Sunday, December 7, 2008

My Neighbor Totoro

My Neighbor Totoro is one of the great animated movies that your average moviegoer hasn't seen. It was a wonderful gift given to us by Oscar-winning animation legend Hayao Miyazaki (the Japanese Walt Disney) in 1988. It follows two young girls who move with their loving father into an old house near a forest in rural Japan, where they encounters mystical creatures, including Totoro, the King of the forest. What's wonderful about the movie is that it's just as engrossing when dealing with the magical Totoro and his friends as it is when we're simply watching the girls and their father clean up the house, or visit their sick mother in the hospital. It's a magnificent visual experience, something Miyazaki is known for, with evocative renderings of the small village in which the family lives as well as the surrounding forest. In particular the animation on the sisters is brilliantly expressive, using the exaggerated tradition of anime to get us to recall the feelings of childhood.

My Neighbor Totoro introduced Miyazaki to a much wider audience when it was released and has since become somewhat of a signature film for Studio Ghibli (Miyazaki's studio, which like him is the Disney of Japan). The character of Totoro appears in the Studio Ghibli logo, and I've read that he is as known and beloved by the Japanese people as Mickey Mouse is to all of us. It's not hard to understand why, once you've seen the movie. Totoro looks after the girls, finds them when they get lost, and uses his powers to speed up the growing of some trees the girls planted. I don't see how someone couldn't love Totoro.

It was re-released on DVD in 2006 after Disney acquired the rights, with a dubbed cast including Tim Daly voicing the father, and Dakota and Elle Fanning voicing Satsuki and Mei, the sisters. Unlike the previously released DVD though, the re-release included the original Japanese audio track, which is what I watched (being a bit of a purist). Either way, My Neighbor Totoro is a great movie, and one which can be easily enjoyed by the whole family.

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