My Neighbour Totoro (1988)

Rating: A+

Dir: Hayao Miyazaki
Star (voice): Noriko Hidaka, Chika Sakamoto, Shigesato Itoi, Sumi Shimamoto

“I don’t feel interested in outer space movies, since all that is in space is darkness and not much else. Because of this, all my animation and manga involve the land, the seas and the skies. They all revolve around what happens on Earth” — Hayao Miyazki

[14/15] I’ve heard rumours that Disney bought up the American rights to this movie and sat on them, purely because they regarded it as too much of a threat to ‘Aladdin’. This may or may not be true, but it’s plausible, as ‘Totoro’ beats any of Disney’s recent films hands down (no dancing candlesticks or stupid musical numbers here). After the massive epic that was ‘Laputa’, this is a totally different movie, on a much smaller, and personal, scale.

Two small girls go with their father to stay in the country, as Mother is ill in hospital. They stay in an old house, and meet the family of Totoros who inhabit the nearby forest. Now, what’s a Totoro? Good question. Er, um, it’s kinda like a cat. Except it can be enormous, up to maybe twenty feet tall. I think it’s some Japanese folk thang. Whatever it is, it’s main distinguishing feature is that it is utterly, utterly, utterly, cute.

What stops the film from descending into whimsy? Hard to say; it may be partly autobiographical as Miyazaki’s own mother suffered from spinal tuberculosis for nine years when Hayao was young, and she spent much of the time in hospital. Certainly, it’s straight from the heart. Perhaps Miyazaki tapped into some unconscious common imagery, but the result is absolutely delightful. It’s a non-stop parade of wonders, including perhaps Miyazaki’s best creation – the Cat Bus, a multilegged creature with a grin a mile wide, looking like something designed by David Cronenberg on ecstasy.

Few films are capable of melting my granite heart, but ‘Totoro’ reduces this writer to the consistency of a packet of sat-upon marshmallows every time. Which is astonishing, given that this unashamed wallow in nostalgia is for a land on the other side of the globe, and a time before I was born. Miyazaki is the only director I can think of to have directed three films we’ve rated as A (get the feeling this guy is good?); but for ‘Totoro’, this is still not enough, it can only be A+.