My Neighbor Totoro (Japan, 1988)

June 29, 2018
A movie review by James Berardinelli
My Neighbor Totoro Poster

What is it about Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro that makes it such a pleasant, immersive experience? Unlike just about any other animated film (including the other titles in Miyazaki’s impressive oeuvre), My Neighbor Totoro contents itself with dramatizing the moment rather than trying to tell a traditional story. There are no villains. There’s no conflict. As presented from the perspective of two young girls, the movie sets out to provide (or should that be “remind”?) us with that magical, wondrous aspect of childhood where fantasy and reality intermingle and many of the cares of the outside world remain aloof.

Nothing in My Neighbor Totoro is meant to frighten or unnerve viewers. The film’s emotions – a little sadness and anxiety and a great deal of joy – come naturally through the circumstances. We aren’t forced to endure plot elements shoehorned into an otherwise leisurely story simply for the purpose of making it more “traditional” or “commercial.” A lot of films are marketed as “family friendly” but few espouse that label as fully as Totoro. There’s no question about the movie’s “appropriateness” regardless of the age of the viewer.