Tonari no Totoro
Would it be unfair to say that Tonari no Totoro has no actual position in this list? Sentiment speaks too strongly here because this is the first Miyazake movie I watched as well as grew up with. So it takes first place, and second, and third, and so on. So I’ll address Miyazake’s fourth full-length film here.
This story is more plot-based than character-based. He follows a basic and easy formula: the characters have just moved to a new location (as just has you the viewer) and we learn things together with Satsuke and Mei. We go through the typical love/hate tiffs and bonding between siblings. While Mei continues to be somewhat of an impulsive child, Satsuke learns responsibility in her mother’s absence, including nurturing her younger sister’s needs without internal resentment. Granny instills motherly wisdom to Satsuke in their mother’s absence since their father is a fun but rather vague teaching figure. The general atmosphere of this story is hope: hope for the future, hope in higher powers (Totoro), and hope for their mother’s return. The tears never fail to fall every time I see Mei run into Granny’s arms at the end (but that could be personal).
And until the end of the story, only Satsuke and Mei can see Totoro and his friends. The “magic” of connecting with nature in this way is gone once one grows up. Thus Miyazake succeeds in establishing the interaction between humans and nature. Nature becomes more practical the older one gets. With pragmatism comes loss of imagination. The grown-ups tend the fields (note that Kanta also labors in the fields and he does not participate in interactions with or conversations about Totoro), while Satsuke and Mei are in awe of the stream, falling nuts, and the camphor tree. Mei spends her free time appreciating flora and fauna, and the two sisters, with the help of Totoro and his friends, eagerly anticipate the growth of their garden. This is the beauty and cycle of nature that Totoro teaches the girls. In appreciating their devoted innocence, he helps them in return when Satsuke calls to him for help.
This is Miyazaki’s fourth fully-directed film, and it is really quite dissimilar from his prior two films, Nausicaä and Castle in the Sky. While Nausicaä was in many ways political, Castle in the Sky was a deep and complicated adventure. Totoro is bright and almost entirely centered on family bonds and childish wonder and beauty. Nature plays a substantial role in Totoro, but even that aspect is more mythical and spiritual rather than political and oppressive. Which makes this such a wonderful story. Totoro and his friends are beautiful innocent souls, just as Satsuke and Mei. This film respectfully and charmingly venerates nature. Miyazaki succeeds in really putting you in the story with its ambiance and I’m pretty positive this film established the “Studio Ghibli” look.
And the music? It makes me feel like a kid again. It’s uplifting, then it’s heart wrenching. Brilliant work on Miyazaki’s part.
This is a staple Miyazaki film. Imperative. Compulsory. One won’t truly know Miyazaki unless they’ve seen Tonari no Totoro.