Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Movie Review - My Neighbour Totoro

Released in 1988, My Neighbour Totoro (Japenese title “Tonari no Totoro”) is a wonderful anime from the master himself, Hayao Miyazaki.  It features two young girls, Satsuki and Mei (voiced by Dakota and Elle Fanning in the English dub, Noriko Hidaka and Chika Sakamoto) who have moved into a new area with their father.  Everything is new to them, from their creepy house to their school.  Their father is a kindly, patient man but has far too much work to do; their mother is in hospital with a long-term sickness.  Their new neighbours are a friendly bunch, although a local boy seems to be absolutely terrified of Satsuki.  As they explore the forest, they will meet various creatures and, most exciting of all, woodland spirits. 

A fairly long sequence at the beginning of the movie shows the girls exploring their new house.  During their efforts to clean up and explore they meet soot sprites, a kindly old woman from a nearby dwelling, and scare themselves silly looking into dark corners that could contain any number of horrible monsters.  Like the whole movie, this sequence is full of charm and gentle wit; it also perfectly shows you the personality of the two girls, their relationship, and the loving relationship between the sisters and their father.  With very few words, in those few minutes viewers will start to feel like they actually know these people.  

The human component to the plotline is slowly revealed – the father’s worry about his sick wife and his own ability to look after his girls; Mei’s concern for her mother and Satsuki’s attempts to fill the gap; the local farm boy’s shyness but desire to help them, albeit from a distance.  The movie really gets interesting when Totoro is found – a large, benevolent forest spirit who the girls stumble upon deep in the forest one day, but then can’t seem to find again.  Of course, he will come back... but not necessarily when they expect him to.

To be honest, there’s not all that much action or even plot here – the whole thing is very gentle and travels strictly at its own pace.  The charm lies in the characters, who are very likable and believable, and the situations.  There’s one scene where Satsuki and Mei are waiting for their father’s bus to turn up, but it doesn’t come; Totoro arrives and stands with them, apparently waiting for a bus.  Somehow just the sight of this creature just standing waiting for a bus is amusing.  When Satsuki gives him her umbrella he tries to work out how to use it, not very successfully at first; when he eventually manages to work it out, the look of delight on his face is hilarious.  When a bus comes along, it turns out to be a giant bus-shaped cat!

The visuals are superb, the animation a constant joy to behold.  The music score by Joe Hisaishi is superb, wonderfully comical and evocative.  All of this combines perfectly with the utter madness of what happens in the movie (which all, incidentally, makes perfect sense somehow).

Normally I’d find a movie that lasts 86 minutes and in which so little actually happens would be a bit boring or even tedious; however I loved every moment of My Neighbour Totoro, even the sometimes interminable scenes of nothing happening.  The characters, their expressions and the way it all comes together are pure genius.  There are some laugh out loud moments in this movie, although sometimes you’ll be wondering quite what you’re laughing at, but in any case you’ll have a smile on your face the whole way though.   

My Neighbour Totoro’s got charm in bucket loads, and this is a perfect example of a movie that works for all ages – children will love the simple but compelling story, amazing creatures and young characters; adults will enjoy the subtle humour, fantastic visual detail and the childlike wonder with which everything is presented.  After watching this, anyone not already convinced will understand why so many people view Miyazaki as a genius.   

It’s very nearly my favourite anime... but my heart still belongs to Spirited Away – very nearly as charming as Totoro but with a far stronger storyline.      

CaptainD - Movie Reviews Blog

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