I'm always surprised when people will state that they don't like Japanese
animation, like it's a genre unto itself. I've always equated that
with saying you don't like American films. There is such a wide variety
of both, that it's inconceivable that someone would dislike it all.
Whenever someone makes a blanket statement like that to me, I usually recommend
a film by Japan's premier animator Hayao Miyazaki. Often described
as the "Japanese Walt Disney", Miyazaki makes endearing films that are
unlike anything else being made. They are charming but not sappy
and truly enjoyable by all ages. The Disney Corporation has licensed
Miyazaki's catalog and their latest release is one of his earlier, and
most humorous, films: My Neighbor Totoro.
Four year old Mei and her big sister Satsuki are moving out to the countryside.
Their father has moved the family so that they can all be closer to their
mother, who is sick in the hospital and has been for quite some time.
When the girls first see the big old house that is to be their new home,
they are a little apprehensive. They find acorns that seem to have
fallen from the ceiling, and when they open up a back room, it seems to
be filled with little black 'soot gremlins' that scurry from their sight
as soon as the door is opened. Because of this they think that the
house might be haunted.
While Satsuki goes off to school one day, Mei discovers something odd.
She sees a little transparent creature walking through their garden.
Following the little fellow, Mei crawls through an opening in the undergrowth
that leads to a huge Camphor tree. The creature scampers through
a hole in the tree, and the little girl follows him. There she discovers
a huge giant sleeping beast, the spirit of the forest. She tries
to wake him up, to no avail, and eventually falls asleep on his soft, warm
When Satsuki gets home from school, hours later, she and her father
discover that Mei is missing. They discover her sleeping on the floor
of the forest. When she's awoken, the little tot tells her sister
that she's scene a "Totoro" (her mispronunciation of the Japanese word
for "Troll".) Satsuki doesn't believe her of course, until she sees
him too one day.
People often through out the term "family movie" when they mean a show
that kids will like and parents will be able to endure. Inoffensive
cute movies that don't have anything really going for them besides their
blandness. That description doesn't fit My Neighbor Totoro.
This is a real family moive, one that children will want to see again and
again and that parents will enjoy watching too. A film that
people of all ages will actually like, not just be able to sit through.
Both my wife (who does not like most anime) and I loved this film as much
as my two sons did.
The first thing that strikes viewers is the gorgeous backgrounds that
this animated film has. Though the settings aren't as imaginative
as Miyazaki's later works, My Neighbor Totoro has stunning backgrounds
with giant green trees and lush forests. It has a realistic feel
to it, but a reality as seen through a child's eyes.
Miyazaki also gets the interplay between the two sisters dead on.
The way Mei follows her big sister around mimicking everything she does
as well as trying to act like a 'big girl' was outrageously funny as well
as endearing. Satsuki's impatience with her younger sibling was also
realistic and well done. Though my offspring didn't realize it, Miyazaki
could have taken the script directly from some of their interactions a
from a few years ago.
If there's one complaint I have, and there is just one, some of the
designs weren't as good as they could have been. Though the cat-bus
was great, Mei's expressions sometimes were a little too exaggerated.
When she had a wide smile she looked more than a little like the Grinch
who stole Christmas, and when she opened up her mouth to yell, it looked
like her face would split in two.
Like a version of Alice in Wonderland (to which the movie has
a slight resemblance) that takes place in the real world, My Neighbor
Totoro is a wonderfully fun and very humorous film that just makes
you feel happy when you watch it.
This two disc set comes in a single width keepcase with one disc on
an inserted 'page.' There is also an insert with a list of chapter
At last, region one gets to hear this film in its original language!
This disc comes with three audio tracks, Japanese, French, and English,
all in stereo. The audio tracks all sound very good. (I watched
the film in Japanese and English, and spot checked the French track.)
There is a good amount of range, and the voices are clean and clear.
The music, which is often playing lightly in the background while people
are talking, sound very good and the subtle sounds are reproduced faithfully.
The English track, being a recent dub, comes across as being more full
and rich, but only slightly. There are no background noises of dropouts.
The English dub for this film is actually very good. I had my
doubts when I heard that Dakota Fanning (Satsuki) and her sister Elle (Mei)
were voicing the main characters, but they do an outstanding job.
They have a lot of chemistry together and really sound like sisters fighting
and playing together. I like this audio track much better than the
previous English dub on the Fox DVD. (Which is still very good.)
This new track just sounds more natural, especially Mei who now sounds
like a little girl instead of an adult trying to sound like a little girl.
I am very surprised at how much fun this new English dub is.
There are also subtitles in English and French and a subtitle track
in English for the hearing impared.
The widescreen (1.85:1 - OAR) anamorphic image looks exceptionally good,
especially when you compare it to the earlier R1 release from Fox.
The colors are bright and very strong, the lines are tight, and the picture
is clear. Watching this you'll forget that the film is almost 20
years old. Of course there are some very slight imperfections.
Some scenes have a bit of grain to them, which is minor, and there is a
tad of dreaded edge enhancement that has been applied to the image.
This latter defect is minor and will only be noticeable to people with
very large screens.
This two disc set has a couple of nice bonus features. The first
disc has a clean opening and closing, the original Japanese trailer (which
has seen better days...it's very soft and faded), and a Behind the Microphone
featurette. This five and a half minute short has interviews with
the lead English voice actors and spends a lot of time watching the Fanning
sisters preforming. It was a bit fluffy, but still nice to watch.
The second disc is devoted to showing the entire film again, but this
time with the original storyboards. While this is nice to have if
you are a student of animation, I was underwhelmed. A scene or two
would have been sufficient and I can't really see myself watching the whole
movie this way.
Overall, I was expecting more from a two disc set. An interview
with Hayao Miyazaki, either recent or vintage, would have been nice, and
I would have enjoyed seeing a gallery of Toroto merchandise that has been
sold at one time or another.
Should I upgrade?:
Definitely! This disc is superior to the old release in every
way. This Disney release presents the film in its OAR and with
the original language for the first time. That alone would be enough
to strongly recommend an upgrade, but when you take into account the significantly
better picture, stronger English dub, and bonus material, it makes the
upgrade decision a no-brainer.
Like all of Miyazaki's films, this one is great. One of his earlier
works, this is also one of the funniest, with some really cute moments
that will make the whole family howl with laughter. A family movie
in the truest sense of the term, this movie will be enjoyed by both the
children and the adults. With nothing to scare even the most timid
children, My Neighbor Totoro is a wonderful picture that everyone
should see. Highly Recommended.