My neighbor Totoro: slow paced animation evoking childhood nostalgia

Hi folks! I came to you with a fresh movie review on “My neighbor Totoro” (Tonari no Totoro). Yes, I confess, despite of all the cute merchandise that I see around and have purchased, I had never really watched Totoro. So I decided that finally the moment had come and was lucky enough to find the movie in its original language.

My neighbor Totoro (Miyazaki) 1988

As I am in my twenties, I am not really familiar with Miyazaki’s other works except for “Spirited Away” (which I have also watched recently). You see, I grew up with the late 1990s animations which are endlessly broadcasted on TV such as Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball, to the more recent Naruto. Therefore, I can’t call myself an expert on older animations and the reasons why they were considered major breakthroughs; however, by watching Totoro I can see the reasons why these masterpieces still resonate in the audiences’ hearts. In this post, I want to present to you my first impressions upon watching “My Neighbor Totoro.”

First, I was really impressed with the quality of the animation itself. The hand-painted backgrounds were simply a wonder to behold, and the graphics in general were very neat with vibrant colors. In fact, had I not read that the movie was released in 1988, I would have believed it to be much more recent. I am sure this was one of the reasons that had me glued to the screen from beginning to end: because of the tremendous amount of care that went into details starting from the characters themselves, their apparel, to the tiny strings of grass moving in the wind.

beautifully hand-painted scenery in Totoro

Having watched two movies by Miyazaki, I deduce that the purpose of his works is not really to deliver a complex plot; rather, to stir the emotions of his viewers. The two movies have indeed very simple and almost symmetrical plots, with child protagonists on the move with their families and experiencing wonderful adventures in the process. I found the first half of “Totoro” to be quite slow-paced, focusing more on exposition than plot development, which made it a bit tedious for me at times. Also, on this account, I felt slightly disappointed by the fact that Totoro (which I thought to be the main star of the movie) makes a very late appearance and plays only a “smaller” part in the lives of the two girls. However, as I have stated previously, I believe Miyazaki’s ultimate goal is not to just entertain children, but to remind adults of what it is like to imagine, dream, and be innocent like a child. Watching this movie with my Korean boyfriend has made me realize something else; namely, that the audience’s culture (except the Japanese) may represent an obstacle to the full enjoyment of this work. True, childhood innocence is something of a universal experience, but there were certain aspects of these children’s experience that I believe to be culture-specific to Japan (or at least Asian countries). Being culturally and geographically close to Japan, my boyfriend felt very nostalgic when watching Mei and Satsuki gathering water from a pump, or watching Kanta (Satsuki’s peer) playing with a paper made airplane. Notwithstanding my growing in the Italian countryside, my experience was very different from the girls’ and sometimes I could not deeply savor or loose myself in the nostalgia of my younger days because of my cultural difference.

Lastly, I would like to give to you my own interpretation of the name Totoro. According to the movie, the name derives from Mei’s mispronunciation of the word “troll,” which she knows from a fairy tale book that her mother uses to read to her in bed. However, I like my own interpretation of the name better. In Korean, there is a word “Totori” which actually means acorn. Totoro and his small friends love to gather these nuts and I thought that the word “Totoro” as a modification of “Totori” just fit in perfectly.

In the end I give this movie a 7/10, so a THUMBS UP!~

What does totoro mean to you? Have you experienced similar emotions to mine?


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