My Neighbour Totoro Review
Back in the summer of 1995 I caught sight that Sky Movies were to air two films that I had often read about in anime literature. To say I was stunned to find My Neighbour Totoro and Porco Rosso on their schedules was an understatement and having only read about the genius of the Director of both films, Hayao Miyazaki, and the company he co-founded, Studio Ghibli, I decided to make sure I caught one of the (very few) screenings of both films. The first of these was My Neighbour Totoro. After 86-minutes of pure magic my love-affair with all things Ghibli began and to this day there are few films that can even come close to the genius of My Neighbour Totoro.
The premise behind My Neighbour Totoro (or Tonari no Totoro as it is known in Japan) is a relatively simple one that will require an open mind to fully appreciate. As the film opens we see a small family making the move to their new countryside home. Four year old Mei and her older sister, Satsuki (who is ten) have moved with their father to a new residence to be closer to their mothers hospital where, for the duration of the movie at least, she is a permanent tenant. The condition of the mother is never actually confirmed, but the name of the hospital where she resides is a famous clinic for the treatment of Tuberculosis and it is the general angst of having a loved one in a hospital that creates one of the underlying themes throughout the movie, that of the girls need for their mother to return home safely. As they are settling in to their new home we witness Mei and Satsuki as they discover several mythical creatures including the dust bunnies (who reside in unused property) and the main creatures of the story, the Totoro (loveable furry creatures referred to as the Spirits of the Forest). What follows are several encounters and what are best described as magical adventures with the Totoro, all of which lead to many heart-warming scenes that work so well because of a simplicity that can strike a chord with both young and old alike.
A fine example of the often deceptively simply content is how Miyazaki rounds off My Neighbour Totoro. Little Mei finds herself lost after she has had an argument with her older sister that leads her to run off. This would appear to be quite basic but the cause of the argument is related to the brief lapse in maturity and responsibility from Satsuki, who at ten shows a level of maturity you will only find in a young girl who is suddenly found without a mother and given the responsibility of becoming a motherly figure to a younger, less independent, sister. When a situation arises where Satsuki is in dire need of a mother figure herself we are hit with the sudden realisation that Satsuki is just as innocent as young Mei and because she breaks down how any young child would it leads to the feisty character of Mei becoming disgruntled with her sister, hence she runs off. The need for someone to be there to take control is something we have all experienced, and is one of those simple but everyday things that Miyazaki draws upon to relate to the audience.
Set in fifties Japan part of the magic behind My Neighbour Totoro is how the world our characters reside in is beautifully realised and very much like that of our own. By creating this real world setting Miyazaki immediately sparks off the viewers imagination by allowing you to understand that, just like Mei and Satsuki you must be pure of heart, in a way that Miyazaki suggests we only are as children, to see all of the greatness that resides in the world and it is for this reason that the story works so well, as there is no set plot to the film, we simply look on as the girls encounter many wonderful things and for the duration of the film you will be touched a great many times while the ending is that of pure magic with a guarantee of tears in your eyes.
For a film made in 1988 the background artwork and overall animation still holds up exceptionally well today, as I am sure it amazed back on its initial release. The countryside vistas are beautifully realised while the animation of the girls is a joy and that of the Totoro just enchanting. Look on in glee and enjoy the marvellous efforts of the animators as you witness the Totoro discover the simple joys of rain and an umbrella, marvel at the comical scenes with Mei when she first meets Nanna (their neighbour) and of course prepare to smile your way throughout the entire film as life's little things becomes all the more clear to the viewer. I could not review My Neighbour Totoro without mentioning Joe Hisaishi's masterfully subtle score that highlights the moments of sorrow and the moments of adventure while creating several memorable tunes at the same time.
I could probably write forever regarding my appreciation for this film and would quite simply never mention any drawbacks because in my mind there are none. Does that make this review one-sided? Quite possibly, but then I only see this film being disliked by those people out there who see animation as a medium that is below them, for anyone else My Neighbour Totoro will at the very least leave a lasting impression, and for the majority of viewers it will be the start of your love affair with the world of Studio Ghibli and for myself it is quite simply one of my all time favourites.
This Region 2 DVD release of My Neighbour Totoro was released back on September 28th 2001 and retails for 4700yen. You can purchase this title through our Yesasia affiliate link.
My Neighbour Totoro maintains the now standard Studio Ghibli design which features a letterboxed image on the front cover with a coloured border, adorned on which are the various film and studio logos. Housed in a White Single Thickness Double Armaray case the overall design is very pleasing with a selection of inserts (instructions and advertisements) that all continue the colourful look but best of all is the superbly chosen disc artwork which looks superb.
Positively shining with vibrant colours, near perfect black levels and a level of detail that will leave you gasping for breath you will be blown away by just how clean the (obviously lovingly restored and remastered) print sourced for this currently 13 year old film is and the 1:85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen Transfer that Studio Ghibli have created for this release is nothing short of breathtaking. Also worthy of note is the perfectly placed Layer Change, which is only noticeable by your DVD Players display briefly changing to 'Search'. A very minor gripe comes in the form of some minor Edge Enhancement but for the majority of viewers this will be a moot point, as you will hardly notice it while you enjoy every other facet of this transfer. Put simply this is the only way to experience a film of this quality.
Shunning the option of creating a Dolby Digital 5.1 Remix for their range of films Studio Ghibli persist, much to my pleasure I might add, on providing us with finely tuned original Audio tracks and My Neighbour Totoro is no exception. Presented in crystal clear DD2.0 Surround the Japanese Audio track has never sounded better and features fine localisation of both sound effects to the front and rear speakers (with some surprisingly good rear effects placed throughout the film) and voices to the centre and when appropriate surround speakers. Also using the Pro-Logic sound field to full effect is Joe Hisaishi's subtle score that sounds quite superb when it opens up around you only to draw you ever further into Miyazaki's magical world. Also present is the English Dub (that was previously featured on the US VHS release from Fox) which is presented in a more standard DD2.0 Stereo track that while fine for general purpose viewing as far as quality is concerned the Japanese track is just crisper and easier on the ear whereas the English dub can sometimes sound quite harsh in comparison.
There is of course the choice of the original Japanese Language Dub or the English Dub for your viewing experiences and although I would immediately choose the Original Japanese dialogue I am happy to say that you will find another decent English Dub bestowed on the films of Studio Ghibli in the form of this fine effort for My Neighbour Totoro. The casting is particularly well handled on the English Dub with both Mei and Satsuki receiving fine performances while extra dialogue, the bane of English Dub tracks, is thankfully kept to a minimum but is quite noticeable in the films final twenty minutes. There is also some typically drawn out dialogue that goes against the minimalist Japanese approach to be found within but on the whole this is a fine English Dub that will come in handy for those family members who refuse to read subtitles or even when you yourself are maybe feeling lazy!
Included for our pleasure are removable English and Japanese subtitles but sadly much like other Studio Ghibli R2 releases we are again treated to Dubtitles. For those of you unfamiliar with the term 'Dubtitles' are when we are provided with a subtitle track of the English Dub script rather than a true, literal translation of the Japanese dialogue. Depending on the film the quality of dubtitles varies, fortunately My Neighbour Totoro is blessed by the fact it is hardly a dialogue heavy film, and thanks to a decent English Dub script the dubtitles are generally forgivable with only the occasional faults of extra dialogue and expanded dialogue rearing their ugly heads. What is however quite annoying is that we have been given a 'Hard of Hearing' track which results in numerous descriptions of sound effects (which can be quite useful if you want to know what species of bird is chirping in the background!) and constant descriptions of the girls giggling and laughing. Presented in an easy to read white font I only noticed a couple of spelling mistakes with no sign of grammatical errors making this Dubtitle track acceptable but not quite preferable!
Again eschewing the approach most DVD producers take the menu found on this Region 2 DVD release keeps everything simple with static menus that offer a series of beautiful original sketches. While I quite enjoy the lack of slow animated menus I must say that the simple addition of Hisaishi's superb score accompanying your menu travels would have made this all but perfect (oh, and an English language version would be nice, but is hardly essential).
All of the extra features included in this release can be found on Disc 2 and all extra features are presented in Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 with NO English Subtitles, which for this disc proves to be a rather annoying limitation.
First and foremost we find the now standard but still quite stunning Film/Storyboard Multi-Angle Presentation which showcases the entire film (in Anamorphic Widescreen with a reduced bitrate) on one angle, and the complete original storyboards on another. With the same quality presentation as Kikis Delivery Service and Castle of Cagliostro before it this will be a welcome feature to both fans and aspiring directors/animators due to the highly detailed storyboards included that provide a glimpse into the sheer effort that goes into these animated marvels.
Moving further into the first submenu you will find an 18-minute feature (that is kindly broken into 4 chapters for your convenience) that contains an Original Theatrical Trailer, two TV-Spots and a fifteen minute Making of that looks at both My Neighbour Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies. You see, My Neighbour Totoro was released as a double bill with Isao Takahata's Grave of the Fireflies - the reason? Well, the financial backers did not feel that either film (from the original designs) was strong enough to survive on their own so the double-bill idea was conceived to obtain the green light. This means that two animated films (that could not be anymore different!) were released as a double-bill and hence are advertised as such (in the trailers) while the making of section focuses on both titles. Starting off you will find an 8-minute interview with Isao Takahata that can also be found on the R2 Japanese release of Grave of the Fireflies while the final section of the featurette moves on to look at some production artwork from My Neighbour Totoro but mostly consists of interviews with (a younger) Hayao Miyazaki and his staff. Unfortunately the Japanese language in this section makes it all but redundant to anyone that cannot speak the language but is still a fine inclusion that is worthy of your time if only to catch a glimpse of various artwork and original cells from the films that are regularly on show.
Another featurette that runs for 20-minutes takes a look at the recently opened Ghibli Museum in Japan. Again this feature is completely in Japanese but despite the language barrier is actually a very interesting look at what is surely a must visit attraction for any Ghibli fan. We follow Hayao Miyazaki as he is taken around an unfinished Ghibli Museum (with the occasional glimpse of the finished article) and looks at some stunning stained glass windows, four mini-cinemas that will play various films including some un-released Ghibli shorts, a replica of the Robots found in Laputa, a Porco Rosso cafe and much more. To round things off there is a 5-minute sit-down interview with Miyazaki (again in Japanese), and while this part of the featurette is practically useless you will want to go back for more as there is so much here to enjoy as throughout the walkthrough you will also be treated to plenty of original designs and artwork from both Miyazaki's films and the Museum.
As you come to the end of the extra features you will find the Opening and Ending animation sequences of Totoro presented sans credits in Anamorphic Widescreen. This allows us to appreciate the stills that continue the story found in the end credits as well as the fun opening animation and is another fine addition to this well specified disc. Finally, bringing this R2 release to a close are the Studio Ghibli Collection Trailer (featuring a look at every film produced from the Studio prior to Spirited Away) and adverts for the Studio Ghibli DVD Collection that looks at Panda! Go Panda, Sherlock Hound and Princess Mononoke (that looks stunning even in Non-Anamorphic Widescreen).
The film is a masterpiece and recommended without reservation while this Region 2 DVD is currently by far the best way to own My Neighbour Totoro. At the time of writing those looking for a cheaper alternative may want to consider the now re-mastered IVL Region 3 releases, while Buena Vista are planning to finally release several Miyzaki classics to Region 1 DVD over the next two years.