The story follows two sisters, Satsuki, and her younger sister, Mei, and their father as they move into an old country house to be closer to their hospitalized mother recovering from an illness. As the sisters explore their new home and surrounding environment, they discover playful spirits and befriend a massive cuddly creature known as Totoro, who sleeps in the nearby forest guarding the land.
Mei safely sleeps comfortably on Tororo’s chest in the forest. 😴🦋
We begin with a loaded vehicle moving along the countryside as two girls in the backseat of the moving truck view the pedestrians pass by, getting to know their new town in the process. Tatsuo, their father tells them they’ve almost arrived before meeting a young neighbor boy, named Kanta. Shortly after, they arrive where the two girls are excited to learn about their new house, enjoying the tadpoles in a nearby stream, and the rustic, run down wood in some parts of the house.
They don’t seem to find any concern with it being rotten, in fact they are still able to find excitement due to their adventurous and cheerful imagination. They’re just two happy young girls simply in awe especially when they notice their backyard garden boasts a large forest with a camphor tree overlooking the entire vicinity.
The residents arrive to their new town. 🏡
Still being fascinated by the most simplest of objects they encounter, the girls start to investigate inside their new house to find acorns falling from the ceiling that shine like gold. They continue to explore the house and upon entering an old area they find black dusts creatures that disappear upon viewing the sunlight creep in. The girls scream to show intimidation and find strength the strength to continue.
Their father encourages them to find enjoyment in all they do and explains to them they saw dust bunnies. They begin to search more of the house until reaching the attic to find more acorns falling down from the dark steps leading upstairs. Even though they are scared they continue to confront whatever is moving above them. Mei notices the dust bunnies and encounters a lone one floating, capturing one in her hands once her sister leaves her momentarily.
They meet a the next door neighbor named Nanny and takes notice of the dust left behind calling them soot sprites. She says that they are things only able to be seen by children and recalls about having seem them herself as a child, commenting also that if everyone smiles they will leave. They decide to clean the dust in the house together, and once again, even as a chore to fetch water from the local stream is a pleasant experience for them.
The young neighbor boy Kanta from earlier arrives while everyone is cleaning. Shy and hesitate, he meets Satsuki to offer food in a basket from him for his grandmother, Nanny. Playfully he says they are currently living in a haunted house. The first day is done. The family has settled in and begin to feel strong winds at night. As the family showers together (a common thing to do in Japan), they can hear the wind bang their house. The father tells them to laugh loudly to scare the spirits instead of letting them get frightened. The soots spirits can then be seen leaving knowing that the new residents are a warm hearted family.
The spirits leave the house at night after noticing the Kusakabe family are good hearted people. 🌌🌙
The next day, the family goes on an excursion bike to visit their mother in a local hospital. We are introduced to a warm soul who is delighted to see her children excited to discuss their feelings about living in the new house. They enjoy the time spent with their mother before heading home. Satsuki goes to school and leaves Mei alone for the day to continue exploring her backyard and surrounding forest.
She notices more shiny acorns until finding a strange transparent creature walking. A larger blue creature is found and carries a bag of acorns that drop onto the ground. They run into the forest with Mei chasing behind after them from behind. They soon come across a tree and jump inside a hole. Mei notices an acorn and falls down into the tree leading her inside a hidden grotto with an enormously large fluffy creature, just as the ones she just encountered.
The creature is sleeping and Mei beings to play his fur and whiskers until he wakes up to notice her. He opens up his mouth to make a loud call and Mei does the same to communicate. Mei comes to understand that she is with a Totoro, the same one she reads in her books. Feeling tired, she falls asleep on top of Toroto. Realizing that Mei is an innocent and curious warm hearted toddler, the other smaller Totoros come out of hiding to join.
The two small Totoro’s try to walk silently by Mei. 👀🤭
Satsuki arrives from school and is told to find Mei. As she begins to search around the house she notices Mei’s hat on the ground where she follows the path until she finds Mei sleeping on a patch of dirt on the ground. Satsuki wakes her up. Mei tries to tell her sister and father what she saw but they begin to laugh momentarily. Her father instead of scoffing off that possibility tells Mei she found the King of the Forest.
They go visit a shrine which is the sacred ground for the great camphor tree. “You can see him only when he wants you to.” Their father comments saying this was a reason why he decided to move to this area in the first place.
The Kusakabe family pays respects to Totoro at the camphor tree. 🙏🌳
Mei is taken to Nanny’s house while Satsuki goes to school and Tatsuo goes to teach class at the university. During school hours, Mei begins to cry and forces herself to be with her older sister. They get stuck in the rain and while running to get back home after class. Mei falls on the dirt and is picked up to be taken to the nearest shrine along the road. The neighborhood kid Kanta walks by offering his umbrella, even though it has holes in it. Still raining, The girls arrive home but soon notice that their father forgot his umbrella and they decide to visit the local bus station to wait for him.
The two sisters wait patiently for him at the bus stop with his umbrella, worried that their father will get soaking wet in the rain. ☔️🚌
This is one of the most iconic scenes in the movie where they wait patiently for their father under the rain for a long time. Mei falls asleep waiting. Even though this movie is about happiness, it’s this scene where we can feel the most tension. Then all of a sudden the large Totoro appears before Satsuki. All he wears to cover his head from the rain is a leaf. Satsuki offers Totoro the extra umbrella she carries and teaches him how to use it.
We notice here, Totoro’s very sensitive to the slightest of noises and he finds excitement in the drops of rain falling on the umbrella. As he jumps, his impact to the ground causes the dew droplets fall and the rain to stop. A large cat bus with lights for eyes appears mysteriously to pick up Totoro. Before leaving he thanks the girls for their kindness by gifting them a bag made of leaves. Their father arrives right after and begin to tell him they’ve seen Totoro together.
Satsuki now believing in Mei also writes her mother a letter saying Totoro the bag of leaves contained magic nuts and seeds which they plant in their garden. Days pass by until one night Satsuki hears the Totoro’s begin to dance around the patch of soil where the buried the seeds. They join the Totoro’s dancing and the sprouts appear becoming an enormous tree instantly.
Afterwards Totoro pulls out a levitating spinning top where the girls decide to grab onto his belly and fly around the countryside. Satsuki realizes that Totoro’s flying is the reason for the strong winds in the area. Waking up next morning, the sisters see the tree hasn’t grown tall but it has started to sprout.
The sisters join the Totoro’s in helping them grow the magic seeds they’ve planted in their garden. 🌱🌳
The girls are cheerfully with Nanny harvesting freshly cut vegetables from her garden. Mei cuts corn saying she wants to give it to her mother as she will be coming home for just a few days and then must go back. As they talk about their happiness it soon fades away when they receive a telegram brought by Kanta. It states that the doctor must speak with them.
Frightened, they leave urgently to a telephone. Finding out their mothers condition isn’t well. They fight with each other and argue. Distressed, they begin to feel the weight of their mother possibly dying. The thought of that makes Satsuki weak. She is unable to contain her emotions and begins to breakdown in front of Nanny. Mei notices this and runs away with the hopes of seeing her Mother, taking the corn with her.
Satsuki, Nanny and the rest of the town begin searching for Mei noticing she’s too young, it’s growing dark and it would take a grown man three hours to arrive at the hospital. Satsuki runs and continues to scream Mei’s name out in hopes of finding her. As the entire village has no luck, she enters the grotto where Mei says she saw Totoro. She falls down the hole leading to Totoros belly. With no other alternative, she cries in anguish pleading for help. Totoro calls upon the cat bus which no one can see appearing on top of the camphor tree.
Satsuki walks inside and takes her to find Mei sitting by some statues. Once reunited, they forgive each other. The cat bus says it’ll take them to see their mother. They notice from afar their mother is laughing with their father. She is ok and only had a small cold. Relieved, they quietly leave the corn that Mei wanted to give to her mother. The parents see Okaasan (Mother in Japanese) written on top. Mother finally arrives home safely, the girls play with their friends and the Totoro watch from a distance.
There are two versions of My Neighbor Totoro. One released by FOX to western audiences in 1988 with exceptional voice acting bearing more emotional and dramatic emphasis in the dialogue compared to the 2005 re-dubbed version released by Disney. In the first 3 minutes of the film Katsumo says hi to a local mailman riding a bike but in the distance you can clearly hear him saying, “Hi! Hello there!” in the Disney 2005 version there is only silence, no voice acting from the mailman which shows lack of interest in trying to produce and maintain its high quality.
Less than 30 seconds later Satusukis father asks the young neighbor boy where his parents are to which he replies “They are over there in the field.” point out into the rice fields but again in the Disney version the child remains silent and can only be seen pointing his finger. Ridiculous. I find this to be so insulting that a company as large and prestigious as Disney to cut resources that add depth and enrich the world of Totoro even more. So please, for your sake and for your children’s, please watch the classic 1988 version of My Neighbor Totoro. In either versions the script is not as harsh as the Japanese version but still is perfectly transmitted.
The Totoro’s and Mei are found resting peacefully inside the hidden grotto. 😴
The sounds of nature and moment on the water on top leaves falling down, ripples in water, the emphasis on the drops of rain, the reflection of the sun over the vegetables and he unique sounds of the Catbus and Totoro. The movement is smooth and each of the sounds are given extra emphasis. Totoro’s designs are without a doubt one of the iconic Japanese characters that have become a household name for many families since being illustrated into film format.
Its significance is so important that Studio Ghibli has used the image of Totoro as its mascot in the beginning of every animated film since its release. All around the world you can find stuffed animals of Totoro! Even though he appears to be fuzzy (which he is) and innocent, he is described portrayed as a sturdy creature with immense strength and finesse regardless of his large structure.
The famous Catbus with large gleaming lights for eyes that illuminate the horizon. 🐱🚌
This is one of those movie that has made a mark in the film industry for showing a compelling story of starting somewhere new and unknown as a child, where we all used to embrace out imagination. Unaware of their surroundings, the protagonists explore and discover what the world has to offer. The acorns represent us as young children and our ability to grow when given the right amount of love and nourishment they will blossom into prosperous trees.
Totoro teaches the girls to take care of mother nature by indirectly giving them the valuable lesson about teaching to take care of themselves. As a child you will fin lots of comfort watching this film as it’s something to truly cherish as a work of art. As an adult, I promise you’ll choke up in your throat at a certain points. You’ll come to relate very much how relatable all the situations are regardless of the fantasy that is mixed into the story.
The dialogue throughout the story is wonderful and contains not one thread of vulgarity or any violence. This will be a relief for many because most of the content that is polluting our minds are filled with negative thoughts built from the gutter. This film is the exact opposite, trying to convey normal everyday situations that don’t add to the plot but enrich each of the characters life. This is a beautiful story about friendship, family, and discover that is to be remembered and enjoyed by all generations.