My Neighbour Totoro
Dir: Hayao Miyazaki
Noriko Hidaka, Chika Sakamoto, Shigesato Itoi, Sumi Shimamoto
When Satsuki and Mei move to the country with their father, they discover the nearby forest is home to a family of magical creatures, the "Totoro", whom only they can see. When Mei gets lost in a misguided attempt to visit their mother, who is in hospital, it's up to Satsuki and the Totoros to ensure no harm comes to her. That's about it, plotwise: in terms of conflict, the film could be claimed to be sadly deficient, with an extremely leisurely pace, and nothing much actually "happening" for the first hour or so. But has anyone ever captured the spirit of childhood wonder better? I sincerely doubt it. It certainly harkens back to an earlier, more innocent era, which it evokes briliantly, and is clearly intended as an idealized depiction of Miyazaki's own youth (his mother spent a long time as an invalid due to TB).
Miyazaki is unsurpassed for pure imagination among film-makers, and here, he mixes it into the "real" world with near-perfect control, drawing the viewer inexorably in. There are many fabulous sequences, perhaps the most memorable Satsuki's first encounter with the giant Totoro at a rural bus-stop in the rain (shown at right). She introduces the creature to the concept of umbrellas, and the result is one of the most charming moments in cinema of any form.
I ended the original review by writing, "I defy anyone, hardened gore-hound, cynical 'zine editor, or whoever else, to watch the film without feeling the urge to phone their mothers afterwards," and that remains undeniably the case.
[The only version available to me at time of writing was the 1994 Fox dub, though I tried to ignore it as much as possible - the version available now, cutely, uses sisters Dakota and Elle Fanning to play Satsuki and Mei. Generally, this didn't hurt the film too much, though the creators the translation of the opening song may be the worst ever, failing to rhyme or scan at all.]