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Laramie Movie Scope:
My Neighbor Totoro (Tonari no Totoro)

A classic animated children's film

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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February 23, 2003 -- "My Neighbor Totoro" is a classic children's film from the master of Japanese animation, Hayao Miyazaki ("Princess Mononoke" and "Spirited Away"). While the animation is not up to modern standards and it is pretty slow moving for a kids film, it has undeniable charm, humanity and imagination. Its depiction of the power of childrens' imagination is unbeatable. It is hard to find a more positive children's film, or one with less objectionable content.

The story centers on two young girls who are being cared for by their father while their mother recuperates from an illness. Satsuki and Mei Kusakabe move to a new house in the country, where they discover the local forest to be enchanted. Their father, Tatsuo, visits their mother, Yasuko, in the hospital, and also travels into town to teach at a university. Kindly neighbors help take care of the children when he is away from home. The story deals frankly with Satsuki and Mei's fears that their mother may die in the hospital. The children make friends with a forest spirit they call Totoro. They also encounter a strange, catlike creature with eyes like headlights. Built like a bus, the creature carries creatures around the forest on a regular route.

Like other Miyazaki films, "My Neighbor Totoro" deals with man's relationship to nature and it also deals with the magic of childhood, family relationships and the pain of growing up. The way that neighbors help care for the children is the embodiment of the old saying "it takes a village to raise a child." This gentle story is filled with good people and good creatures. There really is no villain. The plot is minimal and the pace of the film is leisurely except for a crisis near the end of the film. The majority of the film is simply children discovering the magic in the world around them, a magic which derives in large part from their imaginations. This sense of wonder is shared with the parents of the children, and with at least one of the neighbors. There is no real generation gap here. Everyone seems to be open to infinite possibilities and everyone is treated with respect. The film is a bridge between the imaginary world of children and the imaginary world of adults.

While the artwork and animation of the film are not as good as Miyazaki's later works (it was released in 1988, before the big advances in computer animation), it is better than the majority of animated children's films because of its superior content. The animation is jerky, as was often the case with vintage anime. Advances in computer animation have helped to increase the smoothness and fluidity of motion in anime films in recent years, probably by increasing the number of cels per second of film projection. Some anime movies, especially the older films, had far fewer cels per second than the best American feature animated films. The best American animation features run from 12 to 24 cels per second. Using 12 unique cells per second is called running in twos, since every cel is repeated once to make up the 24 fps movie speed. The top animation detail of 24 cels per second is used in films like "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" and "Space Jam" where cartoon characters appear on screen with real life characters. It is also used where finer kinds of motions are depicted. Cheaper American animated films also use fewer cels per second. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2003 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)