My Neighbor Totoro (1988) is a Japanese animated film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, which explores nature, imagination, and childhood.
The movie follows the story of Satsuki and Mei, two sisters who move into an old, rural house with their father, Tatsuo, while their mother recovers from a long-term illness in a nearby hospital. The sisters discover soot-like dust sprites which scatter in their presence. The sprites scurry away to find another empty place to occupy.
When Satsuki goes off to school, Mei trots out to play in the expansive garden near the house and finds a trail of nuts dropped by a wood sprite. She discovers two tiny, long-eared creatures and follows them into a forest, where she finds a large tree. She falls down the tree’s trunk and lands in the home of a giant wood sprite. She climbs atop his tummy, wakes him up, and calls him Totoro. Mei later tries to lead Satsuki and Tatsuo to the tree, but it’s nowhere to be found. Tatsuo assures her that she was lucky to have met the “king of the forest” because he doesn’t come out often. Instead of dismissing her, Tatsuo encourages his daughter’s imagination.
The final half of the film focuses on a search for Mei, who runs off alone to find her mother at the hospital. With the help of Totoro and Catbus, Satsuki finds Mei. Catbus then takes them to the hospital, where the girls land atop a tree branch to check in on their mother. The family is reunited at the end.
My Neighbor Totoro is a lighthearted film that employs an odd, inexplicable magic to portray the meaning of childhood. Its beauty, colour, and music invoke a sense of nostalgia and the spirit of imagination in the viewer. It also hints at underlying themes of life, death, and the cycle of nature. The abundance of nature, and imagery of seeds sprouting into trees signifies growth from childhood into adolescence. The film manages to encapsulate time, both at a standstill, and also as an ever-continuous journey.
The film has left a lasting cultural impact all over the world. The titular character, Totoro, was adopted as a logo by its animation studio, Studio Ghibli. My Neighbor Totoro has won numerous awards, earned widespread critical acclaim, and cemented Miyazaki’s career as a brilliant animator and storyteller.