Big, Furry, Supernatural Creature Befriends 2 Little Girls
Reviewed in Canada on 14 September 2018
I've screened this Anime before--several times--in rental. For me, it's one of the best choices of "Japan-imation" films, to serve as a "late-Sunday-evening", feel-good, winding-down the Week movie. It's a fantasy: 2 kids--the preschooler first, then the elementary-school aged older sister--encounter a "Forest Spirit" in the form of the large, furry, bear-like Totoro. It just so happens there's a picture of a furry, not very dangerous-looking ogre--an awful lot like Totoro--in the younger daughter's illustrated story-book... ;-)
The story--like all good Sci-Fi & Fantasy--originates & is (somewhat) grounded in reality. The Kusakabes: elementary-school aged daughter Sasakai, pre-school aged (can't wait to grow up) daughter Mei & university professor (Anthropology?) Dad; are moving to an empty cottage in the forested, agricultural hinterland of some city. They seem to have relocated so as to be closer to Mom, who's nearby in hospital. I'm thinking T.B.--but, as story's told from kids' perspective--viewers never know what's up with that.
One afternoon--while academician Dad's marking papers, or working @ home, on his next book--Mei connects with 2 sprightly, big-eared, um, creatures. Turns out, creatures are part of a group--headed by the huge, bear-like Totoro--who live in a nearby, ancient Camphor-Tree. Totoro sleeps a lot, plays the ocarina--or some basic woodwind instrument--@ night & occasionally provokes gale-force winds. "Mr. T" & his much smaller fellow spirits, seem to be addicted to acorns & use these to forge a bond with the girls.
The overall story-arc is kind of mild--yet edgy in places--& as convoluted as any contemporary adult-film. It bespeaks a misty-eyed society, of indeterminate era (post-WWII? ), where motor-tricycles are used for hauling cargo , personal computers are unknown, even telephones aren't ubiquitous & many folks commute by train & bus. That includes the titular Totoro--who patronizes a VERY unique, decidedly other-worldly, transit system--the cat-bus...Yeah, seriously... I give these animators 1-3/4 thumbs up. for originality. ;-)
The animators jump the viewer into the eerie World of the Nature-Spirits, in several easy steps & (interestingly!) Dad is there, to legitimize Mei's "first contact"-- with Totoro & his little friends--by not judging, or disparaging #2 Daughter's experience. Far from it; Dad aids his kids in dealing with Totoro, by relating old Japanese legends & talking his daughters through a short "Spirit-befriending" ceremony. The kids' involvement with the spirits deepens from there.
In the end, Totoro gets to be the nominal hero--resolving a family crisis, provoked by the precocious, yet insecure Mei. The overall message of this flic--actually very much a kid's film--is that the World: be it the Natural World, Academia or Human social World, isn't as scary as kids might think & kids viewing this film will be left feeling it can be fun--"out there".
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