Look at all my many friends. Ready, set, let's go!
My Neighbor Totoro (Tonari no Totoro, 1988)Studio Ghibli's second feature film and the fourth animated feature directed by Hayao Miyazaki (the first being The Castle of Cagliostro).A little cycle truck putters down a rural road in post-war Japan, carrying four-year-old Mei, her older sister Satsuki, and father Professor Kusakabe to a new home in the country to be closer to the rural hospital where the girl's mother is recovering from an unspecified (but potentially deadly) disease. Along with the usual tribulations of moving — a spooky old house, new neighbors, fitting in at a new school — Mei encounters an odd little creature in the backyard. While pursuing it, she comes upon the den of a much larger forest spirit which she eventually calls "Totoro". At first, Mei is the only one who sees Totoro, but Satsuki soon meets him as well, and the girls have several fantastic encounters with Totoro, interwoven between subplots involving their family and (human) neighbors.But the girls' seemingly idyllic rural existence is soon shattered when a health crisis forces their mother to cancel a much-anticipated visit home. Heartbroken, the two girls take out their fear and anger on each other, and Mei eventually sets out for the hospital alone, determined to deliver an ear of corn she believes will make her mother well. The remainder of the film revolves around Satsuki's increasingly desperate search for Mei; when all other options are exhausted, Satsuki appeals directly to Totoro for help — and he is more than delighted to be of assistance.Totoro is one of Miyazaki's best known films, and it's considered a classic even by western critics (Roger Ebert called it "the best family film of all time", and Jonathan Ross says it's one of his favourite films). Totoro himself became Ghibli's mascot. However, Miyazaki does not gloss over some of the more frightening aspects of childhood: the girls are terrified of their mother dying, a common goat seems monstrous from little Mei's perspective, and the whole village's fright and anxiety when Mei goes missing is almost palpable. Even Totoro — with his huge grin, inscrutable expression, and manic eyes — can be a little scary; Satsuki refers to meeting him as both the funniest and the scariest day of her life.
My Neighbor Totoro contains examples of the following tropes:
Adult Fear: Mei running away from home and getting lost in the climax is something any adult or older sibling can understand. Goes Up to Eleven when the villagers find a little girl's sandal in the pond and fear that she's drowned.
Chasing A Butterfly: Mei, the younger girl tends to do this. First she chases the soot gremlins all over the house; then she gets lost when she follows Chibi-Totoro into the woods. Although she enounters a monstrous creature (the titular Totoro), fortunately he is a Gentle Giant, so the danger part is averted.
Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are: Satsuki and Mei trying to make the soot sprites (or "soot gremlins" or even "dust bunnies," depending on which version one watches) in the attic appear. It's toned down from the Japanese language track, where they also say, "Or we'll pluck your eyeballs out!"
Composite Character: Inverted with Mei and Satsuki, who started out in early drafts as a single girl with both their physical characteristics.
Contagious Laughter: Once the father starts to laugh in the bath, the girls are able to join in. Interestingly for this trope, they start out by faking their laughter (to drive away the susuwatari), before they all finally start laughing for real.
Covers Always Lie: The cover for the 2010 American DVD is taken from concept art for an early draft, so instead of Satsuki and Mei waiting in the rain, it has a girl who has Mei's head on Satsuki's body.
Cute, but Cacophonic: Totoro. Note to those watching the movie on their computers or portable DVD players — please take your headphones off whenever it looks like he's going to roar. Your ears will thank you.
Cute Kitten: The short-film sequel, Mei and the Kittenbus, which plays exclusively at the Ghibli Museum.
Determinator: Satsuki literally runs for kilometers in her search for Mei.
Incurable Cough of Death: Averted, though the disease that Mei and Satsuki's mother suffers from is treated as this trope, she's never seen coughing and doesn't actually die. Considering it was based on Miyazaki's own life, and his mother had tuberculosis, coughing would certainly have been justified.
Unusual for this trope, the adults show no overt signs of disbelieving the children on this. Their father is the one who tells them of the soot spirits, and the village grandmother confirms she saw them when she was younger. This sets up the epilogue.
Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: A major theme of the movie. For example, the huge tree that grows when the girls and Totoro are together, but is gone the next morning, despite the much smaller plants that grew around it, still being there.
"Satsuki" is the old Japanese term for the month of May, and "Mei" sounds like the English name for the month. Originally Mei was only going to be the only girl until Miyazaki realized that a four-year old wouldn't have the independence necessary to drive the story.
Also the three Totoros themselves, named for their sizes. The littlest one is called "Chibi Totoro" ("chibi" meaning "little"), the blue middle-sized one is "Chū Totoro" ("chū" meaning "middle"), and the biggest one is "Ō Totoro" ("ō" meaning "large").
Youkai: The Totoros are nature spirits centered around the great tree near the Kusakabes' home, which bears Shinto ropes. Also featured in the film are the 'Susuwatari'' (wandering soot), a fictitious Youkai created by Miyazaki; they also appear in Spirited Away.