My Neighbor Totoro

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Waiting in the rain, for a bus.

As a young adult I saw “My Neighbor Totoro” and it moved me to tears. I mean, I basically couldn’t stop crying at the beauty and the enormous feat of capturing the innocence of being a child. I immediately chased down everything [director Hayao Miyazaki] had done.

My Neighbor Totoro (Tonari no Totoro), released in 1988, is Studio Ghibli's second feature film and the fourth animated feature directed by Hayao Miyazaki (the first being Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro).

A little cycle truck putters down a rural road in post-war Japan, carrying four-year-old Mei, her older sister Satsuki, and father Professor Kusakabe to a new home in the country close to the rural hospital where the girl's mother is recovering from an unspecified (but potentially deadly) disease. Along with the usual tribulations of moving -- a spooky old house, new neighbors, fitting in at a new school -- Mei encounters an odd little creature in the backyard. While pursuing it, she comes upon the den of a much larger forest spirit which she eventually calls "Totoro". At first, Mei is the only one who sees Totoro, but Satsuki soon meets him as well, and the girls have several fantastic encounters with Totoro -- which are interwoven between subplots involving their family and (human) neighbors.

The girls' seemingly idyllic rural existence is soon shattered when a health crisis forces their mother to cancel a much-anticipated visit home. Heartbroken, the two girls take out their fear and anger on each other, and Mei eventually sets out for the hospital alone, determined to deliver an ear of corn she believes will make her mother well. The remainder of the film revolves around Satsuki's increasingly desperate search for Mei; when all other options are exhausted, Satsuki appeals directly to Totoro for help -- and he is more than delighted to be of assistance.

Totoro is one of Miyazaki's best known films, and it's considered a classic even by western critics (Roger Ebert called it "the best family film of all time", and Jonathan Ross says it's one of his favourite films). Totoro himself became Ghibli's mascot. However, Miyazaki does not gloss over some of the more frightening aspects of childhood: the girls are terrified of their mother dying, a common goat seems monstrous from little Mei's perspective, and the whole village's fright and anxiety when Mei goes missing is almost palpable. Even Totoro -- with his huge grin, inscrutable expression, and manic eyes -- can be a little scary; Satsuki refers to meeting him as both the funniest and the scariest day of her life.

Tropes used in My Neighbor Totoro include:
  • Adult Fear: Mei running away from home and getting lost in the climax is something any adult or older sibling can understand. Goes Up to Eleven when the villagers find a little girl's sandal in the pond and fear that she's drowned.
  • Adults Are Useless: Totally averted, as in most Studio Ghibli films. In the climax, many grown-ups help search for Mei. Although Satsuki found her, the adults did their best to lend a hand.
  • Alice Allusion: Mei follows a small Totoro and stumbles down the hole for King Totoro, just like Alice following the white rabbit and stumbling down the rabbit hole.
  • Arcadia: Satsuki and her family live in a house in the countryside with simple and crude utilities like a manual hand pump. The two girls frequently explore the neighboring forests.
  • Blush Sticker: Totoro, of all characters, gets them when the forest spirit liked rain falling on their umbrella a little too much. Mei has them all the time.
  • Bug Buzz: During the night, when Mei and Satsuke helped 'awaken' the acorns.
  • By the Eyes of the Blind: Only children seem to be able to see the soot sprites and Totoros. At film's end, it's hinted the girls are getting too old to see the spirits.
  • Character Title: The titular Totoro.
  • Close-Knit Community: The village, as everyone helps Satsuki search for Mei.
  • Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are: Satsuki and Mei trying to make the soot sprites (soot gremlins, depending on which version one watches) in the attic appear. It's toned down from the Japanese language track, where they also say, "Or we'll pluck your eyeballs out!"
  • Construction Is Awesome: The scene where Satsuki and Mei grow the acorn trees with Totoro is simply breathtaking.
  • Covers Always Lie: The cover for the 2010 American DVD is taken from concept art for an early draft, so instead of Satsuki and Mei waiting in the rain, it has a girl who is a mix of traits from Mei and Satsuki: the girl is meant to be seven — halfway between the four year old Mei and the eleven year old Satsuki.
  • Creative Closing Credits: The end credits are put over a series of original drawings depicting the characters in the film. It implies that Mei and Satsuki never sees Totoro or the forest spirits again, as it never depicts them interacting together. It also shows them reaching out to hug their mum, who has come home from the hospital via a taxi.
    • The opening credits are also creative, with a Thematic Theme Tune playing over a sequence of Mei and other animals marching across the screen, creating an iconic opening.
  • Cute Kitten: The Kittenbus in the short-film sequel, Mei and the Kittenbus, which plays exclusively at the Ghibli Museum. The Catbus can be considered as a grown up version of a Cute Kitten.
  • Flight: This is a Hayao Miyazaki film, so you know the man will find some way of sneaking flight in here. Totoro has a spinning top which he can hop on to fly. The girls can then jump on his tummy, and be taken for a flight.
  • Ghibli Hills: The Ur-example from the one and only Trope Namer, prominent around the house Mei and Satsuki moves into.
  • Ghibli Plains: Featured in many shots into the distance with farmland. There is a smaller version of Ghibli Plains around Mei and Satsuki's house. Scenes with Totoro usually go into Ghibli Hills territory.
    • Around 18 minutes into the film, Ghibli Plains are shown at night when Satsuki gathers firewood. A strong wind blows across these plains, sending blades of grass waving and little bits of firewood flying.
  • Good Parents: Professor Kusakabe is probably the nicest Dad in anime. He's always patient, and likes playing with his daughters. He believes the girls when they tell him about Totoro, and even takes them to a shine and tells them about the forest spirits.
  • Happy Ending: Mei was found; she and Satsuki rides to the hospital in the Catbus. They leave a single corn for their mum, sees that she is okay, and rides home in the Catbus while the Title Theme Tune is playing.
  • Haunted House: Downplayed. The girls believe that the house they are moving to are haunted with soot sprites, and actively seek them out, leading to a Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are moment. The soot sprites are never harmful, and quickly moves out once they realise that the girls have found them. The trope is never played for horror.
  • Hey, It's That Voice!: The original English dub has Angelica Pickles as Mei.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Averted - though the disease is treated as this trope, the girl's mother never coughs even once; thankfully she doesn't actually die from it.
    • Considering it was based on Miyazaki's own life, and his mother had tuberculosis, coughing would certainly have been justified.
  • Leitmotif: Overlaps with Title Theme Tune. The ending credits song, "My Neighbor Totoro", is frequently used throughout the film, usually in scenes starring forest spirits like Totoro, such as in the scene Mei chases Chibi-Totoro.
  • Lighter and Softer: When compared to its Double Feature with Grave of the Fireflies. My Neighbor Totoro is an adventure about children laughing and interacting with forest spirits, Grave of the Fireflies is about them dying for two hours straight.
  • Mickey Mousing: The music follows Mei's actions in the scene where she chases the Chibi-Totoro and finds King Totoro, using mainly brass instruments. Joe Hisaishi's more traditional orchestral soundtracks are frequently intertwined with songs with cartoony sound effects and Mickey Mousing.
  • Narrative Shapeshifting: The opening credits.
  • Panty Shot: Throughout the movie.
  • Real Life Relative: Real life siblings Dakota and Elle Fanning voice Satsuki and Mei in the Disney dubs.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Miyazaki's father was an academic and his mother was successfully treated for tuberculosis in a rural sanitarium. In an interview published in Starting Point: 1979-1996 Miyazaki mentioned he made the main characters girls so it wouldn't be too close to his own life.
  • Scenery Censor: While Satsuki, Mei, and their father are taking a bath together.
  • Secondary Character Title: Totoro is not the main character, but is in the title. The title even alludes to the fact that he's the "neighbor" instead of the main character.
  • Slice of Life: Despite Totoro appearing on the cover suggesting a fantasy adventure, the film is quite laid back and slow paced, showing many mundane moments like moving into a new house or fetching water from a pump. While an overarching conflict is present throughout the film, it only plays a major role in the plot near the end, during the "tenku" phase of the Kishōtenketsu story structure.
  • Thematic Theme Tune: The song over the opening credits, titled "Stroll", is reflective of the adventurous and energetic themes present in the first half of the film, involving Mei and Satsuki's exploration of the forests surrounding their home.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: Totoro often does this, especially if the creature is looking at Mei or Satsuki.
  • Title Theme Tune: The song over the ending credits, appropriately titled "My Neighbor Totoro". Guess which character's name is constantly repeated.

And you'll be with Totoro Totoro,
Totoro, Totoro,
Living in the forest trees
For such a very very long time
There you'll be with Totoro, Totoro
Totoro, Totoro
You only see him when you're very young
A magical adventure for you!

  • Tooth Strip: Averted when Totoro and the girls roar, where each individual tooth is drawn. Later, when they exclaim that "we're the wind", the trope is played straight. Totoro tends to have tooth drawn individually while the girls tends to get a Tooth Strip.
  • Where Are They Now? Epilogue: The credits show scenes from the girls' lives during the year following the story. It also shows Totoro interacting with other forest spirits, but never the girls interacting with Totoro, implying that the events of the film were a one-off adventure.
  • Zigzag Paper Tassel: The Shinto ropes on Totoro's tree.