Our grandsons suggested we watch My Neighbor Totoro together. “It’s a beautiful movie,” they said, unusual words of recommendation from a 12-year-old and a 9-year-old. But they were right. This film is beautiful. The story, its characters, and the animation together create fairytale magic.
Satsuki, who is 10, and Mei, who is 4, are moving to the country for the summer with their father to be close to the hospital where their mother is recovering from an illness. The girls are excited about the house they are moving into and waste no time exploring cupboards and stairways, meeting dust-bunnies along the way. Mei wanders off on her own one day, following a path into the forest, leading into the heart of a big tree. There she is delighted to meet Totoro, a character out of one of her favorite picture books. Satsuki, who is always mindful of her little sister, is not so sure, but their father says, “You are lucky. Totoro doesn’t come often.” And then Satsuki meets Totoro herself just at the moment when she most needs him.
Director producer Hayao Miyazaki has created endearing characters. Mei is a bundle of delight, and Satsuki is a sensitive older sister. Their parents have a loving relationship. The neighborhood granny, who offers care to the family, is well-respected and kind. Japanese landscape and culture are integral to the film as the family bathes together, prepares food, and lives on the land.
Miyazaki based the story on his own experience as a child when his mother had to convalesce in the hospital for several years because of tuberculosis.
This film, a 1988 re-release, will not disappoint. Our grandsons had us giggling, holding our breath, cheering, and singing along with Satsuki and Mei. Gather some young ones around you and suspend reality just long enough to believe “it was a dream but wasn’t a dream.”
For ages 4 and up. (HBO Max, Amazon Prime and others)