My Neighbor Totoro

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My Neighbor Totoro
Directed byHayao Miyazaki
Written byHayao Miyazaki
Produced byToru Hara
StarringChika Sakamoto
Noriko Hidaka
Hitoshi Takagi
Tanie Kiribayashi
Shigesato Itoi
Sumi Shimamoto
CinematographyHisao Shirai
Edited byTakeshi Seyama
Music byJoe Hisaishi
Troma Films - 1993 dub (USA)
Walt Disney Pictures - Disney dub (USA)
Distributed byToho (Japan)
20th Century Fox - 1993 dub (USA)
Buena Vista Pictures - Disney dub (USA)
Release dates
Japan April 16, 1988
Fox Dub
United States 1993
Disney Dub
United States March 7, 2006
Running time
86 minutes
Budget$236, 677,550[source?]

My Neighbor Totoro, or My Neighbour Totoro on UK DVD box titles, is a 1988 animated movie written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki and produced by Studio Ghibli. It won the Animage Anime Grand Prix prize in 1988. This movie was originally released in the United States in VHS format with the title, My Friend Totoro.[1]

Troma Films, under their 50th St. Films banner, produced a 1993 dub of the movie co-produced by Jerry Beck. It was released on VHS and DVD by Fox Video. Troma's and Fox's rights to this version expired in 2004. The movie was re-released by Disney on March 7, 2006.[2] It features a new dub cast. This DVD release is the first version of the movie in the United States to include both Japanese and English language tracks, as Fox did not have the rights to the Japanese audio track for their version.

Story[change | change source]

Satsuki, Mei and their father live in the field, where Mei discovers a giant creature living in the forest near the house. When Mei leaves in her attempt to save her hospitalized mother, she and Satsuki take a ride on the cat-bus. The movie ends with the girls delivering an ear of corn to their mother.

Characters[change | change source]

Satsuki Kusakabe
A girl around ten years old. Satsuki is Mei's older sister. Satsuki is the traditional name of the fifth month of the Japanese calendar, the equivalent of the English May.
Mei Kusakabe
Satsuki's sister who is around four years old. Her name deliberately echoes her sister's, May being the fifth month, reflecting the fact that the story originally featured one girl, who was then divided into an older and younger sister. The widely-distributed promotional image for the movie of a girl standing next to Totoro at a bus stop reflects the earlier conception with a single child.
Tatsuo Kusakabe
The girls' father, who works in the archaeology and anthropology departments of a Tokyo university.
Yasuko Kusakabe
The girls' mother, recovering from an unnamed illness (confirmed by Miyazaki as being tuberculosis[3]) at Shichikokuyama Hospital, which is noted for its tuberculosis treatment program. When Miyazaki was a young boy, his mother had tuberculosis.
A grey and white, friendly forest spirit, whose appearance is a combination of an owl, a cat, and a tanuki and is at least three meters tall. Totoro is Mei's mispronunciation of torōru, the Japanese pronunciation of troll as a loanword. There are two similar, smaller creatures in the movie, also referred to as totoro; the big grey Totoro is named "Ō-Totoro", or "Miminzuku", the middle is "Chū-Totoro", or "Zuku", and the smallest is "Chibi-Totoro", or "Mini". These names do not appear in the movie itself, but are used in ancillary materials.
Kanta Ōgaki
A preteen boy of their village, ambivalent towards Satsuki. This character resembles Miyazaki in his fondness for cartoons and airplanes.
"Granny" or "Nanny"
Kanta's grandmother, who sometimes takes care of the girls.
A cat with hollow insides, serving as a bus for Totoros. It is based on the Japanese superstition that if a cat grows old enough, it gains magical shape-changing powers, and is called a bake neko.[4] Bake neko are mentioned in several Ghibli movies.

Cultural References[change | change source]

Family[change | change source]

One of the most significant things in My Neighbor Totoro is that the mother is absent from the home. According to Takie Sugiyama Lebra, “the [Japanese] mother is characterized as having suffered hardships” .[5] This is true in Totoro, as Mei and Satsuki's mother is hospitalized with an unnamed illness. The mother's absence is significant because “at home, the husband depends upon the wife for domestic care. The husband is helpless in housekeeping tasks, such as doing the laundry, cooking, cleaning, and child rearing” (52).[5] In the absence of her mother, it is then Satsuki's job to take over household tasks with Nanny's help. This is illustrated several times throughout the movie.

When Satsuki prepares breakfast and lunch for her father and Mei before she leaves for school this is a task that would normally fall to the mother. Also, the various cleaning and garden tasks that Satsuki and Mei often had the help of Nanny to complete would have also normally been the main responsibility of the mother to complete.

Mei and Satsuki's father demonstrates both typical and atypical characteristics of a traditional Japanese father. According to Peter Tasker, “Japanese children are accustomed to never seeing their father on the weekdays, and only for short periods at weekends. A husband’s proper field of endeavor is the company” (101).[6] This is only somewhat accurate in Mei and Satsuki's relationship with their father. Although their father is often away working at the university or visiting their mother in the hospital, he is by no means an absentee father. He is seen working at a desk while Mei plays outside and spending time with his daughters before their bedtime. Many scholarly critiques of Japanese culture would lead one to believe that this is not the norm.

Setting[change | change source]

My Neighbor Totoro exhibits several important cultural points through the setting and passive details.

The house into which the Kusakabe family moves is an accurate portrayal of a typical, rural, Japanese home. The sliding doors that the father opens when they first move into the house are common architectural features. These doors are meant to be opened during the day, weather permitting, and closed at night. Another feature to point out about the house itself is the way the foundation is constructed. “Japanese houses do not have cellars but are built with a foundation of shallow concrete, or a single row of cement blocks. On top of this type of foundation is placed a row of heavy timbers” (33).[7] This can be seen clearly when Mei crawls under the house in pursuit of one of the smaller totoros.

As for Totoro, he lives in a tree demarcated by a shimenawa (braided straw rope for shinto). The tree is called shinboku (sacred tree). Shinto is the traditional religion of Japan and some consider many of Hayao Miyazaki's movies—including Totoro—to have Shintoist themes,.[8][9] and interpret Totoro as a kami spirit of the Shinto religion.[10][11] But Miyazaki says "this movie [Totoro] has nothing to do with that [Shinto] or any other religion."[10]

The community in which Satsuki and her family have moved is a typical agricultural town. The rice paddies are visible throughout the movie. Rice cultivation is one of the most important industries in Japan, as rice is a staple of the Japanese diet. The home that Satsuki and Mei live in is more spacious than what would be available in a city. Also, the scene where Nanny, Mei, and Satsuki are washing vegetables shows the near self-sufficiency of these farming communities.

The bath scene is also demonstrative of archetypal Japanese life. “The bathtub is more like a small swimming pool than a tub” (38).[7] As seen in the movie, several people bathe together at once. It is considered rude to enter the tub without first washing, as shown by Satsuki before she enters the tub with her father and Mei. These bathtubs are heated usually by small, well-tended coal burners under the tub.

Another cultural manifestation is the scene that shows the family sleeping. Often, the living room is converted into a bedroom where the whole family sleeps together on mats called futon. This sleeping arrangement is space-efficient for smaller housing in a country where living space is severely limited. Mei is sleeping between Satsuki and her father, which is the usual arrangement—with the youngest in the middle.

In one scene, Satsuki is shown preparing the family's lunch in traditional bento style. A bento is a compartmentalized lunch box usually with only one or two tiers. Food is arranged to be aesthetically pleasing. Bentos are extremely common as lunch boxes for children, adults, and even those who stay at home, as Mei does when Satsuki goes to school.

Other passive cultural references include:

  • The food that Satsuki prepared for breakfast and lunch.
  • The fact that no one wore shoes inside of the house.
  • The way the girls cleaned the floors.
  • The school.

Release history[change | change source]

My Neighbor Totoro was released by Studio Ghibli as a double feature with Isao Takahata's Grave of the Fireflies in August 1988. There are two theories for this: one was that Totoro would not be successful. Another theory is that Grave of the Fireflies was believed to be too depressing for audiences by itself, and thus needed a lighter animation to accompany it.[12] The late Yoshifumi Kondo provided character designs for both movies.

In 1993, Fox released the first English-language version of My Neighbor Totoro, produced by John Daly and Derek Gibson (the producers of The Terminator) with co-producer Jerry Beck. Fox and Troma's rights to the movie expired in 2004. Disney's English language version premiered on October 23, 2005; it then appeared at the 2005 Hollywood Film Festival. The Turner Classic Movies cable television network held the television premiere of Disney's new English dub on January 19, 2006, as part of the network's salute to Hayao Miyazaki. (TCM aired the dub as well as the original Japanese with English subtitles.) The Disney version was released on DVD on March 7, 2006.

As is the case with Disney's other English dubs of Miyazaki movies, the Disney version of Totoro features a star-heavy cast, including Dakota and Elle Fanning as Satsuki and Mei, Timothy Daly as Mr. Kusakabe, Pat Carroll as Granny, Lea Salonga as Mrs. Kusakabe, and Frank Welker as Totoro and Catbus. The songs for the new dub retained the same translation as the previous dub, but were sung by Sonya Isaacs.

Other appearances[change | change source]

  • Miyazaki made a 13-minute "sequel" to the movie, "Mei and the Kittenbus", that has not yet been distributed or broadcast. It is shown exclusively in the Ghibli Museum and initially was only shown for a short time [1]. It reappears at intervals there, most recently from 1-31 January 2008.
  • Totoro also made a brief cameo appearance during a scene in Pompoko, another Studio Ghibli movie.
  • In the first Digimon Movie, "Digimon Adventure (The Movie)", there is a Totoro object that can be seen during the bubbles scene. This scene was shortened in the English version and the Totoro cannot be seen.
  • Episode XXXIII of Samurai Jack has Jack encountering an annoying creature whose design is clearly influenced by the big Totoro. The episode also includes an artifact called the Crystal of Cagliostro, an apparent allusion to Miyazaki's earlier movie The Castle of Cagliostro.
  • The character of Totoro made a cameo appearance in one episode of the Gainax TV series Kareshi Kanojo no Jijo (His and Her Circumstances), which was likely director Hideaki Anno's way of paying tribute to Miyazaki. (Anno worked as a key animator on Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind in 1984 and considers Miyazaki a mentor.) In fact, Gainax reportedly invited the animator who did the original key animation for Totoro to work on that scene, although they never revealed the animator's name. In addition, one KareKano character, Tsubasa Shibahime, is a huge Totoro fan.
  • Totoro has made four cameo appearances on Comedy Central's Drawn Together. He is a student in "Foxxy vs. the Board of Education", a Japanese businessman in "A Very Special Drawn Together Afterschool Special", a wedding guest in "Freaks & Greeks", and Ling-Ling's piano player in "American Idol Parody Clip Show".
  • Appa from Avatar: The Last Airbender was strongly inspired by the Catbus from My Neighbor Totoro.
  • In Neil Gaiman's The Sandman: Brief Lives, Delirium blows bubbles into a number of impossible shapes, one of which is Totoro holding an umbrella. In Gaiman's The Books of Magic, several Totoro dolls are for sale in a market in the realm of Faerie.
  • Sometimes in Code Lyoko as seen in Yumi's room, there is a Totoro doll.
  • In Kiki's Delivery Service Mei and Chu-Totoro are painted on the bedroom windows. She also has a stuffed toy that resembles Totoro on her bed. Also if you look hard while Kiki is zooming through the crowds near the beginning of the movie you can see a girl who looks just like Mei.
  • In Whisper of the Heart, Chu-Totoro and Chibi-Totoro can be seen on a dollmaker's bench, and one of the books in Sazuki's school library is titled Totoro.
  • A Totoro-doll appears on the cover of The Vandals album Internet Dating Superstuds.
  • In Ne-yo's music video for his song Sexy Love, in the scene where he and his girlfriend are on the roof, in the background you can see a spray painted Totoro.
  • The Cartoon Network short, "Buy One Get One Free" (aired as part of the What a Cartoon show), is a short about a cat who is tempted into throwing a party in his owner's apartment. In one shot, a cat resembling Totoro can be seen at the party.
  • Totoro makes numerous appearances in the episode of South Park entitled "Imaginationland".
  • A parody, "Tonari no Pedoro" is seen in the Gintama OVA for Jump Festa 2005. In this skit, Pedoro is a large, overweight man, wearing only briefs and a policeman hat. A girl is asking him for help, while all he does is ramble about how the Telephone company shut down his line, and that the girl tricked him early by ringing the bell and running.
  • In an episode of The Simpsons, Homer visits a cartoon convention, featuring a booth with a cat bus on it with a grey figure underneath. This was a reference to My Neighbor Totoro.
  • Kanta makes a brief appearance in Grave of the Fireflies (originally released as part of a double-feature with My Neighbor Totoro in 1988) in the scene following the first air raid.
  • A Totoro-esque figure (along with soot sprites) appears on a sign in Generation X (comics) in issue #53 as Skin (comics) rescues Chamber (comics) from falling off a roof.
  • A Totoro doll is one of the toys the character Bonnie owns who makes cameos in the June 18, 2010 movie Toy Story 3.

Additional information[change | change source]

Pavilion reproduction of Satsuki & Mei's House in Japan.
  • The main Totoro has become a mascot for Studio Ghibli, gracing the studio's logo at the start of their movies.
  • There is a real park in Higashimurayama, Tokyo and Tokorozawa, Saitama named Hachikokuyama which was used as the inspiration for the mountain where Satsuki and Mei's mother was hospitalized.
  • Matsugo, the area where Mei and Satsuki live, is a real district of Tokorozawa, Saitama.
  • When the Catbus is about to take Mei and Satsuki to the hospital, the destination sign displays several real locations in Tokorozawa. In the final display, the final character of 七国山病院 appears upside-down.
  • Asteroid 10160 has been named "Totoro" by Takao Kobayashi. The name was approved by the International Astronomical Union.
  • The 2005 World Expo in Japan featured a "Totoro" house, a recreation of Satsuki and Mei's house in the movie.
  • Lisa Michelson who voiced Satsuki in the Streamline dub died before it was released on 1993 for 50th Street Films. However, the movie was not dedicated to her.

Credits[change | change source]

Cast[change | change source]

The movie stars the following voice actors:

Character Original Japanese version Streamline English version Disney English version
Satsuki Kusakabe Noriko Hidaka Lisa Michelson Dakota Fanning
Mei Kusakabe Chika Sakamoto Cheryl Chase Elle Fanning
Professor Kusakabe Shigesato Itoi Steve Kramer Timothy Daly
Mrs. Kusakabe Sumi Shimamoto Alexandra Kenworthy Lea Salonga
Kanta Toshiyuki Amagasa Kenneth Hartman Paul Butcher
Nanny Tanie Kitabayashi Natalie Core Pat Carroll
Totoro Hitoshi Takagi Rob Paulsen Frank Welker
Catbus Hitoshi Takagi Frank Welker Frank Welker

Reception[change | change source]

The movie has an 8.1 rating on IMDb,and a 94% approval rating at Rotten Reviews were very positive.

Source Reviewer Grade / Score Notes
AnimeOnDVD Archived 2008-12-01 at the Wayback Machine Chris Beveridge Content: A
Audio: B+
Video: B+
Packaging: A-
Menus: B+
Extras: B+
Disney DVD/Movie Review
Anime News Network Christopher Macdonald Overall (dub): A
Story: A+
Animation: B
Art: A-
Music: B+
Fox DVD/Movie Review
THEM Anime Reviews Raphael See 5 out of 5 Movie Review

References[change | change source]

  1. Ellis-Christensen, Tricia. "Who is Hayao Miyazaki?". Retrieved 2008-02-18.
  2. My Neighbor Totoro (DVD). Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Walt Disney Home Entertainment. 2006.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  3. - Retrieved on 2006-10-30
  4. Totoro FAQ // My Neighbor Totoro //
  5. 5.0 5.1 Lebra, Takie Sugiyama (1976). Japanese Patterns of Behavior. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. pp. 50-155. ISBN 978-0824804602.
  6. Tasker, Peter (1987). The Japanese: a Major Exploration of Modern Japan. New York: Truman Talley Books. pp. 66–109.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Vaughan, Josephine B. (1952). The Land and People of Japan. Philadelphia and New York: J.B. Lippincott Company. pp. 32–48.
  8. Greydanus, Steven D. "My Neighbor Totoro (1988)". Decent Films Guide. Retrieved 2008-04-23. As elsewhere, Miyazaki's reverence for nature is here expressed imaginatively in terms drawn from the animist tradition of Japan's Shinto heritage. Miyazaki's movies are rife with tree-spirits, river gods and the like.
  9. Rycar, Nick. "Okami - Review". Deeko Entertainment. Archived from the original on 2008-07-26. Retrieved 2008-04-23. I'd wager that Okami's designers were touched by the same muse that inspired many of Hayao Miyazaki's Shinto themed features (movies like "My Neighbor Totoro" and "Princess Mononoke", for those not in the know).
  10. 10.0 10.1 Wright, Lucy. "Forest Spirits, Giant Insects and World Trees: The Nature Vision of Hayao Miyazaki". Journal of Religion and Popular Culture. Archived from the original on 2010-11-02. Retrieved 2008-04-23.
  11. McCarthy, Helen (1999). Hayao Miyazaki: Master of Japanese Animation. pp. 120–1. ISBN 1-880656-41-8.
  12. Cacaoatl (2007-01-17). My Neighbor Totoro Review. Spectrum Nexus.

Other websites[change | change source]