Koimoi Recommends My Neighbor Totoro: hear me out, animation for the Indian audience including me has been narrowed down to cartoon, precisely something that will make you crack up. Thanks to the digital revolution and my late union with studio Ghibli made me realise the power of animation and that it can even move and make me cry. My Neighbor Totoro is a 1988 film that talks about a nuclear family setting up their life while the mother is ill in the hospital. Sisters Satsuki & Mei find the motherly feeling in a rather unusual figure, and this is the film we deserve. Today on Koimoi recommends I suggest you watch this Japanese drama that will be relevant till the last life on Earth.
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Available On: Netflix
Language: Japanese (Available with English audio and subtitles both)
As a child I still remember when my mother used to go away for a few days, I would find comfort in someone else, maybe a thing or an imaginary figure (which many of you might have. If not, I must be the most sensitive child). That’s My Neighbor Totoro. It is Japan of the 1950s, World War ll has just ended, and people are re-settling their lives. It’s an empty world, small families and houses distanced from each other.
Amid this are Mei and her elder sister Satsuki who are missing their hospitalised mother. Filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki finds the right spot to balance the strongest between realism and magic. My Neighbor Totoro takes you on a ride of the thoughts each one of us had at the bedtime as a child. The dream of flying in the night, discovering someone that only belongs to us, and running around without anything to bother.
What stands out in the film is a missing antagonist. Animated films, or let’s broaden the horizon, children films are all about a bad guy wanting to destroy things and a protagonist defeating him. The conflict here is the absence of a mother. Mayazaki creates a motherly figure in the most unthought-of unrealistic thing. It’s a giant owl-like looking creature that looks scary initially but has a heart of gold. But to define its warmth, he makes him enter the screen with Mei. She falls on its gigantic belly and dozes off to sleep in no time like one would in a mother’s lap. Totoro protects the girls, helps them when needed. It does not have a gender, but instincts are pure. The world created is simple, Totoro doesn’t have to convince the girls that it is good contradictory to his questionable appearance. Or the girls are never terrified of it. How beautifully it subtracts evoking the incorrect emotion in kids of acting terrified when they see something unconventional.
Though made for kids, which it is and in the most simplistic way, and there is a lot for them, but the messaging is strong and deserves the attention of the adults. There is flying, magically growing trees, secret doorways, kids running around but all of this has a message, and you need to find out your perspective about it. Hayao Miyazaki’s film adds the perfect amount of magic in the real world, making it palpable. Totoro could also be Mei and Satsuki’s imagination but it still comforts them and fills a void, so it does for its viewer too.
Surrender yourself to My Neighbor Totoro and let it tell how carefree and innocent the world was when we were as adolescents. Maybe Totoro is just Mei & Satsuki’s imagination, but it has hope. This is a hope we deserve in the testing times and Totoro gives us just that. There is a lot to unravel layer by layer in the Hayao Miyazaki’s written and directed film. It was made three decades ago but will be relevant forever.
I am thankful that I discovered studio Ghibli in time. The notions that animated content has to be vibrant, with music and OTT are all shattered, and now I am a man who can emotionally invest in this genre too. Watch My Neighbor Totoro, fall in love and don’t forget to hug your Totoro who has protected you for so long, let them know what you feel.
PS: Watch out for an almost 8-minute long sequence while the sisters wait for their father on a bus stop. The slow simmering writing is delicious.
Star Rating: 4/5 Stars