A charming and magical story of 2 young girls, and their adventures with the wonderful forest spirits that roam the beautiful countryside, where they live. Set in the late 1950′s, My Neighbour Totoro tells the story of 4-year-old Mei, and her 8-year-old sister Satsuki, who have moved from the crowded city of Tokyo, to the rural countryside of Matsugo. Their father is a professor and their sole provider at present, as their mother is in hospital, hence the move.
The girls are initially scared of their new home as it is littered with tiny black soot spirits called ‘soot gremlins’, but come to like it. They quickly get to know their neighbours but that is not all. One morning, little Mei sees a strange furry creature lurking in the garden. She chases the creature, which leads her into the woods and to a hole under a huge camphor tree. She falls in and discovers the nesting place of the forest spirit Totoro. After hearing her sister’s story, Satsuki hopes to one day meet Totoro.
One very wet afternoon, the girls are waiting for their father’s bus to arrive, without warning, Totoro re-appears and the girls offer him their spare umbrella, to be repaid with acorns. Totoro leaves on a huge cat-like bus, leaving the girls star-struck. They instantly plant the acorns which take forever to grow. One night, the girls wake up to find Totoro and his companions, performing a ritual which brings the acorns to life, the girls join in, and the end result is a giant camphor tree.
One Summer day, the girls receive word from the hospital, which leads them to fear their mother’s condition has worsened. In a panic, little Mei runs away attempting to find the hospital, and no-one can find her. With seemingly no-hope of finding her little sister, Satsuki finally turns to Totoro for help, since only he and the Cat-bus will know what to do.
Director Hayao Miyazaki masterminds Studio Ghibli’s 1st adventure into the world of childhood, and only their 3rd film ever. The story is based on a period from his own childhood where he was spending his Summers in the countryside while his mother was in hospital recovering from tuberculosis. The illness that Satsuki and Mei’s mother is suffering from is never revealed.
The film focuses mostly on the fact that Satsuki and Mei do not have a regular guardian as their father is at work and their mother is in hospital, thus the girls have had to look for each other. When they encounter Totoro, they at last have someone to turn to, although their neighbours do their best to fill that void. The girls’ neighbours are generally kind and welcoming, especially the old woman who lives next door, whom they come to know as Granny and her shy grandson Kanta.
There are references to well-known works of Literature in ‘My Neighbour Totoro’, such as little Mei chasing the small Totoros and falling down a large hole, which is a nod to Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Mei is a picture of childhood innocence, the likes of which her big sister Satsuki, has been partially deprived of. The girls do everything they can to cope without their mother, but they still need her, whatever happens. Indeed, their father struggles to balance the scale between his daughters and his job, so Satsuki has play the role of the mother.
This is a truly charming tale of the innocence of childhood that will delight people of all ages. Although there are no villains or any evil of any kind, it is still hard to tear yourself away from the peaceful atmosphere portrayed in ‘My Neighbour Totoro’. I would strongly recommend this film to all those who have small children at home, and especially to all you Anime fans, although the lack of action may be off-putting for some people. Otherwise, ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ is a film that will be adored and enjoyed for generations to come.