There’s a unique simplicity to the early works of Hayao Miyazaki that always goes ahead to strike a viewer like myself every time I sit through something as wonderful as My Neighbor Totoro, it’s the simplicity that pulls one into a state of serenity. For this reason alone, there’s so much to dig into with a film like My Neighbor Totoro, for it may be Hayao Miyazaki at his best. Adorable can be one word to describe what one will witness, but calling it a simple “kid’s film” completely ignores its purpose. It strikes nostalgia, yet it’s not the kind that forces it down your throat. It’s the kind of nostalgia that goes to remind us of a simpler time in our life, and for that reason, My Neighbor Totoro truly is wonderful in all its glory.
My Neighbor Totoro is not a film shrouded in many conflicts, it goes to draw on what forms the very basis of life. It does not complicate its story by introducing too much unnecessary melodrama, but like an Ozu film, we are just watching the simplicity of life take over. We watch children play along, like they always would, and it invokes a sense of pleasantness inside of our heads. This pleasantness comes back out of a good memory of our childhoods, and while watching this film, it’s free to come out and that joy overruns our heads. It goes to bring us back to a time of true happiness, and in turn that elicits a smile right from its own viewers. It is never overdone with sentimentality, but in its nostalgia, it is still so sweet.
This perspective of looking at the world of My Neighbor Totoro from the eyes of a child is what makes everything work so well, because the small things that occur on the screen as a means of invoking the joy of being a child make up the entire atmosphere of the film. From these joyful moments with capturing a child’s imagination to the more dramatic times such as the sickness of a family member, the emotion put into such a work truly is incredible and it gets the audience to perfectly recapture these very moments in their own lives. We sympathize because we recognize how these moments happened within our lives at one point, and then therein lies the power of My Neighbor Totoro.
Even though these children we are watching are indeed, animated, what Hayao Miyazaki perfectly captures is a genuine sense of emotion that resonates with the viewers even by the time everything is all over. The genuine nature to these characters also creates a sense to which audience members can also relate with what they are witnessing, and it only goes to create more wonder for what already is none other than a beautiful experience. It soon becomes so easy to forget that these characters are merely animated, because their minds strike a cord that brings us back to a time in which we created an imaginary friend.
Describing the animation would already come to pose another challenge because when we look at what Hayao Miyazaki presents in any of his feature films, there is always wonder within the detail of his pictures. Whether we look at how the characters all are emoting or just all of the landscapes that run all throughout, something stunning is always coming along the way. My Neighbor Totoro is where indeed some of the most heartfelt work from the director indeed can be felt within the smallest details. Hayao Miyazaki isn’t merely animating characters, he is animating life as it is. With how tender all of it is from start to finish, a magical experience comes to mind.
Given just how much detail Hayao Miyazaki puts into just everything he includes, it is easy to note how personal a project this felt for him. It’s difficult to find such emotion placed into a work of animation in this day and age, where a lot of it is plagued with crass humour in order to get the attention of older viewers, but Miyazaki’s point is just to be simple and it can doesn’t need to rely on too much to bring just anyone along for the ride. My Neighbor Totoro is a nostalgic experience, but never one that feels force-fed like a tired message. It’s that happy memory in our lives we wish to live once more, and watching it can allow us to show the joy for such a simple time once again. Calling it one of the greatest animated films of all time merely understates it in all of its beauty, it is a magical cinematic experience unlike any other.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Disney.
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki
Produced by Toru Hara
Starring Chika Sakamoto, Noriko Hikada, Shigesato Itoi, Sumi Shimamoto (Japanese version)
Starring Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning, Tim Daly, Lea Salonga (English dub)
Release Year: 1988
Running Time: 87 minutes