My Neighbor Totoro (Tonari no Totoro) (G)

Animation 87 min. January 1, 1988
By Peter Ritter
In this genial blend of The Secret Garden and Alice in Wonderland, the gentlest film by Japanese animation director Hayao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke), two young sisters spending a month in the country stumble upon a giant forest spirit: a puffball with round, innocent eyes and a Cheshire Cat grin. Big Totoro, as they name him, is zipped about the forest by Catbus, who, as that name suggests, is half cat and half bus. Although cats hold a place of reverence in traditional Japanese folk religion, Catbus, like Totoro, is an invention of pure fancy: a genial, bright-eyed sofa cushion with the charm of a child's well-nibbled teddy bear. Indeed, much of the film's first half seems intended to excite a warm, fuzzy feeling in the viewer. But there's more to Miyazaki's story. The girls' mother, we learn, is in a nearby hospital and may be seriously ill. After a telegram arrives from the doctor, the younger girl sets off to deliver a gift to her mother. When she becomes lost in the woods, her sister, who is just old enough to understand the real implications of a mother's illness, must set off to find her--with the help of a benevolent fur ball and a bus-shaped cat (or cat-shaped bus?). Compared to Walt Disney (with whom he's often, unjustly compared), Miyazaki evokes childhood's never-never land as it truly is: wondrous, sometimes frightening, but never childish. Childhood is serious business for children; that Miyazaki treats it as such makes his films resonate for both adults and young audiences. (Peter Ritter)
Hayao Miyazaki Noriko Hidaka, Chika Sakamoto, Shigesato Itoi, Sumi Shimamoto, Tanie Kitabayashi, Hitoshi Takagi, Yûko Maruyama, Machiko Washio, Reiko Suzuki, Masashi Hirose Hayao Miyazaki, Cindy Davis Hewitt


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