Sunday, 20 March 2011

My Neighbour Totoro (1988).

It’s easy to look at reviews of any movie by Hayao Miyazaki and just roll your eyes at the way people seem to fall over themselves to praise every one of them but it’s also worth remembering that the movies get so much praise because, more often than not, they ARE actually that good.

This outing from Studio Ghibli concentrates on young Satsuki and her little sister, Mei, as the two girls help their father clean up their new home and make it hospitable for the day they all hope will be coming soon – the day that their mother will be well enough to return to live with them. As children often do, the two girls make a lot of things into games, including the cleaning of the house (which involves chasing away soot sprites). When Stasuki starts at her new school, Mei is left to her own devices for the day and finds her way into a hidey-hole occupied by the large, fantastical Totoro. Nobody believes little Mei but eventually Satsuki starts to think that there is some truth in the tale, especially when it looks like Totoro may prove helpful during this difficult period of adjustment.

Now the plot synopsis I have just provided is both inadequate and also slightly misleading. My Neighbour Totoro is not a movie all about magical figures and childish stories and yet it IS about those things, in a way. Some people may watch the movie and think I am clearly talking nonsense but the movie, for me, was more about the way children find to deal with difficult situations and possible pain. Children are hardy little creatures, thanks in large part to their imagination and their undiluted reservoirs of optimism, and this movie is all about that childish ability to deal with change and to keep coping.

Yes, there are the usual moments featuring wondrous creatures and strange supernatural entities but it could be argued that these things are all in the minds of the children. What can’t be argued is just how well Miyazaki captures that feeling of childish exploration, that time of your life when every dark area was to be approached with the mixture of fear and excitement thumping in your chest.

My Neighbour Totoro is about the big titular creature, a cat/bus thing, little soot sprites and flights of fancy. But it’s also, equally, about moving into a new home, making new friends and worrying about a loved one who is ill. The whole thing is quite a delight.

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