There are parodies, countless mash-up tees, and more merchandise than your wallet could ever afford. On this edition of Creations of Chaos, it is the most recognizable, cutest, and fuzziest character in the Studio Ghibli world, it’s My Neighbor Totoro.
Satsuki and Mei move from the city to a home in the country. Their mother is recovering from an illness in the hospital and she will need the fresh country air to continue her recovery.
While exploring the surroundings, Mei stumbles upon a trio of forest spirits called Totoro.
As the sisters deal with the absences of their mother, and the concerns about her health, the Totoro are there to help the girls along the way.
Girl in Real Life
As a kid, I was fortunate to grow up in a neighborhood that had woods. On Saturdays and summer days my friends and I would be set loose to run and explore. Every hill, path, tree, and stream, we knew every inch of our woods by heart, our hungry eyes always on the lookout for hidden mysteries. Our little world felt magical, and we longed so much for it to contain actual magic. We thought that if we showed up at just the right time of day, or looked under a bramble we hadn’t looked under before, perhaps we would find a fairy, a Pegasus, a talking squirrel, or maybe a forest genie who would grant us one thousand wishes. The dream for enchantment was strong within us.
Out of all of Studio Ghibli’s films, I relate to My Neighbor Totoro the most. It’s tied with Spirited Away as my favorite. It brings back memories of my childhood explorations. The difference is, while I only hoped for magic, Mei and her sister Satsuki, have the magical experiences of my dreams.
Mei follows the smaller Totoro into a tree. The inside of the tree holds beautiful enchantments. The tree’s interior is covered in a lush, shimmering, green. The walls and floor are dotted with flowers. Colorful butterflies flit about. This would be fairy-like enough, but the cherry on top of the sundae, is the giant, forest spirit, filled with enough fluff to make Winnie the Pooh jealous. He’s better than any stuffed animal or imaginary friend a kid could imagine.
I commend Mei’s bravery. I think as a kid, I would have been initially anxious approaching a massive, unfamiliar creature, but Mei never doubts for a moment that Totoro is anything but sweet and friendly. Her automatic response to such a fuzzy, adorable, being, is to scratch his face before curling up for a big cuddly nap. Even as an adult, I still daydream about a snugly nap with Totoro.
Ultimate Tree Climbing
As a kid, I was always on the lookout for a good climbing tree. Usually the best a tree could offer was one or two branches strong enough to hold a child’s weight. There was no hope of ever getting any higher off the ground than a few branches up.
Mei plants a handful of acorns with plans to grow a forest for her mother to enjoy. She becomes discouraged when the plants do not grow, but is delighted when Totoro appears, ready to help. Totoro uses his powers to turn Mei’s acorns into an incredibly tall forest. Then, using his new umbrella, Totoro invites Mei and her sister Satsuki to grab some fur. They jump and cling to Totoro’s belly, as Totoro flies to the top of the tree.
It’s the ultimate tree climb to the very tip-top. They look out and see for miles and miles. It almost seems that if they went up just a little higher, they could touch the stars.
The Craziest Ride
Thanks to my childhood consumption of television shows like My Little Pony, and movies like The Neverending Story, I developed a desire for transportation via magical creature. There was a point as a kid when I desperately wanted a Pegasus, but that was only because I didn’t know about the existence of the Catbus.
When Mei goes missing, Totoro comes to the rescue, and summons the Catbus to aide Satsuki in the search for her sister.
I think that the Catbus is one of Hayao Miyazaki’s most brilliant creations. It’s crazy- weird with its Cheshire grin, multiple legs and headlamp eyes.
Like a cat, the Catbus can jump and balance in precarious places, but the bonus is, like my favorite childhood creatures, the Catbus can also fly.
When Satsuki finally finds Mei, the two settle down onto the Catbus’ furry seat, amazed at the adventures they have been able to have since moving into their new home.
All of Studio Ghibli’s films are filled with vivid imagination, but there is something extra special about My Neighbor Totoro. Something that makes my heart extra happy.
One of the things that makes Totoro different, is the lack of a malevolent character. The only antagonist in My Neighbor Totoro is Satsuki and Mei’s mother’s inability to come home from the hospital. This makes it a mostly joyful film, adding to the ability as an audience member to connect to it with a childlike spirit. Totoro is the perfect cute, fuzzy, magical, childhood friend. The film has all of the elements that make me smile as a lover of children’s storytelling and animation, and it contains all of the magic that I longed to experience as a kid.