ScreeningNotes’s review published on Letterboxd:
"We're all learning to cope."
Part of what's so beautiful about My Neighbor Totoro is that it doesn't ask to be explained. Totoro and his friends just show up when Mei and Satsuki need them, they help them get through a tough time in their lives, and it all just works. It makes sense. So in some way it would be missing the point to try and explain what it "means," to say that Totoro is a projection of the children's desire for a parental figure to fill the void left by their absent mother.
But at the same time, the other part of what's so beautiful about My Neighbor Totoro is precisely this emotional depth. Totoro and friends don't just show up randomly, they show up when the Kusakabe family is moving to a scary new house in an unknown new place while their mom is sick and their dad is overworked. Satsuki and Mei wake up before their father and Mei bounces on his sleeping body; minutes later, her father now busy with work, Mei finds Totoro in the forest and bounces on his sleeping body. Mei and Satsuki wait at the bus station for their father, but who shows up instead? Totoro and Catbus.
Despite having exactly this sort of Chronic Bad Brain, I won't be so silly as to say that Totoro is *literally* the spirit of the sick Yasuko Kusakabe astrally projected outward to help her struggling children, but you get the point. This is not a film about "literally," it's a film about the metaphors we live by, the fantasies that help us through the day and allow us to tackle the problems that seem to be beyond our grasp. It's about the ways we're all learning to cope.