100 Films I Haven’t Seen: ‘My Neighbor Totoro’

Recently I took Ava to get her first library card. So far she’s mostly interested in using the computer at the library and checking out lame films for free from their children’s section. For instance, our most recent visit included “Casper’s Scare School,” “Lego DC Superhero Girls: Brain Drain,” and one that I picked out: “My Neighbor Totoro.”

Film 9: “My Neighbor Totoro”

My excuse for not seeing it: My interaction with anime was somewhat selective as a teenager. My first experience was “Akira,” and bootlegs of “Ranma 1/2” my friend Chris seemed to have an infinite supply of. At some point as a teen, I saw “Grave of Fireflies,” which came out the same year as “Totoro,” and the two were often paired together at screenings.

Back in 2006, I got a review copy of “My Neighbor Totoro,” that I never got around to watching. At some point, I traded it for some other DVD that I had a more pressing desire to watch. Eleven years later, I added the library’s copy (with the 2006 dubs) to Ava’s stack of DVDs so we could watch it together.

I sold it to Ava by telling her the Bob’s Burgers flying turkey sequence was inspired by “My Neighbor Totoro,” and she was able to pick it out right away. Later that night we rewatched that episode.


Thoughts after watching it: Was anyone expecting me to call it anything other than a classic? It’s beautifully animated, and I’d say Totoro ended up becoming one of the more iconic animated characters of the 20th century.

I was a little surprised at just how prevalent the sense of whimsy was in “My Neighbor Totoro.” I’m used to seeing this kind of intertwining of reality and fantasy to come from a place of reality being much darker than the fantasy, like “The Wizard of Oz” and it’s bleak, Tornado-littered, dog-threatening Kansas or the war-torn Spain in “Pan’s Labrinyth.”

I was ready for darkness at every turn. They have to move to the country? Surely dad moving to the country is because he lost some job and they’re now destitute. No, it’s so he can be near his sick wife. But surely she will die, prompting the kids to retreat into a fantasy world. Nope, she’s fine. Wart-faced Granny must be a witch, right? No, just a kindly old lady.

Other than one of the girls getting lost, there are pretty much no stakes in “My Neighbor Totoro,” and that’s kind of refreshing for a kids’ movie. It’s just cute and fun. Totoro doesn’t even show up until the movie is well underway. It made me a little nervous that the kids would lose interest because of that, but they were enthralled the entire time.

There was a surprising amount of underage girl upskirt shots, and a weird family bathing scene, but I guess that’s just late 80s anime? At least none of the characters got a bloody nose as a result.

Oh, and Catbus has testicles.


Movies it has inspired me to check out: Pretty much the rest of Studio Ghibli/Miyazaki films. “Spirited Away,” “Princess Mononoke,” “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” “Kiki’s Delivery Service.”


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