Brother was not available today, so I went to a back-up plan in the event of a Rocky-less night. For the OG readers of my blog, this may have been a long time coming.
OG readers will also know that Studio Ghibli and I have a bit of a… rocky history (please don’t leave). I quite liked Mononoke Hime and my personal favorite, Porco Rosso, but the three other films I’ve viewed ranged between all right to mediocre. My biggest slight? Spirited Away still has a “5/10” attached to it if you look at my anime list (link at the bottom). With this established, Tonari no Totoro is, as is generally for the studio, held in very high regard. Will I find this overrated like I do a decent portion of Ghibli films?
The question mark in parentheses is indicative of the fanfare surrounding the film. Technically, this could be overrated to me if I don’t rate it a 9/10, or maybe even a 10/10. If we’re being that extreme, I do find it overrated. If we’re speaking generally, then no.
For the hundred or so people on the planet who have not seen it, here’s a fun fact that kind of surprised me: Totoro is barely in this. Like ten minutes, tops. I adore the restraint here, as the fantasy elements are kept to an absolute minimum for only the most special occasions. It allows for just a touch of magic to an otherwise normal, occasionally bittersweet family story.
This is about as close to “slice of life” as a film can possibly get. I think this review, outside of the opinion at the end, wraps it up beautifully. Tonari no Totoro is hardly about Totoro at all—it’s about the central family of father, two daughters, and a mother away due to illness. What do they do? Nothing much. They play around, they befriend their neighbors, and they do things generally expected of people. Sounds really boring, and it could be. You just have to let it melt into your brain.
I think if this film has any fault, it’s that very peaceful nature it sets out to do so well. It’s very constrictive in a way, requiring the viewer to just let things happen without any solid reasoning. I could see myself being very curmudgeon-y about this, say, six or so years ago. Some may feel similarly without any proper attachment for engagement or immersion. The most thrilling aspects about this are said fantasy elements, which, as stated previously, take up about a pinch of the film’s runtime. Outside of that—hey, do you like family bonding? How ’bout little girls running around in nature? Have I got the film for you!
Even so, it is precisely that family bonding and little girls running around (maybe not quite the second thing) that makes the film so endearing. It feels sweet, earnest, and warm. A kind of serene existence that adequately displays all flavors of living within nature and an environment inviting some supernatural fantasies. Highs and lows, happiness and angstiness; it’s the simple pleasures of growing up and caring for others. I appreciate this far more now than I did just coming out of my teenage years, so in a way, I’m glad I waited to watch this.
By the way, I did something very scary for this viewing: I watched… the English dub!!! The horror!!! As someone who prefers to watch anime subbed most of the time, this is a chance to critique this in a more comfortable way, given it’s spoken in my natural language. And for the most part, it’s solid!
The two female leads in Satsuki and Mei are the clear stars here, voiced by real-life sisters Dakota and Elle Fanning. Others aren’t quite as good; it tends to vary by character. I liked the big, booming voice of Totoro and the weird murmurs and squeaks of other fantasy creatures. The weakest link was probably the father—not terrible, but sounded a little out of it most of the time. Was given some good material, regardless.
Animation was pretty good. It’s Studio Ghibli. C’mon.
If my vague memory serves me correctly, the rating I will momentarily award this will make it my third-highest rated Ghibli film. Maybe not quite on the level of some other people’s adoration for this film, but for what it’s worth—added context for people who know how cynical I can be—I think Tonari no Totoro is very good. An easy recommendation for those who are willing to let things happen naturally and immerse themselves in the magic of wholesomeness. Totoro can be my spirit animal any day.
Final Score: 7.5/10
The rating for all other anime can be found on MyAnimeList.
The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.
For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!