King Totoro is to Ghibli what Mickey Mouse is to Disney. Any kind of merchandise you can imagine and I promise that you can find Totoro’s face on it. Simply put, King Totoro is an iconic image not just in Japan but worldwide. Studio Ghibli even uses Totoro’s image as the production logo that plays before every Ghibli film. King Totoro is a character that represents the true innocence and magic of childhood and that along with his unique design have made him one of the most memorable animated characters of all time. My Neighbor Totoro is the 1988 Miyazaki film that started a universal love affair and is still one of Miyazaki’s most memorable.
The story follows two young girls, Satsuki (10) and Mei (4), along with their father as they move into a country house to be closer to their hospitalized mother. Trying to keep their spirits high, the girls tell stories and explore the surrounding wood. Eventually, the girls discover the Totoros, a trio of whimsical forest sprites. These creatures (particularly the immense King Totoro) form a bond with the girls and begin to show them the magic of the woods around them.
My Neighbor Totoro is distinct for numerous reasons. First of all, the film doesn’t follow a traditional story structure, there’s no antagonist, and it’s not always clear why things happen. What Totoro does accomplish is a heartening depiction of what it means to be young. When you’re a child the world around you doesn’t always make sense. In a way, it’s that naivety that makes a child’s surroundings so much more extraordinary and amazing. Miyazaki seeks to capture how enchanting the world can be from a child’s eyes and succeeds in many ways.
The seedling for Totoro began when Miyazaki wanted to find a way to share his own childhood experiences. Like the girls in the film, Miyazaki and his siblings also had a sick mother, a difficult struggle that Miyazaki learned to cope with by embracing the power of imagination. After Miyazaki dreamed up the character of King Totoro, he began to work with art director Kazuo Oga to craft a visual palette of great trees, grasslands, and translucent colors. The finishing work looked like something out of a fairy tale and the ideal world for the character of King Totoro to inhabit.
My Neighbor Totoro is possibly the hardest Ghibli film I’ve had to write about. The film is so sensory it is difficult to summarize in words. Really the only thing a viewer can do is watch it for themselves and see what they can take away from it. The film speaks for itself in a way that separates it from many other animated films, or just films in general. All I can say is that My Neighbor Totoro is a unique experience that has already become engraved in my memories.