Paul Malikkal

Review

My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

Paul Malikkal

My Neighbor Totoro has an up-and-down quality to it that recalls the mood-swings we all go through as children--bouncing off the walls one moment and throwing tantrums the next. The sound design, in particular, switches as quickly as a child’s mood. Unnerving silences suggest danger looming around the corner, while gentle chirps of cicadas suggest rural comfort. And then there’s Joe Hisaishi exuberant score, which adopts a distinct style for every mood. Dreamy synths play as Totoro ascends into the trees, and soothing piano arrangements play as the girls finally reunite with their ailing mother.

It’s hard not to get hooked on the imagination in Miyazaki’s images: a little girl offering a rabbit-eared creature an umbrella at a bus stop, a giant cat-shaped bus soaring over the countryside, dust bunnies skyrocketing into treetops. These visuals turn back time, inviting you to watch the film as if you were six-years-old, being awed by the pure wonder of this fantastical world. You don’t care why the creatures of this world run on power generated by acorns, or why Totoro’s preferred method of transport is a giant spinning top. You just want to see more.

My Neighbor Totoro is like The Florida Project’s G-Rated cousin. Like Moonee and company, Satsuki and Mei fearlessly galavant about their lackluster surroundings, making games out of even the most mundane discoveries. And like Baker, Miyazaki slowly lifts the veil of lightness, that hides the darkness forcing these children to grow up faster than any child should have to. By The Florida Project’s final moments, Moonee has lost her innocence. My Neighbor Totoro's beauty, on the other hand, lies in its optimism. During the film’s most distressing moment, Satsuki begs Totoro to help her find her lost sister. For once in the film, we feel that these children are in real danger. But when Satsuki’s plea is met with a blank, big-toothed grin from Totoro, we breathe a sigh of relief; everything is going to be alright.

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