My Neighbour Totoro * * * 1/2

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Director: Hayao Miyazaki.
Screenplay: Hayao Miyazaki.
Voices of: Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning, Tim Daly, Pat Carroll, Paul Butcher, Lea Salonga, Frank Welker.

Anyone familiar with the animated works of Hayao Miyazaki will be aware that he takes you into a fantasy world full of imagination and delight. I’ve managed to work my way through a lot of his film’s but this one had always eluded me. However, maybe it was my anticipation for this that left me feeling more underwhelmed than I normally am with his films.

Satsuki (Dakota Fanning) and Mei Kusakabe (Elle Fanning) are two young sisters who move to a rural house in Japan to be closer to their ailing mother in hospital. Upon their arrival, they begin to explore their new surroundings and find that there are strange little creatures who inhabit the old building and further exploration into the forest brings them closer to a giant furry sprite named Totoro, who they go magical adventures with.

Miyazaki’s film takes it’s time to get going. It starts off positively and there is an early introduction to his fantastical nature but he never fully explores it. It was more of a human drama than it was a fantasy adventure. However, no-one does it quite like Miyazaki and his film’s always possess a refreshing vitality. This still delivers on that front but isn’t as accomplished as “Spirited Away” for example. I think the main problem rests in the pace of the film; it too lethargic for children and a little too heavy on the drama. The fantasy element is wonderful when it gets going but it’s not explored as in-depth as I would have liked, leaving my concentration to wander. The fact that this is included in the IMDb top 250 is high praise indeed but it shouldn’t be held any higher than “Howl’s Moving Castle“.
I also found the English language version a little off-putting. I mean, how hard can it be to add dubbing over hand drawn animation? It’s not as if there should be a problem with lip-syncing but for some reason, this didn’t seem to fit. Speaking of the animation though, it is quite exquisitely crafted and proof that Miyazaki has been at the forefront of hand drawn material for quite some time now.

Not as entertaining as I would expect from Miyazaki but still a wonderfully endearing and affectionate tale from the hand-drawn Sensei.

Mark Walker

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10 Responses to “My Neighbour Totoro * * * 1/2”

  1. That’s quite a change going from Hunger to a Miyazaki movie, Mark :) I haven’t seen this, I’m actually not a huge fan of anime films, but I did enjoy Spirited Away.

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    • It is quite a change Ruth, your right. ;-) I’m just about to post a change back again in “44 Inch Chest”.
      I know where your coming from though, I’m not overly keen on anime either but Miyazaki’s stuff is always worth a watch. He’s highly imaginative.

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      • Hey I like mixing things up, I could easily watch a Jane Austen to something like Inception in a matter of hours :) Curious to hear about ’44 Inch Chest.’

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      • Eclectic tastes Ruth. You’ve got to dip your toe in different ponds. I’m exactly the same, there’s really nothing I wouldn’t watch at least once. I flit between many genres and styles.

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  2. I haven’t seen this — in fact, I haven’t watched hardly any Japanese animated films at all — but I will defend the dubbers on the lip synching issue here. It’s going to nearly as hard to lip sync on animation as on live action, because the animation is based on specific sentences. While they could theoretically redraw the animation for each language that it gets dubbed into, most studios are understandably reluctant to put that much effort into it.

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    • Aah! I wasn’t aware of that Morgan. That’s a good point. That being said, this english language version was released by Disney as it turns out. They must have been aware of the credibility and reputation of Studio Ghibli’s film’s so I would have thought they’d have put the effort in. Maybe it’s just because the story dragged a little that I had time to pick out such faults. Its still a good little film though.

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  3. Not really a fan of these types of movies, but I feel like I am missing something by not seeing them.

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    • There are loads of different film’s in the Studio Ghibli collection Scott but it’s specifically Miyazaki ones that are worth it. I’m not big on anime either but I always enjoy a Miyazaki film. Just for a trial, check out “Spirited away”. It’s really good man.

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  4. There’s something about Japanese animation… I can’t quite describe it. It always seems much more… “alive”… than American animation, for some reason. I don’t even think Miyazaki’s made the best anime films, but he’s top tier for sure. I saw TOTORO a long time ago, but some of that imagery still sticks in my mind. Like waiting at the bus stop in the rain and Totoro comes over and stands next to him, and you’re thinking “WTF is happening?” and then the Catbus or whatever and, even as a kid, you realize why people make fun of the the Japanese for being, quote-unquote, “screwed up”.

    If you’ve not seen PRINCESS MONONOKE, I highly highly recommend that one. Don’t be put off by the title, it’s actually quite grand.

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    • I agree man. I’ve seen quite a few anime movies over the year but these days I just stick to Studio Ghibli and in particular, Miyazaki. I’ve always found him to be that bit more imaginative and it’s always film’s I can watch with my kids and give them a different experience with animation.
      Spirited Away, still remains my favourite but Mononoke is the last one on my list and I aim to get around to that. Thanks for the recommendation.

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