Hayao Miyazaki’s fourth film, and his second under Studio Ghibli, My Neighbour Totoro is the work of a master in his prime. A quietly confident film, it trades the action and adventure of previous works for a more understated and deeply emotional tone.
The story of two infant girls who move to a new house with their father, while their mother resides in hospital with a serious illness, it sees the pair befriend a mythical wood spirit named Totoro. Beyond that there’s very little resembling a plot, Miyazaki instead preferring to use a series of loosely connected scenes that gently wash over the viewer.
Largely free of dialogue, Totoro is animation in its purest from, using images to not just tell the story but set the mood too. Scenes go on much longer than they would in other films, giving Miyazaki the room to do what he does best, accentuating the little details, like a drop of rain water sliding down a leaf. It’s a strangely relaxing, even mesmerizing, level of zen-like storytelling. Until a giant multi-legged Catbus turns up and starts galloping over the treetops, that is.
For all its ponderous simplicity, the stars of My Neighbour Totoro really are the amazing mystical creatures that only the two children can see. And though there’s a valid argument that their interaction with, and eventual distancing from these creatures may be a metaphor for how they cope with the trauma of their mother’s hospitalisation… The more important point is that spending 86 minutes in the company of Miyazaki’s gentle giant spirits is just as enchanting for the spectator as it is the protagonists. For children, it’s a film that feels like genuine magic and for adults it’s a nostalgic portal that reminds you what it’s like to be a kid again. Teenagers… You may have to wait a few years to appreciate that.
On blu-ray, of course, the Ghibli magic is presented with crystal clarity and we really can’t find fault with it. Like the Optimum DVD, also packaged with the blu-ray, this features the modern dub originally commissioned by Disney and starring Dakota Fanning, and brings the special features up to date by adding in those from the Region 1 Disney DVD too. Technically new to the UK, they’re not that new overall, but it’s nice to have them all the same. Likewise, it would have been great if the Japanese audio had been remixed in 5.1 DTS but, well, you can’t have everything. And with a film of this quality it’s easy to forgive.
If you’ve never seen My Neighbour Totoro then this is the perfect place to jump in. It’s the best version to be released in the UK and in 1080p HD it fully immerses you in Miyazaki’s childlike fantasy world. And if you have seen this Ghibli classic before then you already know you need to own the blu-ray don’t you?