Guest Author - Lesley Aeschliman
My Neighbor Totoro is a film written and directed by Hayao Miyazkai. It was originally released in Japan in August 1988, as part of a double feature with Grave of the Fireflies. The film won the Animage Anime Grand Prix prize in 1988.
In 1993, 50th Street Films produced a dub of the film, which was released on VHS and DVD by Fox Video. Both of these entities lost their rights to the film in 2004, and Disney produced a new English dub with new voice actors. The new English dub made its debut on October 23, 2005, and then it made an appearance at the Hollywood Film Festival. Turner Classic Movies was the first television network to air the film during a salute to Miyazaki on January 19, 2006. Disney's version of the film was released on DVD on March 7, 2006.
My Neighbor Totoro takes place during the 1950s, and opens with a Tokyo university professor and his two daughters (Satsuki and Mei) moving into an old house in rural Japan. The girls' mother is staying in the hospital due to illness, so the move was made to be closer to her. When they get there, the girls discover the house is inhabited by small creatures called soot sprites, which represent the girls' apprehension of moving into a new house. After they become comfortable there and are able to laugh with their father, the soot sprites leave.
One day while Satsuki is at school, Mei plays outside and sees a creature with two white, rabbit-like ears. She follows the creature under the house, and discovers two magical creatures. The creatures lead her through a briar patch and into the hollow of a large tree. Mei meets and befriends a bigger version of these spirits. The big spirit identifies itself through a series of roars, which Met interprets as "Totoro." Later, Satsuki meets Totoro. At the same time, Satsuki and Mei also encounter the Catbus (a large bus-shaped cat) for the first time.
One day, after believing her mother's condition has worsened, Mei heads out on foot to the hospital. Satsuki launches a frantic search, and ends up enlisting the help of Totoro and the Catbus.
While My Neighbor Totoro clocks in at under an hour and a half, it's still an enjoyable film. In fact, the story probably would have been weakened if Miyazaki had tried to make the runtime longer. The look of the animation is perfect to accompany the story of the film. This is definitely a very family-friendly anime film, and I would highly recommend it.
The two-disc DVD set contains the film and some extras on the first disc, and a storyboard version of the film on the second disc. On the first disc, there's a five-and-a-half minute documentary called, "Behind the Microphone," which features interviews and footage from recording sessions with several of the voice actors (Dakota and Elle Fanning, Lea Salogna, Pat Carroll, and Tim Daly). There's also textless versions of the opening and ending credits, as well as the original Japanese theatrical trailer. In the extras menu, you can also register your DVD. While there may not be a lot of extras, this has been the case with every Miyazaki film that Disney has released on DVD. So while it's a little disappointing, it's not entirely unexpected.
My Neighbor Totoro is a classic film that should be in the home video collection of anyone who is an anime fan.
I wrote this review after watching a copy of this DVD that my husband purchased for me as a gift.