My Neighbor Totoro

My Neighbor Totoro ★★★★½

Watched on Blu-Ray

Often cinema is in some way a time machine that allows the viewer to see and feel events or states of the past. The Japanese anime director Hayao Miyazaki is one of the greatest cinema magicians in this respect. In his works, which usually find a place in the heart of young and old alike, the filmmaker not only succeeds in travelling to places and events of the past, but also in capturing feelings that, especially among older viewers, probably go back many years and suddenly become tangible again.

In addition to various milestones in Miyazaki's oeuvre, "My Neighbour Totoro", released in 1988, is a prime example of this extraordinary style. At first glance, the story of a father and his two little daughters who move into a new house in the country at the beginning of the film seems almost surprisingly unspectacular. However, already the first scenes in which the move takes place make it clear that Miyazaki isn't so much interested in what he is telling us, but rather in the perspective through which the events are experienced throughout.

From the perspective of four-year-old Mei and her six years older sister Satsuki, the director creates the journey to the family's new house and the subsequent arrival as a childishly playful adventure, shining in colorful pictures. When the two siblings for the first time romp around the property including the garden as well as the interior of the house with beaming faces and explore every corner with pure enthusiasm, "My Neighbor Totoro" evokes that unique, incomparable feeling of childhood, in which every new day begins with almost endless possibilities, seems to be much longer than it actually is and the naive enthusiasm basically outweighs the hesitant skepticism.

But Miyazaki's work is not only an ode to this very feeling of life, in which young viewers immediately feel confirmed and older viewers can indulge in comforting nostalgia, but also an appeal to the power of imagination. When Mei gets lost in the woods after following a cute little creature, she meets Totoro, who looks like a mixture of cat and owl and actually just wanted to have a nice nap, until the girl suddenly sits on his belly beaming with joy.

Totoro, who only becomes visible for Mei and Satsuki in the rest of the movie, surely is one of the most iconic creations from Miyazaki's creative consciousness. The forest ghost isn't only visually an incredibly likeable apparition, but also the imaginative climax of this movie, which the director carefully evokes only in a handful of scenes throughout the movie. Totoro's appearances, which could just as well have been the result of the childish imagination of the two girls, are used by Miyazaki as deliberately chosen vanishing points from reality, which certainly presents some obstacles for the siblings within the plot.

Although "My Neighbor Totoro" surprises with the fact that the movie lacks a common antagonist, which has to be overcome towards the end of the story, and also completely refrains from a classic division into good and evil, the director in return inspires with a sensitive understanding for family conflicts that gradually unfold out of the absence of Mei and Satsuki's mother, who is in hospital. With careful drama, which never slips into too serious realms, Miyazaki tells us about childlike fears of loss, which can never be explained logically, about the tender sense of responsibility of the respective family members towards each other and about exuberant optimism, which is supported by imaginative exaggeration, until finally it is allowed to show itself in front of the window of the sick mother with comforting laughter.

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