《23072017 • 3rd week of July • 🎧 : What U Do - Exo》 “Everybody, try laughing. Then whatever scares you will go away.” - Tatsuo Kusakabe me: *laughs like no tomorrow because I’m scared of graduating in <100 days* 😅
Awkward Anime Episode 5: Tonari no Totoro (My Neighbor Totoro)
I only used this one Gif for this movie today. Why? Because for me this Gif sums up everything great about the film.
Love it. Seriously, what is there to say about this movie? There is really no need to analyse this movie. It’s not supposed to be this huge cinematic adventure that the rest of the world has portrayed it as. Hayao Miyazaki’s words:
“Slay the villain,everybody’s happy. I can’t make those kind of films”
This movie is sensational. The idea of a simple innocent children movie with no antagonist in the 1980’s movie industry - not only in Japan but around the world - was simply unheard of. Miyazaki stated himself that as a young animator/director he had a very difficult time convincing the hierarchy to give the green light on a simple animation. As a matter of fact, Hayao Miyazaki first drew up the concept of Totoro as a children’s book. It took 15 years to turn his idea into a full animated feature!
Curiosity. That is how I would describe this and numerous other Ghibli works with one word. Curiosity. Miyazaki loves creating “normal” characters that don’t stand out much, UNTIL that spark happens. In My Neighbor Totoro, the inspiration for the “monster in the forest” came from Miyazaki spending time at a “big old house, alone, on top of a cliff
by the sea, and I would be in one room but it felt like there were
other people living in the other rooms.” As children, even when we’re alone at any age in a house, we all feel it, right? Any little sound makes us believe someone is there, or something. Miyazaki finds that presence wonderfully interesting: “When I would go out for a walk, I thought they would be lonely, so I turned on my radio to entertain them while I’m out!”
I honestly am having a hard time trying to figure out what to say here. Just go out, buy the DVD, relax on the couch and watch it. Parents, watch it with your kids. It is a relaxing, art orientated movie. That curiosity of the girls chasing their imaginative minds into the forest. Totoro is the cutest mf ever, though that smile does still creep me out a little!
The art in this movie is phenomenal. Nothing over the top. Just girls running through different parts of the countryside. The rain dropping on to the ground, the wind whispering then shouting, swaying the fields back and forth. Simply beautiful. I also want to praise the animators on the angles and the detail of the children’s emotions. The emotions of Mei especially, stood out a lot to me. The animators did a fantastic job, like always! I would love to sit back and watch the people at Studio Ghibli or Chizu just draw out a background for a scene. Have you ever wondered how long it takes? It must take a while!
Favourite Scene? Like many people, my favourite scene in this movie is the sisters waiting for their Dad at the bus stop and they look up to see that Totoro is next to them. The sound effects of the rain, the silence. No music, just rain dropping on to the ground, that always gives me goosebumps, relaxes me in a way.
“Back then, a story without a hero or a girl with superpowers and the ordinary Japanese scenery as a backdrop was not considered entertaining enough”
My Neighbor Totoro. Sit back, relax and adore. The art, the background, and of course adore the stamina of the girls! Like WOW! :D
10/10. A Simplistic Relaxing Adventure.
Until Next time, remember to eat those tiny trees…
Studio Ghibli was off to a flying start with Castle in the Sky (1986). But like Walt Disney Animation Studios in its formative years, Ghibli would also encounter early troubles. For Ghibli’s second feature film, producers Toru Hara and Toshio Suzuki – Suzuki would become Studio Ghibli’s primary producer after Hara’s departure – thought they could easily convince executives at Toho Company to finance a children’s film including woodland creatures in post-War Japan. Toho executives thought the project was too risky and initially rejected the pitch; the post-War period was still associated with poverty and nationwide suffering. Soon after, Hara and Suzuki would return to Toho to propose a double bill: Totoro alongside an adaptation of the semiautobiograhpical novel, Grave of the Fireflies. They believed that Grave of the Fireflies would draw a wider general audience due to the novel’s popularity as assigned reading in schools, but then Toho executives blasted the idea: “We really didn’t want to make a film about monsters! So now you want to make a film about graves?”
Hara and Suzuki perhaps should have realized that Japanese wartime films had fallen out of favor decades ago among Japanese audiences enjoying their nation’s post-War economic recovery. Numerous wartime films and post-War films reflecting on Japan’s role in WWII – typically repentant, deeply introspective, and unfortunately unknown to most Westerners – had been released in the 1950s and 60s, but Masaki Kobayashi’s punishing Human Condition trilogy (1959-1961) might have been the breaking point. After Hara and Suzuki’s second rejection, things looked hopeless for Studio Ghibli. But the publishing house of Grave of the Fireflies, Shinchosha, and Akiyuki Nosaka (author of Grave of the Fireflies) provided Ghibli enough financial support to have both films produced simultaneously. Neither film would exist without the other. Hayao Miyazaki would direct Totoro; Isao Takahata would direct Fireflies. Where it would take almost two decades for Grave of the Fireflies to be fully appreciated by Western and Japanese audiences (the latter begrudgingly so), My Neighbor Totoro would be an instant phenomenon. Though Miyazaki’s film exists within safe confines, it is a wildly entertaining, fantastical romp through the woods, and deserves its status as an icon of Japanese animation.
It is a summer in the mid-1950s. University professor Tatsuo Kusakabe and his two young daughters – Satsuki (the elder daughter) and Mei (four years old) – have moved to a rural house surrounded by a lush forest. Satsuki and Mei’s mother is in a regional hospital, recovering from what is implied to be tuberculosis; her absence is a source of sadness underneath the girls’ frolicsome personalities. Minutes after arriving at their new house for the first time, the girls encounter hundreds of dark dust-like mites with eyes. On another day, Mei runs into two leporine creatures that lead her inside an enormous tree where she finds “Totoro” – pictured above, and is described by Miyazaki as, “not a spirit,” but, “only an animal… [that] lives on acorns”. Totoro – this name is derived from Mei’s mispronunciation of “torôru” (”troll” in Japanese) – takes Mei and, later, Satsuki on a variety of wild adventures. A few of these adventures include Catbus – a form of transportation bound to give some riders a nasty allergic reaction (when the great Akira Kurosawa met with Hayao Miyazaki and expressed how much he adored Catbus, Miyazaki was speechless to hear that from one of his cinematic heroes). Among their new human friends includes Kanta, who is Satsuki’s age, and Kanta’s grandmother, “Granny”.
Miyazaki’s previous two films, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) and Castle in the Sky (1986), established a mode of storytelling that the director would carry into many of his later films: a headstrong, morally unimpeachable girl that possesses or accesses magical forces befriending a boy that never really develops as a character but is there as support. Totoro is, along with Porco Rosso (1992), the only early Miyazaki Ghibli film that approaches the narrative in a different direction. Instead, this film concentrates on the sisterhood between Satsuki and Mei. With no villains threatening to tear up the countryside or post-apocalyptic monsters on a rampage, Miyazaki allows these two girls the freedom to express their youthful curiosity and sense of fun. That lack of conflict extends to Mei’s first meeting with Totoro. Instead of recoiling in fear from the heaving mass of whiskered gray and white with lengthy claws snoring in a tree’s hollow, Mei squeals with delight, climbing onto Totoro’s body, and beaming at her newfound sleepyhead friend-who-doesn’t-know-he’s-about-to-make-a-new-friend. Watching that scene, whatever cynicism I carried with me into my first viewing of the film ceased to be. You just know that, no matter what kind of sticky situations these girls mind be in, Totoro and company will be there to make things right. This is a rare children’s animated film without villains, malice. Few films are as reassuring as Totoro is.
A scene waiting a bus stop illustrates some of that delight. Satsuki and Mei are waiting for their father at a bus stop in the woods on a rainy day – the trees block out a considerable amount of light during the daytime, and dusk is soon turning into night (pictured above). Their father is late, and there is a single light around. Totoro drops in quietly, with a single leaf on his head – ostensibly, to stay dry. It’s an absurd, comical moment, dispelling with any simple equations of darkness with danger. For first-time and hundredth-time viewers, the feelings here are not of dread for their father’s tardiness and the children’s loneliness, but of comfort.
However, that does not mean My Neighbor Totoro is without pain. The real world calls Satsuki and Mei home through the health of their mother. With no macro-themes to depict, no humanistic messages to espouse, the pain that Satsuki, Mei, and their father go through is largely beyond their control, and is deeply personal. Perhaps there is no greater fear a child might have than to lose a parent or guardian. That fear is a backdrop, a faint current that remains even in the most joyful scenes. Not that this fear of potential loss distracts from Satsuki and Mei’s play, but it informs both girls’ desire to escape and be themselves where adults might not be able to.
What both Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies accomplish in very different ways is their ability to adopt a child’s perspective and stay there. Some children’s films where children are central characters initially adopt a child’s perspective but, by design, must later incorporate adult sensibilities (2006′s Akeelah and the Bee, 2011′s Hugo). Other children’s films probably could benefit if they remained exclusively from a child’s perspective (1964′s Mary Poppins, still fantastic nevertheless). But Totoro, like The Learning Tree (1969) and Children of Heaven (1997, Iran), is one of very few films that keep with Satsuki and Mei’s views of the world surrounding them. How they interpret new people, places, things, and animals is what Miyazaki is interested in. When they speak of their curious experiences with Totoro to their father or Granny, the adults smile and question Satsuki and Mei about their adventures – never condescending, mocking. They accept these stories as true, even if the girls’ father never witnesses Totoro’s dramatic seed-growing ceremony out in his own front yard late at night (here, I gesticulated at the screen, whisper-shouting, “Dad! Look outside!” There is a magic there long lost on adults, but those adults are never discouraging of those views (sparing viewers from a tiresome “my dad doesn’t think so-and-so is real, so I have to prove him wrong” subplot). Totoro is no innovator in its depiction of children – even when just counting animated films – but the formula it uses for those depictions is just right.
The earliest Studio Ghibli films – from Nausicaä to parts of Only Yesterday (1991) – boasted watercolor backgrounds that invited viewers into each film’s artistry, and My Neighbor Totoro is no different. Kazuo Oga served as art director for his first of many Ghibli films – whether as art director or a background artist – and uses softer colors, as well as pastel-like browns for thicker foliage in the foreground. This colorful softness gradually disappeared from successive Ghibli films, as this would have clashed with the violence seen in Princess Mononoke (1997) and with the advent of computer animation and digital paint – which was not advanced enough at the time to replicate the watercolor backgrounds of the earlier Ghibli films. For the animators working under Oga, many were staffers that were pulling double shifts for Grave of the Fireflies and Totoro – at work, many of these animators found themselves confused about which movie they were working on that day. That only serves to speak for the superior animation found in both works.
Influenced by Japanese pop and the electronic music emerging from Japan in the 1970s and early ‘80s, composer Joe Hisaishi’s first three Ghibli film scores are synthesizer-heavy (Nausicaä, Castle in the Sky, Totoro). That fusion of electronic and Western classical music sources is most apparent in Totoro, which is the last Hisaishi-scored film with a heavy electronic presence. Though the title song, sung by Azumi Inoue, is a delightful, earworm-developing listen, one of the most dated parts of the movie is its music. Numerous electronic-heavy film scores from the 1970s and 80s have aged poorly (see most anything composed by Vangelis; among Ghibli films, Nausicaä’s experimental electronics are distracting), and the film’s setting of the mid-1950s does not help matters. But the motif established in the title song helps a largely episodic plotline, and Hisaishi knows exactly when to use Totoro’s theme in his score for the first time after the opening credits.
In North America, My Neighbor Totoro had a troubled distributive history. For Miyazaki
– who has always maintained a distance from Western film distributors
various cuts made to Nausicaä’s Western release saw the Ghibli co-founder adopt a hard-knuckle approach to Totoro’s North American distribution. The issue stemmed from a scene where Satsuki, Mei, and their father are all bathing together – a Japanese cultural norm. For 20th Century Fox, 50th Street Films, and the now-defunct Streamline Pictures, this would not do. Totoro would not be distributed in North America until 1993 and, as far as I could find, may or may not have been screened without cuts. If American studios thought Nausicaä and Totoro were controversial and offended the morality police, this is not even beginning to delve into Isao Takahata’s films.
But in Japan, with the box office failure of the Totoro-Fireflies double bill, Ghibli needed a box office hit to stay afloat. Financial salvation came the year after, as Miyazaki’s Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) outgrossed all previous Studio Ghibli movies combined and was the top draw at the Japanese box office that year. Takahata’s Only Yesterday would cement Ghibli’s existence as it also became the highest-grossing Japanese film of its year. Like Walt Disney Animation Studios before it (the costs of Fantasia and Pinocchio and the loss of the European box office to WWII nearly bankrupted Disney, with Dumbo and The Reluctant Dragon to the rescue), a difficult infancy was overcome, with even more beauty yet to come.
No other Studio Ghibli movie, arguably, has had a greater impact on popular culture than My Neighbor Totoro. Its appeal to children and adults is self-evident. And though this is not a work that pushes any cinematic boundaries (Totoro is meant for animation – would you want to see Totoro in live-action remake?), this is as comforting and entertaining as movies get.
My rating: 8.5/10
^ Based on my personal imdb rating. Half-points are always rounded down. My interpretation of that ratings system can be found here.