#128: My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

When and how did I watch this?

February 2nd, 2017, on a random site.

Had I seen this film already?

Nope.

What did I know about the movie before watching it?

I haven’t been disappointed with a Miyazaki film yet.

What do I know about it now?

I usually don’t do this, but I cheated and read Roger Ebert’s review of this film a couple of days ago, before writing this. I often take a look at what he said about films after composing my own take on it, and it feels good that I agree with him most of the time. I wanted to know why I was so drawn into this film from the beginning, why I couldn’t stop smiling throughout, and despite a moderately perilous situation near the conclusion, why I was satisfied with a warm catharsis rather than the “aha” moment or the shocking conclusion typical of the films on this list. He makes a striking point in his review: there is no protagonist or antagonist, no real conflicts, and everything is right in the world.

Here is a children’s film made for the world we should live in, rather than the one we occupy.

My Neighbor Totoro took me back to my own childhood, to early summer mornings after breakfast when I’d watch The Adventures of Little Koala — another dubbed 80s Japanese cartoon — and then head outside into the warmth of the sun reflecting off the the asphalt driveway, sweat beading at my temples within minutes of running about with my friends, not caring about what perils might await me if I got too curious. That’s the “peril” in the film: Mei’s curiosity gets her sent down a tunnel under a tree where she meets the massive and cute and furry forest spirit who would later help her and her sister. You would think, this being the pinnacle of danger in the film, we would get bored, but that never happens.  Yes, I was relaxed, but it was because I found the environment refreshing, a welcome respite from the other entries on the IMDb Top 250.

What are some themes in the film?

Family, unconditional love, magic, imagination

Did this affect me personally?

I smiled or laughed throughout the film.  I enjoyed the tree-growing scene — the father, unaware of what’s occurring just outside of his window, juxtaposed with the children and the three totoros willing the tree to grow and stretch into the night sky.  Beautiful.

Why is this ranked #128?

Because it makes you feel good.  Miyazaki’s hand in the film is a secondary factor.

Did my wife watch/like it?

Despite having work to do, she relented and watched most of it with me.  She loved it.

Would I watch it again?

Yes, and I’ll make sure my daughters see it next time.

Would I recommend it to a friend?

Indeed, and your children should see it as well.

Does it deserve to be on this list as one of the greatest films of all time?

Picking the best Disney films to be on this list appears to be a like problem to how to handle Miyazaki works. There are some that, in my opinion, are clearly better than others, but how many to include appears to be a problem.  The only Miyazaki animes I’ve seen have been on this list, but there are several more that might be equally captivating as My Neighbor Totoro turned out to be.  Either way, Totoro belongs.  While the likes of Nausicaa and Howl’s Moving Castle feature more serious themes and intense sequences, this film captivates the natural beauty of life and how things shall be while letting imagination and reality overlap.

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