It should surprise no one that I’m a big fan of Japan’s Walt Disney, Hayao Miyazaki. A singular visionary, he excels at creating anime films that aren’t just excellent examples of anime and the medium of animation, but are just wonderful films in their own right.
In a bizarre parallel, most of Miyazaki’s films–those he’s written and/or directed, as well as other films released by his company Studio Ghibli–have been dubbed into English and released here in America by Disney themselves. These dubs, at least the ones of the films I’ve watched, have been rather excellent. The main reason for this is that John Lasseter, one of the principal founders of Pixar Animation and now chief creative officer for Pixar and Disney, is a HUGE Miyazaki fan and strives to make the dub scripts accurate to the original and casts the best actors possible to bring it to life.
This has always paid off remarkably, and My Neighbor Totoro is no exception.
This enchanting little fable of a film, released in 1988 and dubbed by Disney (the version I watched) in 2005, is pure magic. All of Miyazaki’s work is of course, but this in particular is magical because of the way it goes about its business, never shying away from realism or fantasy, instead depicting a wonderful place between the two.
The plot has two sisters, Satsuki & Mei (Dakota & Elle Fanning, respectively) and their father Tatsuo (Tim Daly) move into an old country house in rural Japan in 1958 while their mother is recuperating from some sort of long-term illness. The two girls, both of them imaginative and adorable (particularly Mei) encounter soot sprites–basically asterisks with eyes–first thing. Then Mei finds two little Totoro and eventually the big one pictured up there (voiced by Frank Welker). It’s left up to us whether these creatures, and the adventures they take the girls on, are real or not, but I didn’t doubt it for a second.
Like all of Miyazaki’s work, this is an enchanting work and you owe it to yourself to see it. I’m glad I caught up with it. If you’re still not convinced, Roger Ebert, the majordomo of American film critics, inducted the film in his Great Movies series. Read that here. Enjoy!