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My Neighbor Totoro (Tonari no Totoro), released in 1988, is Studio Ghibli's second feature film and the fouth animated feature directed by Hayao Miyazaki (the first being Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro).
A little cycle truck putters down a rural road in post-war Japan, carrying four-year-old Mei, her older sister Satsuki, and father Professor Kusakabe to a new home in the country close to the rural hospital where the girl's mother is recovering from an unspecified (but potentially deadly) disease. Along with the usual tribulations of moving -- a spooky old house, new neighbors, fitting in at a new school -- Mei encounters an odd little creature in the backyard. While pursuing it, she comes upon the den of a much larger forest spirit which she eventually calls "Totoro". At first, Mei is the only one who sees Totoro, but Satsuki soon meets him as well, and the girls have several fantastic encounters with Totoro -- which are interwoven between subplots involving their family and (human) neighbors.
The girls' seemingly idyllic rural existence is soon shattered when a health crisis forces their mother to cancel a much-anticipated visit home. Heartbroken, the two girls take out their fear and anger on each other, and Mei eventually sets out for the hospital alone, determined to deliver an ear of corn she believes will make her mother well. The remainder of the film revolves around Satsuki's increasingly desperate search for Mei; when all other options are exhaused, Satsuki appeals directly to Totoro for help -- and he is more than delighted to be of assistance.
Totoro is one of Miyazaki's best known films, and it's considered a classic even by western critics (Roger Ebert called it "the best family film of all time", and Jonathan Ross says it's one of his favourite films). Totoro himself became Ghibli's mascot. However, Miyazaki does not gloss over some of the more frightening aspects of childhood: the girls are terrified of their mother dying, a common goat seems monstrous from little Mei's perspective, and the whole village's fright and anxiety when Mei goes missing is almost palpable. Even Totoro -- with his huge grin, inscrutable expression, and manic eyes -- can be a little scary; Satsuki refers to meeting him as both the funniest and the scariest day of her life.
My Neighbor Totoro contains examples of the following tropes:
- Adult Fear: Mei running away from home and getting lost in the climax is something any adult or older sibling can understand. Goes Up to Eleven when the villagers find a little girl's sandal in the pond and fear that she's drowned.
- Adults Are Useless: Totally averted, as in most Studio Ghibli films.
- All Trolls Are Different: Mei mistakes Totoro for a troll. In fact, "Totoro" is a mispronunciation of the Japanese word for troll, "Torōru".
- Bug Buzz: During the night, when Mei and Satsuke helped 'awaken' the acorns.
- By the Eyes of the Blind: Only children seem to be able to see the soot sprites and Totoros. At film's end, it's hinted the girls are getting too old to see the spirits.
- Cheshire Cat Grin: Totoro and the Catbus, though not maliciously intended.
- Children Are Innocent
- Close Knit Community: The village.
- Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are: Satsuki and Mei trying to make the soot sprites (soot gremlins, depending on which version one watches) in the attic appear. It's toned down from the Japanese language track, where they also say, "Or we'll pluck your eyeballs out!"
- Covers Always Lie: The cover for the 2010 American DVD is taken from concept art for an early draft, so instead of Satsuki and Mei waiting in the rain, it has a girl who has Mei's head on Satsuki's body.
- Cute but Cacophonic: Totoro. Note to those watching the movie on their computers or portable DVD players - please take your headphones off whenever it looks like he's going to roar. Your ears will thank you.
- Determinator: Satsuki literally runs for kilometers in her search for Mei.
- Electric Slide: The Catbus did it.
- Cute Kitten: The short-film sequel, Mei and the Kittenbus, which plays exclusively at the Ghibli Museum.
- Follow the White Rabbit
- Gentle Giant: Totoro, of course.
- Ghibli Hills: The Ur-example.
- Good Parents: Professor Kusakabe is probably the nicest Dad in anime.
- Happy Ending
- Hey, It's That Voice!: The original English dub has Angelica Pickles as Mei.
- Meanwhile, in the Disney dub, the Catbus and Totoro are freakin' Megatron, Ursula of all people is Granny, and Superman is Dad. Oh, and Satsuki and Mei are Dakota and Elle Fanning.
- For the Japanese version, Satsuki and Mei's dad Tatsuo is Shigesato Itoi. Yes, that Shigesato Itoi. And the mother is Sumi Shimamoto.
- Incurable Cough of Death: Averted, though the disease is treated as this trope the girl's mother never coughs even once; thankfully she doesn't actually die from it.
- Considering it was based on Miyazaki's own life, and his mother had tuberculosis, coughing would certainly have been justified.
- Invisible to Adults: The nature spirits.
- Mega Neko: The Catbus.
- Narrative Shapeshifting: The opening credits.
- Panty Shot: Throughout the movie.
- Pokémon-Speak: Totoro is only ever heard growling, roaring and saying his own name.
- Real Life Relative: Real life siblings Dakota and Elle Fanning voice Satsuki and Mei in the Disney dubs.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: Miyazaki's father was an academic and his mother was successfully treated for tuberculosis in a rural sanitarium. In an interview published in Starting Point: 1979-1996 Miyazaki mentioned he made the main characters girls so it wouldn't be too close to his own life.
- Ridiculously Cute Critter: Totoro. C'mon, just look at picture, and try to tell me you don't wanna give the big fuzzy critter a hug, too.
- Scenery Censor: While Satsuki, Mei, and their father are taking a bath together.
- Terrible Artist: Averted with Satsuki's cute drawing of Mei as the crab who waited over a persimmon seed to grow.
- Theme Naming: "Satsuki" is the old Japanese term for the month of May, and "Mei" sounds like the English name for the month. Originally Mei was only going to be the only girl until Miyazaki realized that a four-year old wouldn't have the independence necessary to drive the story.
- Also the three Totoros themselves, named for their sizes. The littlest one is called "Chibi Totoro" ("chibi" meaning "little"), the blue middle-sized one is "Chū Totoro" ("chū" meaning "middle"), and the biggest one is "Ō Totoro" ("ō" meaning "large").
- Where Are They Now? Epilogue: The credits show scenes from the girls' lives during the year following the story.
- Youkai: The Totoros are nature spirits centered around the great tree near the Kusakabes' home, which bears Shinto ropes.
- Zigzag Paper Tassel: The Shinto ropes on Totoro's tree.