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My Neighbor Totoro

A 1988 movie by Japanese Director Miyazaki

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I want Totoro to be my neighbor!

  • Jul 8, 2006
Pros: Everything.

Cons: Nothing.

The Bottom Line: Grab your kids, plop them down, and turn into one of them yourself.

Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.

Note: This review is of the Walt Disney updated 2004 version.

My fourth Hayao Miyazaki film and I’m not disappointed. I wasn’t expecting to be either. After recently seeing Howl’s Moving Castle (expect a review on that once I get my hands on the English version – we only saw it in Japanese and you know I just can’t review it without judging some of the English VAs for that one), I was to read an article about Miyazaki and thus learned the names of some of his other films. Of course, I fell in love with Howl’s Moving Castle (my favorite Miyazaki film so far), so when I had the chance to see My Neighbor Totoro, I took it.

It’s a bright, sunny day and Satsuki, her younger sister Mei, and their father are moving to their new home out in the beautiful country. Mei is four and Satsuki is ten, so of course when they arrive there, they do what all children do – explore. They run around the house, the grounds, poking into rooms and playing with things. When they go to check a back room, a flood of strange black fuzzy things fall back into darker crevices in the house, surprising Satsuki and Mei, but definitely not deterring them. They eventually learn that the cute fuzzy things are actually soot sprites that live in the house – and little do Satsuki and Mei know, there are more than just soot sprites bouncing around near their home.

Interesting things happen to the girls as they meet Totoro, a large fuzzy creature somewhere between a cat with a Cheshire smile and a fat rabbit. Spirit or no, Totoro enjoys acorns and travels via cat bus (yes, cat bus), something Satsuki and Mei get to experience after Mei runs off, trying to reach their mother, who is hospitalized.

Like many Miyazaki films, there is no clear cut antagonist. In fact, in this film there really is no antagonist. It works more like a short story that is easy to follow and fun to watch. It’s basically for children, so I refuse to read into things; Miyazaki wants kids to enjoy nature, use their imagination, and I reverted to my 10-year-old self while watching this, wishing I was in the countryside with them, finding acorns and bouncing on Totoro’s fuzzy tummy while he sleeps. Even though I thought the cat bus was a little weird, I couldn’t help but enjoy the idea that it’s soft exactly like a cat, as you can see when Satsuki first steps inside, her feet sort of sinking a little into floor.

The animation is beautiful. Two of my favorite things in Miyazaki’s films are the scenery and the colors. The scenery is always detailed, bright, beautiful, and expansive the way things are in real life, as opposed to a basic background. They give off the feeling of being in a wide open space, which is why seeing Howl’s Moving Castle on a larger screen than my 13 inch television was so much fun. Colors, well, there’s a lot of earth tones here, a whole lot of green since we’re in the country, and even when it rains it doesn’t have that gloomy feeling, it’s just raining in the country and it’s nice, straight down, springy rain. But even the green is bright, the yellow in Satsuki’s dress a lovely sunny hue, and those had to be the shiniest acorns I’ve ever seen.

As per usual, I don’t have any problems at all with the Japanese version. It usually takes something pretty large to get me to say something concerning the voice actors (VAs). It’s the English version that always merits the most evaluation. I’ve heard stories about how Disney ruined the old dub by their redubbing, however I cannot compare as I’ve never heard the old one, and if you think I’m loopy in my decisions, oh well. The most props go to Dakota Fanning and Elle Fanning for their performances as Satsuki and Mei, respectively.

When I first saw Dakota Fanning’s name pop up, I was intrigued; everything I have ever seen her in previously she isn’t a kid. Ok, well, she’s a kid, but there’s always something weird about her. She never gets to play a happy, normal child. In fact, even in the first five minutes I wasn’t even sure I was hearing her voice because she was so happy and free as a regular child would be in Satsuki’s situation. Though she does falter in a few places that are more serious, I am still pleased with her performance. Her sister is no less cute. She’s got that absolutely adorable squeaky little girl laugh and I’m really glad they got actual sisters to do these parts because they work perfectly together. I absolutely loved both of them. I think my favorite part is the simple fact that there are actual children playing the roles after so long of having women toy with their voices in order to do the job – no offense to those VAs, of course. It’s just nice to hear an actual child’s voice for a child character.

Then there’s Tim Daly. Let’s face it, he makes a good father. I really liked his voice and it fit very well with the character. He was so nice and mellow. I liked that a lot considering I don’t really remember the last time I’ve seen him on screen as a mellow character and as the VA for Superman, he’s often busy fighting.

Those really are the main three that you are prone to hear the most. Granny was fine, Kanta was cute, though he almost sounded a little younger than the character he played, I’m not going to quibble about it.

Though the music wasn’t enough to make me want to go out and buy the soundtrack or search for individual songs, I don’t think it was meant to have a large impact for the movie as it is. It made for good background music for whatever the mood needed, provided such effectively, and then that’s all there was to it.

I honestly don’t know what kids will think about this movie. These days I don’t know what their attentions spans are or what they’re into, what with all this electronic hoo-hah they can screw around with now. At least I played outside. I still do. But that’s beside the point. Whatever your kids may like, this movie is for, well, whoever wants to watch it really. I recommend reverting back to your younger self (come on, I know it’s inside you somewhere – we’re all still 5, 8, 10 and such at heart) when you believed in things you couldn’t see. It’s made for children – so grab all your kids, be one with them, and enjoy.


Suitability for Children: All ages!


Viewing Format: DVD

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More My Neighbor Totoro reviews
Quick Tip by . April 17, 2012
posted in ASIANatomy
Like many, I think My Neighbor Totoro is one of Miyazaki's masterworks, and I think this a fine example of how to make an animated family film.  What I think makes this anime film so great is its simplicity.  Despite the fact that it's about two girls following around spirits and creatures, it's almost like a snapshot of real-life because of how believable the characters are, and this is what makes the film so enjoyable.  The artwork and animation is top-notch to boot.   …
review by . September 03, 2009
My neighbor totoro
Lovingly crafted in 1988,"My neighbor Totoro" by Hayao Miyazaki, is an endearing  Japanese children's film. The Character "Totoro" is a large bear-like incarnation of a forest spirit, and is as widely recognized in Japan as Mickey Mouse is in America.  In fact, the film studio that produced it (Studio Ghibli) uses "Totoro" in it's logo.  Studio Ghibli itself has been referred to as the Japanese equivalent to the Walt Disney animation studio. With that …
review by . June 19, 2009
This is another anime, this one by Miyazaki, that has become a favorite.  It involves nature spirits, a catbus (yes, that's correct.  A ten legged, living cat bus), soot sprites (dirt and dust has to come from somewhere, doesn't it?), and two small children.  My 9 year old granddaughter still asks to see this one, and she has probably seen it a dozen times since that first time when she was 5.  Totoro is one of the very few movies that is really rated "G", and still is just so …
review by . February 25, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
I decided to take a look at this before the grandkids watched it. Just wanted to be sure there wasn't anything objectionable in it.     There isn't.     It is, in fact, from the very first moment, utterly and completely enchanting.     The story of two young girls with their father in a rural "haunted" house grabs you from the very first moment. The girls exude the wonder of being children. As the story moves along and the girls make their …
review by . June 04, 2008
posted in ASIANatomy
My Neighbor Totoro is a film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, and it was released in Japan in 1988. There was a American release of this film in 1993 by Fox Video, but they lost the rights to the film in 2004. Disney acquired the rights and produced a new English dub with new voice actors. Disney released this DVD in 2006.    The film tells the story of two girls and their father, and their move into a new house in order to be closer to the girls' mother (who is sick and …
review by . September 27, 2002
posted in Movie Hype
My neighbor Totoro is not only one of the finest animated films I have ever seen, it is one of the best movies period. It has enough heart to spead across a hundred film's, and still have some to spare. I hate to call it "too cute for words" but it is. Hayao Miyazaki, the director, (also doing this years Spirited Away, released in America by Disney) has really outdone himself. My neighbor Totoro has many terrific qualities, such as the emaculate detail. There are dozens of instances in which object …
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Nicole ()
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Age: 27 Currently: Freelancing my butt off and querying my other novel, Blood for Wolves. Who likes seriously factured fairy tales? =D      Like books? Then take it from a real, live … more
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About this movie


Flash Animation

a 1988 Japanese anime film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki and produced by Studio Ghibli. The film follows the two young daughters of a professor and their interactions with friendly wood spirits in postwar rural Japan. The movie won the Animage Anime Grand Prix prize in 1988. The movie was originally released in the U.S. in VHS format with the title, My Friend Totoro.


In 1958, a university professor and his two daughters, Satsuki and Mei, move into an old house in rural Japan to be closer to the hospital where his wife is recovering from an illness. The daughters find that the house is inhabited by tiny animated dust creatures called soot sprites—small house spirits seen when moving from light to dark places. When the girls become comfortable in their new house and laugh with their father, the soot spirits leave.

While she is playing outside one day, the younger daughter, Mei, sees two white, rabbit-like ears in the grass. She follows the ears under the house where she discovers two small magical creatures, who lead her through a briar patch, and into the hollow of a large Camphor Laurel tree. She meets and befriends a larger version of the same kind of spirit, which identifies itself by a series of roars she interprets as "Totoro" (in the Japanese original dub it stems from Mei's mispronunciation of the word for "troll", tororu). Her father later tells her that this is the "keeper of the forest".

One rainy night ...

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Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Genre: Animation
Release Date: 1988
DVD Release Date: August 31, 2004
Runtime: 86 minutes
Studio: Walt Disney Home Entertainment, 20th Century Fox
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