Film Review: My Neighbour Totoro


Satsuki and Mei move to an old house in the Japanese countryside with their father to be closer to their ailing mother in hospital. Satsuki starts a new school, whilst Mei struggles to adapt to the move. However, whilst exploring the surrounding area, Mei stumbles upon a giant, fantastical creature she refers to as Totoro.

At its heart, My Neighbour Totoro is a children’s film, but it doesn’t shy away from dealing with some mature issues. The illness and potential loss of a parent is a topic that some may feel is a little too much for children to fully take on board, but this film tackles it head on, unafraid of asking children to deal with more adult concepts. In fact, examining the way children cope with such issues is at the very core of the film. Are Totoro and friends real, or have the children just created these creatures as a way of coping with their difficult situation? This isn’t an unusual idea; Alice in Wonderland is probably the most famous example of this (Totoro actually has a very ‘Alice’ feel at times), whilst Pan’s Labyrinth is a more recent film that plays with the same idea. However, whilst Totoro feels like a much more child-friendly experience than the aforementioned examples, it exhibits a charm and kindness that can be appreciated by viewers of any age.

Where it does differ from the usual format of children’s films is in its story – as in, there isn’t one. That might be slightly unfair, but there is very little to speak of in terms of discernible plot or conflict for the characters. Some may be put off by this and find the film a little uneventful, but that’s actually part of Totoro’s charm. It doesn’t need to be bogged down by layers of plot; it just exists in its own world and we’re being treated to an insight into that world. It’s not flashy; it’s not complicated; it just is.


As is immediately evident, the animation inΒ Totoro is simply delightful. It’s unmistakably Japanese but feels much more accessible than some of the other Anime or Manga that comes out of Japan. It is beautifully drawn and the colours jump off the screen; every shot is a visual treat and it’s difficult to believe this was made back in 1988 as it still feels so fresh, original and relevant. The odd scene might show its age a little but some (the rainstorm scene in particular) are as beautifully drawn as anything I’ve seen before or since.

Just as the art-style is ‘very Japanese’, as is the film’s culture. It deals with spirits and magical creatures in a very casual way, as if their presence is no big deal. The soot sprites, a fictitious type of supernatural spirit (or yōkai to give them their proper Japanese name), are a prime example of this, as Satsuki and Mei are more intrigued than scared by them, something that wouldn’t likely happen in a Western film of the same nature. The fact that the Japanese have a particular name for these creatures shows how a part of their folklore they are, and whilst it was fascinating to experience a bit of that, it felt as if I was missing out on so much purely because I’m not Japanese. Having said that, I would actually argue that the film didn’t have enough of the weird and the wonderful. Totoro and friends don’t show up nearly as often as they probably should and it would be nicer to see them have a slightly larger impact on the children’s lives rather than too often being nothing more than creatures of fascination.

My Neighbor Totoro

Totoro is a magical film that champions the imagination and the wistful innocence of children whilst refusing to shy away from more complex issues. It might be slightly slower paced than one might expect but it was a real privilege to experience something as meticulously crafted and full of heart as this.

NB – I watched the dubbed English version of the film, the 2006 Disney version with Dakota and Elle Fanning as Satsuki and Mei respectively. Dubbing non-animated films is largely (always?) horrendous but it works reasonably well with animation and the dubs didn’t really bother me. However, I would definitely like to re-watch it again with the original Japanese language track, as I believe that is how the film was intended to be appreciated.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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49 thoughts on “Film Review: My Neighbour Totoro

  1. mettelray says:

    It’s such a nice story..

  2. ckckred says:

    Nice review. I enjoyed this as well.

  3. I’ve never got on with these types of film… but I’m clearly in the minority! I haven’t actually seen this one but it’s been recommended to me by a few people. Nice write-up.

  4. Kind of skimmed through your review, as I haven’t seen it yet, but ever since I started the Recommendation series over on my blog, I’ve seen a lot of Miyazaki’s and I’ve loved them all. Hoping to catch this one one of these days, and I hope it’s great! Glad to see you gave it a good grade!

    • It is a great film and I highly recommend it. This is still actually the only Ghibli film I’vn seen, although I have plenty more lined up, but apparently this isn’t as story focused as many of the others. I remember seeing one of these in your Recommendations recently, think it was Spirited Away. Think that one might be the next one I check out.

  5. filmhipster says:

    I keep seeing such rave reviews of this, going to have to check it out! Nice one Chris.

  6. keith7198 says:

    Very nice review. Unfortunately I just don’t like anime or manga. The entire art style has never appealed to me. I know I’ve missed out on some good stories but I just can’t shake my dislike for it. 😦

    • Thanks Keith. I can totally appreciate it not being your thing, I know Japanese animation isn’t very everyone. It’s not too bad though, it’s on the more mainstream side of anime I’d say though from what I’ve seen. It doesn’t go full on hardcore anime at any point I don’t think, so you may be able to get on with it if you do fancy giving it a whirl at any point.

    • Monkeyboy says:

      Keith, I think I remember you mentioning on your site a while back that your dislike of anime was putting you off Ghibli’s films. I’d like to stress though, that they tend to avoid a lot of the worst pitfalls of bad anime, and can be really quite charming and subtle. Certainly more so than a Pixar or Disney film.

  7. ruth says:

    This sounds delightful! I’ve only seen one Miyazaki film (Spirited Away), so I’m keen on checking this one out!

    • I really recommend this one Ruth. I haven’t seen Spirited Away (think that one’s next on the list) but this is a charming little film. I have a feeling you’ll like it πŸ™‚

      • ruth says:

        Yeah I think I would. Spirited Away is wonderful, though there are some um, unusual (read: weird) stuff in it, but I think that’s to be expected from Miyazaki.

      • Yeah there’s some pretty odd stuff in Totoro too to be honest. See the picture of the cat bus, for example πŸ™‚ I can cope with a bit of weird every now and again though and being animated it doesn’t seem quite so weird to me, I tend to accept it a little more.

      • ruth says:

        You’re right, if it’s an animated feature (esp anime) I think some oddity/weird stuff is to be expected and I tend to be ok w/ it. Once in a while it’s fine, though in small doses ahah. I can only watch something like Holy Motors maybe a few times a year πŸ˜€

      • Haha, yeah I’ve heard that’s pretty crazy! I still need to check that out. I know what you mean though, I watched Eraserhead a few weeks ago and I don’t need to see that again for some time. I’m still having dreams about it!

  8. table9mutant says:

    Great review. πŸ™‚ I’m very into the Ghibli stuff now after watching a bit more for my IMDB Top 250 thing. I really enjoyed Castle In The Sky & Princess Mononoke. I recommend Mononoke next if you plan on watching more…

  9. Nick Powell says:

    I love the jesus out of this movie. A few months ago we ran a whole week of Miyazaki at The Cinematic Katzenjammer and had plenty of discussions about his films, and this one especially. I think that Totoro is the epitome of a kid’s movie and is my go-to for such a thing, much more than Disney. It’s genuinely sweet, innocent, and full of adventure and I don’t think I’ve seen any character that captures a real little kid like Mei does (maybe Boo in Monsters, Inc).

    Glad you love it!

    • Great, isn’t it? πŸ™‚ I do remember seeing some Miyazaki stuff over on your site actually. I’ll have to swing by again and have another look.
      I think that’s a great point about Mei, she really does epitomise what it is to be a child. She’s so curious and has an amazing imagination. It’s definitely a film that kids can enjoy but also for adults to remember what it’s like to be a child.

  10. Garrett says:

    Great review. You’re spot-on when you talk about the film’s lack of plot working for the better and 4/5 is a probably what I’d give it too.

  11. Awesome review!! πŸ™‚ I’ve been following Miyazaki’s work since I was really young. Studio Ghibli animations are all quite magical and fun to watch (well, some…Grave of Fireflies doesn’t fall in the fun area). However, My Neighbor Totoro has always been my favorite πŸ™‚ I used to imitate the scenes with my friends when we were young and silly!

    • Thank you! I am new to Ghibli’s work and I already love it! I really can’t wait to check out some more of their stuff. And that’s quite the image, running round pretending to be Satsuki and friends! Some kids pretend to be superheroes, some Disney characters, but you go all arty and go Ghibli. Love it πŸ™‚

  12. Mark Walker says:

    Fine write-up, sir! I enjoyed Totoro very much but it didn’t quite reach the heights of Spirited Away or Howl’s Moving Castle for me. Still, I gave it 3.5 so we’re not far off from each other here.

  13. Tyson Carter says:

    Not my bag but nice write up as always Chris. πŸ™‚

  14. Monkeyboy says:

    Great review. Agree about the way it tackles an ill parent. It doesn’t sugar coat it, or get too sentimental, which I like. It’s not my favourite Studio Ghibli film, I’ll admit. Having said that, it’s hard to pick a favourite really. They’re all great in their own way. You’ve got a lot of good films ahead of you, if you’re about to dive into their back catalogue. πŸ™‚

    • Thanks! Yeah I liked the way it didn’t shy away from delving into more difficult issues. It took me by surprise a little but I liked it. I shall be delving into more Ghibli stuff, I’ve got a load lined up to watch and I can’t wait πŸ™‚

  15. Mr Rumsey says:

    A great little film! Nice write up man πŸ˜€

  16. Isaac Yuen says:

    Thank you for the review. I love that is no real plot and it relies solely on the interactions of the two sisters with their new world and how they deal with some heavy issues. All show, no tell. It’s a masterpiece.

    I’ve also written a couple of pieces of Ghibli films myself if you are interested πŸ™‚

  17. nediunedited says:

    YAY!! Miyazaki!!

    My daughter LOVES all things Ghibli–(may have more Totoro/Ghibli merchandise than anyone you know–tees–bags–slippers–etc–LOL!) I introduced her to Princess Mononoke and the rest is history. πŸ˜€

    He is truly a master storyteller and his art is gorgeous. I think Ponyo is the only film we were underwhelmed with–cute, but not what we have come to expect from him. Hope you get to discover them all–you’re in for a treat.

    Later! πŸ™‚

  18. Sounds like you’re proper little Ghibli fanatics! Great stuff! I bet your daughter is the cool kid amongst her friends πŸ™‚ I can’t wait to check out some more of his stuff, I’ve got a few lined up to watch πŸ™‚

  19. Great look at this one, man. Just saw it for the first time myself recently, and I absolutely loved it. Might very well be my favorite Miyazaki film.

  20. Nostra says:

    One of my favorite Ghibli movies. Agree that there isn’t much plot but its sense of place and discovery the children make results in something you enjoy to behold.

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