Tuesday 22 March 2011

From the archive: "My Neighbour Totoro"

One of the first films to bring Spirited Away director Hayao Miyazaki to international prominence, My Neighbour Totoro also counts as one of the few films that genuinely merit the term "wonderful", in that it has something of wonder in every scene. The storyline is fairy-tale simple: two young girls move, along with their father, into what they're certain is a haunted house in the woods while waiting for their sick mother to come out of hospital. And the opening sequence, with its engagingly minute attention to domestic chores, marks the film as very definitely the product of a Japanese imagination, though perhaps only Miyazaki could have come up with those soot sprites.

Yet the film's key influences are recognisably Western, notably Alice in Wonderland (the heroines enter another world upon falling down a rabbit hole) and The Wizard of Oz (sleepy forest spirit Totoro is surely too close to Toto not to be a deliberate homage, and the message is again that there's no place like home). Conservatism is seen off with the implicit understanding that home is a place of growth and regeneration rather than stasis, and through the immense charm in the characterisation. Younger viewers will almost certainly identify with the struggles of the wonderfully wide-eyed Mei, keen to prove herself in the shadow of her older sister; adults, whether they want children or not, will want to adopt every cell frame in which Mei appears. Joe Hisaishi's score is perfect, and Miyazaki's artistry, not to mention his great love of nature, is evident in the care and attention lavished upon every butterfly that flutters, and each toad that crawls, across this particular screen.

(August 2006)

My Neighbour Totoro screens on Channel 4 this Friday at 2.55am.

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