In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.
My Neighbor Totoro 
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Screenplay: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: Hitoshi Takagi, Noriko Hidaka, Toshiyuki Amagasa
Running Time: 86 minutes
Reason for inclusion: I wanted to continue to watch more Studio Ghibli films, and this seemed to be the most highly-regarded out of those I hadn’t seen.
Accolades: Kinema Junpo Award for Best Film, Animage Anime Grand Prix prize, Mainichi Film Award for Best Film, ranked #163 on IMDB’s Top 250, ranked #41 on Empire magazine’s 100 Best Films of World Cinema
My Neighbor Totoro is as simple as it gets, but it is infinitely rewarding. Originally released on the same bill as Grave of the Fireflies (still the greatest animated film I have ever seen), Totoro remains one of Hayao Miyazaki’s crowning achievements, a children’s film that can be passed down from generation to generation.
Set in 1958 Japan, the film tells the story of a university professor and his two daughters, Satsuki and Mei, who move across the country to be closer to the hospital where their mother, Yasuko, is recovering from a serious illness. Their new residence is an old house that the girls immediately believe is haunted. Rather than allow themselves to be scared — “they’re just dust bunnies” — the sisters embrace the spirits and settle in as best as they can.
While the older sister, Satsuki, is off at school, Mei notices a small, white rabbit-like creature playing outside. She chases after it, eventually reaching a well-hidden area inside the forest. Inside, she finds an even bigger creature, a very large “totoro” who is in such a deep sleep he doesn’t even notice the little girl. She instantly becomes attached to this creature, dubbing him Totoro, and begins seeing him on their property from time to time.
Even though Totoro only speaks in loud roars, he becomes a much-needed friend for Mei, and it isn’t long before Satsuki starts seeing him as well. When the girls tell their father about these mythical creatures, he smiles and doesn’t act for one second that he doesn’t believe them. As such, it’s refreshing to see an adult in an animated film not dismiss a child for these whimsical thoughts.
It’s difficult to put into words what makes My Neighbor Totoro so great. The wild imaginations of children are expertly captured, and I can’t think of a better film that nails the general sensibilities of youth. The bond between the little girls and Totoro is heartwarming, especially as they are essentially using this creature as their way of coping with their sick mother. “Adult” issues are brought up and handled with care, and there is not even the slightest notion of condescension.
The sisters are believable, lifelike characters, and their jubilant behavior while exploring their new house is fun to watch. Totoro and his many smaller relatives are wonderful creatures, and it’s easy to see how they have remained popular worldwide over the years. There is also an incredibly unique “cat bus” that transports Totoro around the forest, one of the coolest looking modes of transportation I have ever seen.
In a nutshell, My Neighbor Totoro is a beautifully-animated film that has a little something for everyone. It made me feel like a kid again, which is rare in itself. An absolute must see, even for those who generally sway away from animated films.