A Review of “Tonari no Totoro” [“My Neighbor Totoro”] – Fuzzy-Wuzzy Family Fantasy Fable

My Neighbor Totoro Group PictureGood news everyone! My anime funk has been broken! I’m back in my proverbial groove again! As strange as it sounds, the cure for the funk was just to step away from anime for a while and immerse myself in other pursuits, one of which includes the “James Bond 007″ movies. I can honestly say my favorite Bond has got to be Sir Roger Moore with Sean Connery and Daniel Craig in a close second and third respectively. As for a favorite movie, I have to say, “You Only Live Twice” fits that bill as it has 007 traveling to Japan to stop the evil SPECTRE organization. But, I digress [As usual…]…This is one animated movie that really needs no explanation, so really, the only thing I need say here is…I’m Cajun Samurai, and this is my review of “Tonari no Totoro”, also known as “My Neighbor Totoro”.

Warnings and Other Objectionable Content – There are absolutely, positively no issues whatsoever with this movie. This is a family film, through and through. Heck, I RECOMMEND you show this movie to young kids, as it will help introduce them to our Japanese brothers and sisters. The ONLY thing that could POTENTIALLY raise eyebrows…and only if you’re so prodigiously prudish, prim, puritanical and priggish is the bathing scene with the dad and his two daughters. I’ll let you know right now; NOTHING is shown, this is NOT fan-service in ANYWAY, and in the Japanese culture, it’s normal for family to bathe together up to a certain age. It’s just an innocent scene that lasts all of 3 minutes. Trust me, it won’t scar the kids…they’ll survive…you’ll survive…[On a slightly related subject, I highly recommend the book “Anime Explosion! The What? Why? & WOW! of Japanese Animation” by Patrick Drazen. His book touches on, among many, many other things, the subject of family bathing and how it’s used in anime and it’s roots in Japanese culture. In fact, the writer uses “Tonari no Totoro” as an example of family bathing.  It’s an excellent read–I’ve had my copy for years and still refer to it periodically for some information.]

Series Availability –

Wal-Mart

Affirmative for in-store and online purchase.

Best Buy

Affirmative for in-store and online purchase.

F.Y.E [For Your Entertainment]

Affirmative for in-store and online purchase. [Starting to see a pattern develop here?]

Target

Affirmative for in-store and online purchase.

Other Purchasing Sites

Affirmative. You’ll find this movie just about anywhere you look, physical media wise.

Online Streaming

Yeah, you might be out of luck here a bit. We’re dealing with a production that was released by Disney, and they are extremely hesitant with regards to streaming media. Regular streaming sites won’t have it, so you might have to hit the Google and take your chances. [OtakuAndrain suggests Otaku-streamers.net]

Movie Premise – “Tonari no Totoro” or “My Neighbor Totoro” is an animated movie written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. The movie centers around the Kusukabe family; dad Tatsuo, oldest daughter Satsuki and youngest daughter Mei as they move to a new house in the country to be closer to their ailing mother, who has been battling an illness for quite a while. However, as our young characters find out, there’s more in the forest that meets the eye. On a little adventure through the woods, Mei encounters the guardian of the forest; a large furry Mei First Meets Totorobeast that is sound asleep in a clearing. Mei, being the innocent and curious soul she is, decides to climb up the large fuzzy-wuzzy creature and lay on its fuzzy-wuzzy tummy. When she asks the creature’s name, he replies, in deep growls that his name is Totoro. This satisfies Mei and she soon drifts off to sleep curled up on Totoro’s fuzzy tummy. When Satsuki discovers her sister, now fast asleep on the ground, Mei excitedly tells her story, to which Satsuki just nods and carries her home. Eventually, Satsuki has her own unique meeting with Totoro, making her a full-on believer in the guardian. And so the movie goes, highlighting the adventures of the two girls and Totoro, along with his friends including the gigantic zero-emissions Cat-bus. Truth be told, there’s not much I can say about “Tonari no Totoro” that hasn’t been said already. It’s a brilliant movie with an interesting, engaging and fascinating premise that’s complex enough for older viewers yet simple enough for the youngest of viewers to enjoy. One thing that this movie does, probably accidentally, is that it shows young viewers and those who may not be familiar with Japan certain aspects of Japanese culture and mythology. This movie could easily be a teaching tool in addition to being an enjoyable romp. The only disappointment in this whole movie is the fact that there’s not more of it to enjoy.(25/25)

Favorite Scene –
Hands down, my favorite scene is when Satsuki and Mei are waiting on their father to come home in the rain when Totoro appears next to them waiting on his own ride. Though this scene doesn’t have a lot of dialogue, just the atmosphere and the looks between Satsuki and Totoro are enough to make this whole scene one of the most iconic in all of anime.

Characters – 

Satsuki Kusukabe The older sister of the two. Satsuki is a cheerful kid who helps out whenever she can with the small family in the absence of her mother. While she’s not quick to believe Mei when she tells her story about Totoro, she’s not quick to write it off as being false. This is the prefect older sister character for this movie. Plain and simple.
Mei Kusukabe The younger sister and the one who encounters Totoro first. She’s your typical little sister character; sometimes stubborn but sweet overall.
Totoro The title character of the series. Totoro is a large, fluffy spirit with an owl shape, a cat-like face, and a kind yet curious nature. Though his origins are unknown, he is generally assumed to be a protective guardian of the forest around their house. He and his friends work together to show Satsuki and Mei a good time in their new environment—whether it’s flying around the countryside or growing flowers under the light of the moon. Though his vocabulary doesn’t extend beyond the odd grunt and roar, you always can feel the love from this giant fuzzy teddy bear whenever he’s around.
Tatsuo Kusukabe Satsuki and Mei’s father. He is a professor at a university in the city, but moves to a house in the country to be close to his wife, though he has to commute to work and back. He is a gentle father who enjoys spending time with his girls. Honestly, this is an awesome father figure, which has been a rarity as of late in anime…though I must question his ability to pick out real estate. I mean, dude, the house has 99 Problems…and that rotten post is one. But, hey, I guess he couldn’t afford better on his salary and maybe he’s only renting it until his wife gets better.
Granny (Obaa-Chan) Satsuki and Mei’s kind next-door neighbor. She seems to know about the different spirits that live in the forest. She’s a kind hearted person, and helps push the story along in her own little way.
Kanta Okagi One of the kids in the neighborhood who gets all Tsundere when it comes to Satsuki. Dude clearly has a crush on her…

So, yeah, overall, you will be hard pressed to find any problems with the characters. They are sweet, kind, and move the story along at its beautifully lazy pace. (25/25)

Totoro's Giant Camphor Tree...Animation – If you have never seen a Studio Ghibli movie, then you are missing out. This is one of the most beautifully animated movies I’ve seen in a very long time. The scenic animation and character designs are breathtaking and stand the test of time well; even against today’s modern CG works. Every scene, every moment is rendered beautifully. To be brutally honest, there are animated moves out today in the 2013 that look amazing, but don’t hold a single candle to “Tonari no Totoro”. Character designs are about as adorable as adorable can get. I swear you can almost feel just how fuzzy Totoro is. (12.5/12.5)

Music – The soundtrack for “Tonari no Totoro” is one of the most iconic soundtracks in the history of anime, hands down. From opening theme to closing theme, “Totoro” is a feast for the ears, music wise. Some might find the opening “Hey, Let’s Go!” theme a little too bubbly, but heck, this is a kids movie after all, made for the little kiddies to fully enjoy and for the older kiddies to feel all nostalgic over. (12.5/12.5)

Performances and Production – “Tonari no Totoro” was created by Studio Ghibli with director Hayao Miyazaki at the helm. His record needs no introduction; he’s been involved in some of the most iconic animated films of the last 35 years and is STILL creating new, critically acclaimed, award-winning projects. With regards to “Totoro” here in the US, things start to get confusing. There are two dubs for this movie; the first was done in 1988 by the now-defunct Streamline Pictures with the late Carl Macek at the helm, and a dub done by The Walt Disney Company which features a brand new cast with Cindy Davis Hewitt and Donald H. Hewitt co-directing. Now, I’ve heard both dubs before; the Streamline dub once a long time ago on VHS, and just recently, the Disney Dub. Here’s how it plays out:

Characters

Japanese Voice Actor/Actress

Streamline Pictures English Voice Actor/Actress

The Walt Disney Company English Voice Actor/Actress

Satsuki Kusukabe Noriko Hidaka Lisa Michaelson Dakota Fanning
Mei Kusakabe Chika Sakamoto Cheryl Chase Elle Fanning
Tatsuo Kusakabe Shigesato Itoi Gregory Snegoff Timothy Daly
Granny (Obaa-Chan) Tanie Kitabayashi Natalie Core Pat Carroll
Kanta Okagi Toshiyuki Amagasa Kenneth Hartman Paul Butcher

Yeah, the colors tell the tale here. I clearly prefer the original Streamline Dub over the new Disney dub and think it’s a much better production than Disney put out. I was not satisfied with the performance the Fanning sisters put on as Satsuki and Mei. It got real annoying real fast. I mean, they deserve praise for getting age-specific actresses to play the roles, but I just can’t get behind either one of their performances…especially when you compare them to the Streamline actresses. [Honestly, I had to look these girls up on the Wiki because I have no clue whatsoever who they are or what else they’ve been in.] Dakota as Satsuki sounds too flat to me, ...even the Nichijou Girls Hate the Disney Dub...and Mei is equally as flat. Now, to be fair, Lisa Michaelson and Cheryl Chase were experienced ADR actresses, but the fact remains that the Fanning Sisters REALLY should’ve done a better job, seeing as how they had existing material to work off of. Timothy Daly as the dad was OKAY…but personally, he sounded like an older brother instead of a father figure. Gregory Snegoff’s performance still wins out. The worst out the group has to be Paul Butcher as Kanta…and butcher is correct. This kid sounds like a little girl; plain and simple. The voice is WAY too high and the acting was off. So yeah, while little kids might not care about the quality of acting, those who grew up with the original Streamline dub will be in for a rude awakening if they decide to take a trip down memory lane. Assuming you are watching the Streamline Dub or the original Japanese with Subs… (25/25). Assuming you’re one of the poor, unfortunate souls who can’t find the original and are stuck with the Disney Dub… (10/25)

Scoring Summary:

Story Breakdown – 25/25
Characters – 25/25
Animation – 12.5/12.5
Music – 12.5/12.5
Performance and Production [Original Streamline Pictures Dub] – 25/25
Performance and Production [New Walt Disney Company Dub] – 10/25

Final Score [Original Streamline Pictures Dub] – 100/100 = 100% – (A)
Final Score [New Walt Disney Company Dub] – 85/100 =85% – (C+)

Lagniappe (A Little Something Extra):

  • “My Neighbor Totoro” was released in theatres on April 16, 1988 as a double-bill with the World War II anime movie “Grave of the Fireflies”, which was created by longtime Miyazaki colleague Isao Takahata. Rumor has it this was done to lift the spirits of the audience who would be very depressed after watching the brilliant yet emotionally heavy “Grave of the Fireflies”. [And trust me, having watched “Grave of the Fireflies”, I can tell you that was a BRILLIANT move…]

  • Though her condition is never directly stated, it is presumed that Satsuki and Mei’s mom suffers from a form of tuberculosis, requiring her to be away from her family during treatment. This mirrors Director Miyazaki’s real-life circumstance as his own mother suffered the affliction and had to go to a special hospital.

  • The smoke sprites that appear in the house towards the beginning of the film make a cameo appearance in “Spirited Away”, another Studio Ghibli work.

  • A Scene from "Eat Drink Man Woman". Note the "Tonari no Totoro" Poster on the Left...After the release and critical success of “My Neighbor Totoro”, Totoro himself was made the official mascot of Studio Ghibli and can be seen at the beginning of every one of their movies. Totoro can also be seen and referenced in several different anime including “Kare Kano” [“His and Her Circumstances”].

    • Totoro has also enjoyed cameos in live action movies and TV shows as well. For example, in the 1994 romantic comedy movie “Eat, Drink, Man, Woman”, when Mr. Chu goes to wake-up his youngest daughter Jia-Ning, you can see a “Tonari no Totoro” movie poster and a plushie of one of Totoro’s friends. [I only mention this because I love this particular movie, so you can imagine my giddiness when I saw the poster…]
  • The 2005 World Expo held in Aichi Prefecture, Japan, featured a recreation of Satsuki and Mei’s house in a wooded area and became an extremely popular attraction during the Expo, drawing thousands. The attraction was reopened in 2006.

  • Lisa Michelson, the voice of Satsuki in the Streamline Dub, went on to provide [among other characters…] the voice of the title character in “Kiki’s Delivery Service”. She was also married to Gregory Snegoff, the voice of Satsuki’s father, Tatsuo. Sadly, she passed away in an automobile accident in 1991.

  • Cheryl Chase, the voice of Mei in the Streamline Dub later went on to play Angelica Pickles in the original Nicktoon “Rugrats” and its subsequent spinoff series and movies.

The Iconic Rain Scene in "Totoro"So, where does that leave us? Well, in case you haven’t heard, “My Neighbor Totoro” is an award-winning, must see movie in the world of anime. And for good reason, too; with it’s simplistic yet engaging story, loveable characters, jaw-droopingly beautiful animation, and music that is popular even in the modern day; “My Neighbor Totoro” is proof that anime can be enjoyed by everyone, young and young at heart. [So long as you don’t mind reading subtitles for the Disney DVD release or have a VCR to watch the original Streamline Dub…yeah, I know…beating a dead horse…]

And so, with that, we draw and end to the review of “My Neighbor Totoro”. This was a fun trip down memory lane, and it did wonders to cure my Anime Funk! I’m going to be leaving on a jet plane next week on vacation to our Nations Capitol, but when I get back, I have two things on my agenda for June that I must accomplish. One of which involves my ongoing lingering interest in the “Star Trek Continues” project by Vic Mignogna, and the other is an anime that I’ve wanted to sink my teeth into for a while. It’s 39 episodes long—the longest single-season series I’ve ever reviewed, and WAAAY to long to cover in just one review. It came out about 2 years after “Totoro”, and was created by Miyazaki protégé Hideaki Anno. Yes, that Hideaki Anno. Don’t worry, this show SHOULDN’T leave you feeling mentally violated when it’s done…at least, not until the ending epilogue…or the “Infamous Island Episodes”… Ahem. Anyway, the next show up for review by yours truly will be…

Jean and Nadia from "Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water"

Fushigi no Umi no Nadia

Or

“Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water”

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4 thoughts on “A Review of “Tonari no Totoro” [“My Neighbor Totoro”] – Fuzzy-Wuzzy Family Fantasy Fable

  1. Brilliant and extensive post, sir. Tonari no Totori is one of my favorite Studio Ghibli films. It actually explores a dark subject and how the family deals with it; their mother’s illness.

    1. Yeah, that’s really strange how that works out–the movie plays as being light hearted and happy, but if you look at it from a different angle…yeah…it can get a little depressing. But the writing was so well done, you really don’t get that unless you look!

  2. If you want to go down a rabbit hole of utter strangeness, look up Totoro alternate theories, if you haven’t already. There’s a really interesting one about the sisters and whether they’re alive. It gets REALLY crazy.

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