Anime: My Neighbor Totoro

Look at all my many friends. Ready, set, let's go!

My Neighbor Totoro (Japanese: Tonari no Totoro, 1988) is 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 their father Professor Kusakabe to a new home in the country to be closer to the rural hospital where the girls' 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.


This film provides examples of:

  • A Boy and His X: Two girls and their magical forest spirit.
  • 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.
    • Triggered in the audience when Mei falls asleep on Totoro's stomach mere inches from his enormous maw, which is enough to make any parent cringe.
  • Adults Are Useless: Mostly averted, though it's only through Satsuki's actions that Mei is found.
  • All Trolls Are Different: Mei mistakes Totoro for a troll. In fact, "Totoro" is a mispronunciation of the Japanese word for troll, "Torōru".
  • Arcadia: The film is an ode to the rural life style.
  • Blush Sticker: Mei has them.
  • Break the Cutie: Mei.
  • Bug Buzz: During the night, when Mei and Satsuke helped "awaken" the acorns.
  • 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.
  • Cheshire Cat Grin: Totoro and the Catbus, though not maliciously intended.
  • Children Are Innocent
  • Close-Knit Community: The village.
  • 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.note 
  • Construction Is Awesome: The Forest God and the kids magically grow a few seeds into a massive World Tree. In the morning, the tree is gone, but the seeds have germinated abnormally fast.
  • 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.
  • Convenient Cranny: When chased by Mei, Chibi-Totoro hides underneath the house where the girl cannot reach it.
  • Cool Big Sis: Satsuki is this for Mei.
  • Covers Always Lie: The cover for the 2010 American DVD is taken from concept art for an early draft, according to which the two siblings were still one Composite Character. 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.
  • Dead Hat Shot: Subverted. Someone finds what they think is one of Mei's shoes floating in a retention pond after the younger sister runs away from home. Everyone sighs a breath of relief when Satsuki sees it and doesn't recognize it.
  • Determinator: Satsuki literally runs for kilometers in her search for Mei.
  • Electric Slide: The Catbus is seen doing this.
  • Everything's Better with Sparkles: The sparkling acorns.
  • Follow the White Rabbit: Mei follows Chibi-Totoro to the woods and into Totoro's lair. Chibi-Totoro even looks somewhat like a white rabbit.
  • Gentle Giant: Totoro, of course.
  • Ghibli Hills: The Ur-example.
  • Good Parents: Professor Kusakabe is probably one of the nicest fathers in all of anime. And judging from the way Mei and Satsuki adore her, it's pretty clear their mother qualifies too.
  • Hand in the Hole: Short creepy moment, when Mei reaches into the crack in the wall behind which the dustbunnies disappeared.
  • Happy Ending
  • Haunted House: Kanta believes this of the house the family moves into, not without reason.
  • 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.
  • Invisible to Adults: Only children seem to be able to see the soot sprites and Totoros. At film's end, it's hinted the girls are getting too old to see them.
    • 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.
  • Mega Neko: The Catbus.
  • Mickey Mousing: At various times the soundtrack playfully punctuates the characters' movements, most notably in the scene where Mei chases Chibi-Totoro and Chu-Totoro through her backyard.
  • Mouth Cam: At one point we see Mei from within Totoro's mouth.
  • Narrative Shapeshifting: The opening credits.
  • Nature Spirit: Totoro and his friends. Although only mentioned once as being "The Keeper of the Forest", he certainly shows it.
  • No Antagonist: As the DVD release points out, the movie was designed to be devoid of conflict.
  • Old-School Chivalry: Kanta, letting his umbrella to the two girls.
  • Panty Shot: Throughout the movie, in a completely innocent way. "Bloomer Shots" if you will.
  • Pokémon Speak: Totoro is only ever heard growling, roaring and saying his own name.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: Totoro. C'mon, just look at picture, and try to tell me you don't wanna give the big fuzzy critter a hug, too.
  • Scenery Censor: While Satsuki, Mei, and their father are taking a bath together.
  • Scenery Porn: In the DVD Bonus Content, Miyazaki says that he wanted to show that Japan is a beautiful country.
  • Secondary Character Title: The titular character refers to the creature the main characters, Satsuki and Mei, meet after moving to their new home.
  • Soap Opera Disease: We are not told what the mother is sick of.
  • Straying Baby: Mei's running off with no sense of the dangers triggers the climax.
  • Terrible Artist: Averted with Satsuki's cute drawing of Mei as the crab who waited over a persimmon seed to grow.
  • Theme Naming
    • "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").
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: One of Totoro's hallmarks.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Satsuki and Mei respectively.
  • Trampoline Tummy / Tummy Cushion: Mei uses Totoro as a cushion when she finds him sleeping belly up, waking him up in the process, before falling asleep together.
  • Tsundere: Satsuki and Kanta are this to each other.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The credits show scenes from the girls' lives during the year following the story.
  • 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.
  • Zig Zag Paper Tassel: The Shinto ropes on Totoro's tree.