Spiritual Neighbors (My Neighbor Totoro, 1988)
Hayao Miyazaki is a pretty beloved director with a string of classic animated films. Many have tried to duplicate his success across the world, but often, fail to key in on what makes his stories work.
My Neighbor Totoro is a beautifully simple film. It is the tale of Satsuki and Mei, young sisters brought to the country while they wait for their mother to get out of the hospital. The young girls discover their new home and it’s surroundings are full of nature spirits. They befriend a giant cat/teddy bear hybrid named Totoro. Totoro looks big and roars a lot, but is adorable and engaging. His relationship with these two little kids is remarkably touching, considering how little time it is given.
The film focuses mostly on the girls and their father. This is a warm and loving relationship, and especially nice is that the father has no concerns about his children believing in nature spirits. He engages them, telling them of a time when trees and humans were friends.
There is also plenty of attention given to their human neighbors. There is the kindly Granny who cleans the house and Kanta, a young boy with rough edges, but actually quite generous.
The animation is enchanting, with lush painted backgrounds and fluid action. The nature spirits are whimsical and the most ideal of imaginary “monsters”. They are never threatening in their design.
The film is a real joy and worth watching.