The mind of Hayao Miyazaki must be a damn interesting place. Today I decided to check out one of the few movies of his that I’ve never seen, ‘My Neighbor Totoro’. It does a great job of capturing the innocence and imagination of childhood, and juxtaposing it with very mature themes. I almost didn’t realize that there was literally no conflict at all, (aside from the kids mother being ‘sick’ in the hospital) until over an hour into it, which is a testament to Miyazaki’s strong characters. The movie is filled with wonder and a childlike sense of awe that only he can really capture to this degree.
The movies begins with Satsuki and her sister Mei, along with their father, moving into a new house in the countryside. They quickly discover that their house is ‘haunted’, but by benign spirits that let them be because they see that they are a good, happy family (high-five for rhymes). The girls and their father then go visit their mother who is in the hospital with some kind of illness. Upon getting home they discover a hidden glen in the forest with more spirit creatures; This time meeting Totoro and his family. The movie takes well over an hour to introduce any kind of real conflict to the main characters of Mei and Satsuki, but you barely notice because of how fun and jovial the whole film is. I feared the movie was going into some really dark places near the end, which would have been interesting to see, but instead it wraps everything up in a beautiful and lighthearted way.
I have a few other random thoughts about this movie as well, first of which being that it’s gorgeous to watch. Every shot of the movie is like its own standalone piece of art. The cinematography is on par with any other great live-action movie, but that’s kind of a staple of Miyazaki’s movies. The fact that he hand draws every scene first just goes to show how much of a genius craftsman he is. I was also blown away that this movie was made in 1988. The vibrant colors and painstaking attention to detail rivals hand-drawn cartoons of anything out today, over 25 years later.
While watching My Neighbor Totoro, I also got the sense that Miyazaki is a fan of Steven Spielberg’s films. Something about the relationship between the girls and their father, as well as the sense of wonder and awe at their discovering Totoro reminds me of his Amblin days on E.T. and Close Encounters. I really miss movies like those, and like Totoro. I hope a renaissance comes to Hollywood, and we can put the dark gritty reboots on the back-burner for awhile, in favor of movies like these. I would love if new movies strived not only for shock and spectacle, but for making people happy like My Neighbor Totoro did for me.