Miyazaki brings to life a great story that is magical and realistic, with just a bit of Alice in Wonderland and Pokemon thrown in for good measure.
The Movie Itself (4/5):
I am coming to the Miyazaki scene way late. Like 20 or more years late. Sure, I’ve known that each of his works are masterpieces, and I know that he’s got one hell of a following, but I just haven’t gotten around to seeing all of his films and to be honest, I’m not sure why.
Before My Neighbor Totoro, I’ve only previously seen two of Miyazaki’s films (Howl’s Moving Castle, and Spirited Away), and I thoroughly enjoyed them both. So I have no good reason or excuse as to why I’ve not sought out his other works. This is something I intend to change, and I have no doubt it is because of My Neighbor Totoro.
Something that I had not given Miyazaki credit for until I saw this film is his ability to make his characters so believable that even when the most magical things are happening around them, you feel a strong connection with them. This was pretty new to me, as I generally don’t have a feeling of same-ness with characters in a movie. Usually I’ll feel that the characters are in their own world that is very much like mine, but not mine. Miyazaki blurs the lines between what’s real and what isn’t and for some reason, it really struck a chord with me and I believed that these characters were in my world, albeit in a different time and place.
So, enough about my revelations, let’s talk about what this movie is.
My Neighbor Totoro is Miyazaki’s fourth directorial film. It takes place in 1950’s Japan outside Tokyo where a father and his two young daughters, Mei and Satsuki, have recently moved into an old house in the countryside next to a quite beautiful forest. One of the best things about this film is that the story is really centered around these two young girls. There are other characters who have their parts to play, but you really get the sense that the main perspective of this film is from Mei and Satsuki’s eyes. This is refreshing, it’s not too often where you get to see a world like this and feel like a young child getting to explore. I really enjoyed this aspect of the movie.
To set the scene, the girls’ mother is in the hospital for an unknown reason, and the girls are having a bit of a rough time coping with her absence. Fortunately, they get a little help in the form of a magical forest spirit named Totoro, who will likely remind some of you of Snorlax, just a bit (always sleeping, only says his own name, I mean, he’s a Pokemon, for sure). In interacting with Totoro and a few other magical creatures, the girls are filled with wonderment. With his help, they are able to forget some of life’s stresses, and experience some magic.
I’m hesitant to give too many details on the story’s plot, as I believe that everyone should watch this story unfold without any clue of what will happen next. There are some fantastic and boggling moments in this film, and I think everyone should give it a watch.
Video Quality (4/5):
The first thing I did when I put in this movie was watch the original 1988 Japanese trailers (found in the extras). This gave me a good opportunity to see how well an older animated title could be restored, as well as gave me an insight for how trailers have changed in the last 30 years. It is truly astounding to see the difference between the original resolution trailer and the 1080p restoration. I mean it is night and day. The animation style definitely holds up after all these years, and the colors are beyond vibrant. I was seriously impressed in the art style, and the number of colors that were used in this film.
From scene to scene, you will be in awe of the colors used, and there is little to detract from the beauty of the art here. I saw no artifacts or stuttering in the animations, and the colors were all clear and crisp. Disney really made it look like this movie was drawn yesterday.
Audio Quality (4/5):
Movies like this are a bit hard to give an impression on in terms of audio. There is some music here and there, mostly very 80’s cartoon type stuff, which I don’t particularly like. Although, I did catch myself singing the theme song a few times since I’ve watched this one…
The sound levels in the movie were great, though. I never had to pay special attention to try and hear people talking when music was playing or when some action was going on. This movie has a lot of dialog to it, and I was surprisingly not very annoyed by the voice acting, which I was expecting to be. Mei and Satsuki were voiced by Elle and Dakota Fanning (very young Elle and Dakota Fanning), but all things considered they did a great job. No voices were out of place, and the sound effects and music were well planned out.
One thing of note, there are a couple of scenes in this film that are dead quiet. I always like it when movies do that. I don’t think there is enough effective use of white space in film.
Special Features (3.5/5):
The disc has a few special features present, although sadly no blu ray exclusives for this one.
- Original Japanese Storyboards (HD 86min):
- This was a pleasant surprise to me. I was expecting a handful of slides to show various scenes in storyboard form, but they have the entire film represented. This was really cool to skim through, and the detail in the slides is amazing. Definitely worth watching.
- Creating ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ (HD 3mins):
- Miyaki gives a short talk about how he came up with the story.
- Creating the Characters (HD, 4mins):
- Miyazaki and Toshio Suzuki (producer) talk about creating the characters in the film.
- The ‘Totoro’ Experience (HD 2mins):
- A short talk about how the movie was not successful when it released, but picked up steam in the years after and how it’s become quite a classic since.
- Producer’s Perspective: Creating Ghibli (HD 2mins):
- Toshio Suzuki talks about how Studio Ghibli got it’s name.
- Scoring Miyazaki (HD 7mins):
- The film’s composer, Joe Hisaishi and producer, Toshio Suzuki talk about the music from the film.
- The Locations of ‘Totoro’ (SD 29mins):
- A pretty cool mini documentary about the places around Japan where Miyazaki drew inspiration from for the film.
- Behind the Microphone (SD 6mins):
- A short look at what went into dubbing the film into English.
- Trailers (SD/HD 3mins):
- Two original Japanese trailers.
- Two disc 50gb blu ray/DVD combo.
- 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC
- Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
- English, English SDH, and French subtitles/captions
- Audio Formats:
- Japanese: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
- English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
- French: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Final Thoughts (4/5):
I’m going to out on a limb here and say if you are at all into animated movies, you should have seen this by now. If you’re like me and haven’t gotten around to it, get on it, stat. This is a must own for fans of the genre.