tonari no totoro

Follow the Totoro

Most people won’t disagree with me when I say that Miyazaki is one of the greatest filmmakers of our time. But, why? His storytelling and lore? His cinematic vision? His political commentary? No, there’s been better storytellers, animations, and political commentators, but no one has matched Miyazaki for his ability to create a sense of wonderment, amazement, and happiness. Miyazaki was always most masterful telling children’s stories– to appeal to a child to sell toys is easy– to appeal to the inner child in an adult and make that adult a child again… that’s not so easy. And Miyazaki’s triumph in that respect is Tonari no Totoro.


The story is very simplistic as it follows a simple family who gave up their complicated city lives for a simple life out in the boonies. Things are not so easy as the mother is ill, and the children are unsettled from the move… but the real tale is how the kids, one day, discover some odd creatures gathering acorns. Hi, Totoro-san. Rather than being afraid of the creatures, the children end up playing with them and sharing adventures with them. Are the Totoros real? Imagined? Does it matter either way?


What really separates Totoro from Big Bird, Barney, and other fluffy children’s creation is that Totoro doesn’t sing. It doesn’t talk. It doesn’t do much except expand the horizons of one’s imagination without the influences of LSD. This quality is probably also what makes Totoro one of Miyazaki’s most beloved icons, and the scene where Totoro waits for the nekobus has been much parodied.


Miyazaki, though, isn’t just a storyteller. He spins myths and lore with the best of them. I can almost wager nekobus is more known in Japan than Hobbits are in England. Whereas someone like Tolkien tries to create fantasy by creating a new world and language and people, Miyazaki created a fantasy out of what could be a fantasy of a six year old child. Miyazaki also does more than just tell a story… he sneaks in little lessons throughout Totoro. Even though Totoro are these creatures who look kinda scary at first, the kids weren’t scared of him… rather than persecute or be fearful of, which most people who do, the kids have this innocently curious quality that makes them want to befriend the Totoros. Also, the scenes where Totoro teaches the kids how to plant the trees, well, if you have seen Mononoke Hime, you know Miyakazi is a huge environmentalist. Then there’s the ending, where the kids meet other kids and start playing with them… and the Totoros go back home, maybe waiting for the day they’ll be needed again. Great stuff.

Even though the movie is fairly old now, the animation quality still surpasses a lot of movies today. There’s just something to be said about traditional, lovingly hand-drawn art that no amount of CG can replace.

Highly recommended as one of Miyazaki’s defining works. His “masterpiece” is usually considered to be Nausicca, but Nausicca doesn’t appeal the “very young to young forever” demographic like Totoro does. Because of his string of numerous wonderful movies, trying to pick Miyazaki’s best movie is like trying to pick the worst Gonzo series. How does one even begin? I’m going to argue, for Miyazaki, begin with Totoro.


I can still remember the first time I saw Totoro. My eyes were wide and bright: I giggled as Totoro played with the kids. I sang along with the theme song. I pretended I was there, waiting for the nekobus. Guess what. I was a college student then, and I felt like I was eight again. Miyazaki, Totoro-san, thank you.


(Meta: I recommend the R2 boxset over either Fox’s or Disney’s version.)

3 Responses to “tonari no totoro”

  1. Ahaha! I smelled this post coming.

    Wonderful, now I’ve really fallen behind on my Miyazaki films. Luckily I found a place that rents just anime in Nihonmachi so I don’t need to visit Lackluster… er, Blockbuster. So… what, order wise go Totoro, Mononoke, Nausicaa, Spirited Away, Castle in the Sky?

  2. Honor to oblige, madam.

    Mmm… I’d watch whatever I could get my grubby hands on. The list looks fine, and, if you have time, I would go for Yamadas, Whispers of the Heart, and I Can Hear the Sea.

  3. Totoro is my favorite Miyazaki movie. I always get this fuzzy great feeling after watching it. My friend and I used to joke that Totoro is a good treatment for people who have anger management problem :) Anyway…love your opinions of the movie (maybe because you took the words out of my head ^_^).

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