorgeously drawn world setting.
It left me with a feeling of wanting more. I started to watch other Studio Ghibli’s movies; such as Castle in The Sky, Princess Mononoke, Grave of the Fireflies, The Secret World of Arrietty, and my personal favorite, My Neighbor Totoro.
My Neighbor Totoro was directed by Hayao Miyazaki, co-founder of Studio Ghibli. Miyazaki has been known for his heart-warming themes revolving around family and friendship, humanity’s relationship with nature and technology, and child-like atmosphere. All of these story elements can be seen in most of his movies, including My Neighbor Totoro.
A Little Movie Synopsis
The story starts with a university professor named Tatsuo Kusakabe and his two daughters, Satsuki and Mei, who is currently moving into a new house in the countryside, located near a forest. Their mother is sick and currently being treated in a hospital near their new home. The empty house was inhabited by tiny creatures called susuwatari — a small, dark, dust-like house spirits — who left to find another empty house.
One day, Mei — the youngest of the two — discovers two small spirits who lead her into the hollow of a large camphor tree. She befriends a larger spirit, which identifies itself by a series of roars that she interprets as “Totoro”. She falls asleep atop Totoro, but when Satsuki finds her, she is on the ground. Despite many attempts, Mei is unable to show her family Totoro’s tree.
One rainy night, the girls are waiting for Tatsuo’s bus, which is late. Totoro appears beside them, allowing Satsuki to see him for the first time. Totoro has only a leaf on his head for protection against the rain, so Satsuki offers him the umbrella she had taken for her father. Totoro is delighted and gives her a bundle of nuts and seeds in return. Shortly after, a bus seems to have arrived from the distance, but instead of Tatsuo’s bus; it appears to be a giant, bus-shaped cat. Totoro boards it and leaves, and not long after that, Tatsuo’s bus arrives.
Personal Favorite Scenes
There is one of the film’s most iconic scenes that I love the most. It’s a scene where the two girls are waiting for their dad at a bus stop in the rain. The scene clocks in at almost seven minutes, which is a significant amount of time in a movie that’s just under an hour and a half long. It’s an especially long time to spend on a scene with minimal dialogue. The length communicates the scene’s importance to the audience. The tense silence, combining with the pouring rain, the increasing darkness, and the loss of hope as vehicles pass by without their dad; add up to a sinking sense of dread. It’s just as if the scene tries to communicate Satsuki and Mei’s fear of uncertainty, as their dad is missing in action and their mom is sick.
But suddenly, Totoro appears near them. His friendly, whimsical presence — add to that the scene’s quirky BGM — immediately lightens the mood. Here, he turns the scary rain into something fun and worthy of a big, silly grin.
The ending scenes are worth noted too. These scenes are a rejection of everything Totoro represents in the whole duration of the movie. I no longer feel like I am in a kids’ fantasy, but in a gritty reality of life. This scenes try to give a message about how to handle problems at hand. When we’re at the most terrifying situations, giving into despair will make us unable to solve the problems. The most constructive thing to do is to summon that inner hope, ingenuity, and resourcefulness inside one self.
A Fantasy and A Reminder
There’s a reason why My Neighbor Totoro can be enjoyed by audiences from almost all range of age. For children, it feels like diving deep into the world of fantasy and imagination. For adults, it brings this nostalgic feeling of childhood and its innocence. However for me personally, it acts as a reminder about nature — a new perspective of countryside living — how to live in harmony between nature and the creatures living inside, how to not give into despair, and how to be patient as well as hopeful when things didn’t go the way we want. A reminder that it’s okay to be like a child sometimes, to be loud and let our feelings out, and to not suffer in silence like a grown-up would.
If you haven’t watched this movie yet, I don’t know what you’re doing with your life. So, I encourage you (yes, you who are reading this article right now!) to go check out My Neighbor Totoro. Watch the trailer, be interested, and buy/rent/borrow the movie from your friends. It’s an old movie, but the setting and message it has surely won’t get old. It will remind us about what matters most in our life and give us the power to survive in the struggle.
“Everybody, try laughing. Then whatever scares you will go away!” — Tatsuo Kusakabe, My Neighbor Totoro (1988)