My Neighbor Totoro

My Neighbor Totoro ★★★★½

I can see this easily becoming one of my favorite films. It's such a delight from beginning to end, that I felt a sense of joy that I only get from certain films (Fantastic Mr. Fox immediately comes to mind). For films like these though, I need to give it at least one re-watch before proclaiming an unfettered love, but it comes pretty damn close. This is the third Miyazaki film I've seen, and definitely my favorite (Though Ponyo and Spirited Away are both also 4.5/5).

Satsuki and Mei are two absolutely lovable protagonist who have distinct personalities from one another, and actual characterization to why they behave as they do. I wouldn't say either is a clear protagonist, as one will lead to the other catapulting the story forward, and the bond between the two being the main driving force of the film; which had me consistently smiling from ear to ear. All the supporting characters were also perfectly crafted to create such a calm, and happy, world, from the encouraging and understanding Father, to the overly maternal Nanny, and the shy, but ultimately thoughtful Kanta. There's not a bad player in the bunch. I guess I'd be foolish if I didn't talk about Totoro, which may be one "flaw" I had with the film. His presence is right in the middle ground; I think I would have preferred it if he was apart of the story more, or less, but he's in it just enough where he doesn't feel like he's truly a main character, but he's also not a mystical, and mysterious, presence, orchestrating in the background. It's not necessarily a bad thing, and I think I'll enjoy him more on the next go-around.

I like that there really wasn't a plot. It did have a sort of "Alice in Wonderland" feel at times, but other than that, it was definitely more a quiet and thoughtful film about family, and the magic that surrounds daily life. Sure, the third act kind of tacks on some drama, but everything prior is just character exploration, and world building; two things Miyazaki does seemingly without effort. Having the story take place in a post-war Japan that still has some lingering ghosts, was breathtaking; seamlessly balancing what felt overly real, and yet, perfectly fantastical, even in the mundanities of some moments. I like how much spirits/ghosts were talked about, and how respectfully they were treated - as they should be - and how they were integrated into the fabric of the tale at it's core. I also liked that the Mother's illness was never clearly explained, keeping a slight air of mystery, which makes the film take on a whole new life in the concept of children dealing with trauma, and the will it takes to be so strong. The final story point I'd like to mention, is how personal it felt. I've only done minor research to affirm that Miyazaki claims this was one of his most personal films, if not the most, and I could just sense it; which to me is the definition of good film-making.

All-in-all, this was a supremely easy watch that I was so thankful to have a happy experience from beginning to end (seriously, half way through I turned to my girlfriend and said, "This better not get sad, because I'm just having too good a time"). I will definitely be revisiting this soon, because I think it would be nice on any Sunday afternoon to spend some time with the Kusakabe family, and their friends who inhabit the woods nearby.

A favorite in the making.

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