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Anime / My Neighbor Totoro

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♫ Look at all my many friends. Ready, set, let's go! ♫
To-to-ro, Totoro! To-to-ro, Totoro!
Living in the forest trees, for such a very, very long time!
There you'll be with To-to-ro, Totoro! To-to-ro, Totoro!
You only see him when you're very young, a magical adventure for you!
It's magic for you.
Main Theme

My Neighbor Totoro (Japanese: となりのトトロ/Tonari no Totoro, 1988) is Studio Ghibli's third feature film and the fourth animated feature directed by Hayao Miyazaki (the first being The Castle of Cagliostro). It was released theatrically as one-half of a double feature; the other half was the depressing Grave of the Fireflies.

A little cycle truck putters down a rural road in post-war Japan, carrying four-year-old Mei (Chika Sakamoto), her older sister Satsuki (Noriko Hidaka), and their father Tatsuo Kusakabe (Shigesato Itoi) to a new home in the country to be closer to the rural hospital where the girls' mother Yasuko (Sumi Shimamoto) 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 (Hitoshi Takagi) in the backyard. While pursuing it, she comes upon the den of a much larger forest spirit that 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.

However, 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. Totoro himself became the mascot for Studio Ghibli. Miyazaki does not gloss over some of the more frightening aspects of childhood, though: 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.

The film would later get a short-form sequel in 2002 titled Mei and the Kittenbus (making Totoro the first Ghibli film to get a sequel), which revolves around Mei having a lighthearted adventure with a tiny kitten-sized Catbus. Unfortunately, the only way you can see the film as of right now is if you go to the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Tokyo, Japan.

In 2022, a Screen-to-Stage Adaptation opened at London's Barbican Centre for a limited run. The show is a collaboration between the Royal Shakespeare Company and Ghilbi's own Joe Hisaishi, and features puppetry courtesy of Jim Henson's Creature Shop. It won six Olivier Awards the following year, a first for a Ghibli-based stage production.

My Neighbor Totoro contains the following tropes:

  • Advertised Extra: As iconic and beloved a character as Totoro is, and the film bearing his name, as well as most marketing surrounding him, he isn't as featured as one would think in the film, as the film focuses on small vignettes in the girls lives in their new home.
  • Agony of the Feet: As Satsuki is running back and forth searching for Mei, she stops at one point and looks to her feet, which (since she's running in sandals) have swollen and look painfully beat-up. She removes her sandals and keeps running.
  • Alice Allusion: Mei's first encounter with the Totoros starts with her following the white rabbit-looking one (and the medium blue one) until she falls down the hole where King Totoro is laying. She's found after the encounter sleeping on the ground and Satsuki and Kusakabe think it might have been a dream. The allusion further helped that the scenery of the forest areas is drawn a bit more dream-like in Mei's initial explanations then just looks like an overgrown bit of wood when she tries to find it again. The Catbus also has a Cheshire Cat grin and can vanish into thin air.
  • All Trolls Are Different: Mei mistakes Totoro for a troll; "Totoro" is even a mispronunciation of the Japanese word for troll, "Torōru".
  • Animal-Vehicle Hybrid: The Catbus, which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
  • Animals Lack Attributes: Averted; the Catbus has visible testicles, as does the Kittenbus in the short.
  • Arcadia: The film is an ode to the rural lifestyle.
  • Big Sister Instinct: Satsuki's kicks in big time when Mei goes missing. She runs herself ragged trying to find her, and finally seeks out Totoro's help when she is starting to lose hope.
  • Bilingual Bonus: There is a visual version with Mei, who has gotten lost trying to bring an ear of corn to her sick mother, sitting by a row of a statues. Those statues represent at least in part Bodhisattva Jizo, the Buddhist deity who is the protector of children. The Western equivalent would be to have her sit by a statue of Jesus or the Virgin Mary as a subtle suggestion that the little girl will be alright while her sister and King Totoro come to get her in the Cat Bus.
  • Blush Sticker: Mei has these.
  • Boyish Short Hair: Satsuki, though she's not especially tomboyish; she just likes it that way. Possibly indicative of her being the older, more responsible sibling compared to Mei.
  • Break the Cutie: Mei is a Cheerful Child who enjoys the simple pleasures in life, but learning that her mother's illness got worse and she can't come back from the hospital breaks her and makes her run off from home.
  • Breather Episode: The movie was shown after the rather unpleasant Grave of the Fireflies in its original theatrical run in Japan.
  • By the Eyes of the Blind: The Catbus can be seen by Satsuki who wants to find Mei who also sees it while desiring to see their mother. To everyone else, it's a sudden gust of wind. The soot spirits and totoros can also be seen by the two girls but the adults can't see them, probably because they don't want to be seen by folks.
  • Chasing a Butterfly: Mei 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 encounters 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 show these off, though theirs have no malice behind them.
  • Children Are Innocent: This is implied, via Granny's dialogue about seeing the soot sprites when she was the kids' age, to be why Satsuki and Mei are able to see the supernatural things around them.
  • Close-Knit Community: The village; everyone seems to know each other, and everyone pitches in to search for Mei.
  • Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are: Mei and Satsuki do this when 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: Miyazaki is actually one of four children but he used two siblings in the film to streamline the story and save time.
  • Construction Is Awesome: Totoro 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, often playing along with her, even if it involves some Japanese spirits around their home.
  • Cool Old Lady: Downplayed, but Granny for Satsuki and Mei. Similar to the girl's father (stated below), Granny admits to seeing the soot sprites when she was younger.
  • Covers Always Lie: The original Japanese poster is taken from concept art for an early draft — according to which the two siblings were still one character. So instead of Satsuki and Mei waiting in the rain, it has a girl who has Mei's head on Satsuki's body. Whoops.
  • Creator Thumbprint: Flight and aircraft. There's the scene with the Totoros and the girls flying on the spinning top, and we also see Kanta building a toy aircraft out of balsa and paper.
  • Cultural Translation: The Disney dub refers to the ohagi the family eats after they finish moving as "cakes", without the visual representation being edited. The Streamline dub avoids this by having Satsuki compliment her grandma on her cooking in general.
  • Cute, but Cacophonic: Note to those watching the movie on their computers or portable DVD players: Please take your headphones off whenever it looks like Totoro is 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, has one of these.
  • 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.
  • Decomposite Character: The film was originally planned to only have one girl as the main protagonist. However, at some point during production, Miyazaki felt the story wasn’t working with one girl, so he decided to split her into two sisters, Mei and Satsuki, instead. Despite this, the young girl still made it onto the Japanese theatrical poster.
  • Determinator: Satsuki literally runs for several kilometers in her search for Mei.
  • Double Feature: The film was originally screened as a double feature with the rather less uplifting Grave of the Fireflies. The studio mandated that My Neighbor Totoro must be shown second as they found that too many people would simply walk out and not watch Grave of the Fireflies if Totoro was shown first.
  • Electric Slide: The Catbus ventures forth with Satsuki to find Mei, even running along an electric line to do so. Mei is found by the electric line at an unknown place.
  • Everything's Better with Sparkles: The sparkling acorns, well, they sparkle, adding to their appeal.
  • The '50s: This movie is set in the fifties. According to Miyazaki, it's the very time period "when televisions were yet to be brought to homes".
  • Filling the Silence: The Fox/Streamline dub has a lot more dialogue compared to the original Japanese or the Disney dub. This is particularly noticeable for Satsuki and Mei, and most commonly done in more ambiguous situations (e.g. an offscreen character or one who's far enough away the mouth can't be seen).
  • 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.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Mei is the foolish, Satsuki is the responsible. Mei's foolishness is justified because she's only 4 years old and acts like a 4-year-old would, though the complications drive the last third of the film. Satsuki's responsibility is nearly Promotion to Parent levels with the amount of work she does around the house at 9 years old and how much she has to watch over Mei, but the ending has her break from the strain like any kid would her age with how many stressful events seem to happen at once.
  • Foreshadowing: While visiting their mother, the girls claim their father kept getting lost on the way to the hospital.
  • Gentle Giant: Totoro, of course. While he's huge and has a giant scary mouth and fearsome roar, he's a kindhearted creature with a sense of humor who doesn't hesitate to help Satsuki and Mei when they need it.
  • Ghibli Hills: The Ur-example. Wherever this film is set is made seemingly entirely of rolling hills, dense forest, and all the best features of rural Japan.
  • Girlish Pigtails: Mei has them, possibly to indicate that she's the younger, more innocent of the two sisters.
  • Girls Have Cooties: Kanta starts out with this attitude, but eventually gets over it. Satsuki also mentions early on (after an encounter with Kanta) that she "hates boys" but does not seem to show this attitude consistantly — she's really just annoyed with Kanta.
  • Good Parents: Professor Kusakabe is probably one of the nicest fathers in all of anime—and he's effective as a parent, to boot. He never talks down to his daughters even when they're talking about having seen Totoro; not even the audience can really tell whether he honestly believes them or is simply humoring them. If anything, he seems to value their imaginations. Also, judging from the way Mei and Satsuki adore her (and her kind and gentle manner during her few scenes), it's pretty clear their mother qualifies, too.
  • Gruesome Goat: When Mei is trying to deliver an ear of corn to the hospital, she's attacked by a goat that tries to eat her corn, which is portrayed as a terrifying creature from her perspective.
  • Hand in the Hole: Short creepy moment, when Mei reaches into the crack in the wall behind which the soot sprites disappeared.
  • Happy Ending: Mei is found safe and sound, and the credits reveal that the mother comes home from the hospital.
  • 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, though it's possible that this is simply because they don't want to be seen by adults. At film's end, it's hinted the girls are getting too old to see them. In an unusual twist to this trope, the adults show no overt signs of disbelieving the children when they talk about the spirits. The girls' father tells them of the soot spirits, and Kanta's grandmother confirms she saw them when she was younger. This sets up the epilogue.
  • Leitmotif: When Mei first sees the ears of Chibi-Totoro poking through the grass, the music plays a tune that eventually gets established as the "Totoro theme" — it starts to recur in many of the scenes which have the Totoros making appearances, a song based around it plays during the entirety of the credits, and the Totoros themselves even play it on their ocarinas when up in the trees at night.
  • Lighter and Softer: This was Miyazaki's first movie aimed at kids, unlike Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Castle in the Sky.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Are the spirits the girls meet throughout the movie real (and only kids can see them) or is it their imaginations? For example, the huge tree they grow with Totoro is gone by the morning but the seedlings are there. The end credits imply Satsuki is getting too old to see them as well.
  • Mega Neko: The Catbus is what you might expect if you merged a bus with a twelve-legged cat spirit. Its eyes glow like headlights, its hollow body has furry benches and "windows", and it even has a sign that changes to match its destination, which includes Mei.
  • 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.
  • Missing Child: Mei running away from home and getting lost in the climax, and goes off the rails when the villagers find a little girl's sandal in the pond and fear that Mei has drowned.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: The Totoros, particularly the largest Totoro, resemble bipedal rabbits with catlike whiskers and the snouts, mouths, and roars of a bear, making them feel mythical and helping to convey the power and sweetness of the large Totoro.
  • Mouth Cam: At one point we see Mei from within Totoro's mouth.
  • Narrative Shapeshifting: The opening credits feature miniature Totoro-like things shapeshifting into Totoro's name in Romanji.
  • Nature Spirit: Totoro and his friends. Although only mentioned once as being "The Keeper of the Forest", he certainly shows it.
  • Nighttime Bathroom Phobia: Discussed. Mei declares that she is not afraid of the soot sprites. Satsuki then declares that this means that Mei can go to the bathroom by herself at night.
  • No Antagonist: As the DVD release points out, the movie was designed to be devoid of conflict. The main source of tension in the climax is not any antagonistic character, but the mother's illness and the girls' reaction to it.
  • No Plot? No Problem!: The connecting thread of Satsuki and Mei's encounters with the Totoro family appears throughout, but the "story" such as it is is told more in segments similar to slice-of-life works rather than a true overarching plot.
  • Novelization: A novel based on the film would be written by Tsugiko Kubo in 2001, with an English translation by Jim Hubbert releasing in 2013. The novel is largely faithful to the film, though it slightly expands on the story and explains a few details that were not readily explained in the film, such as why Mei and Satsuki's mother was hospitalized.
  • Old-School Chivalry: Kanta, lending his umbrella to Mei and Satsuki when it's pouring outside.
  • Otherworldly Visits Youngest First: The titular spirit appears to Mei, the youngest child, first. He reveals himself to her older sister, Satsuki, later. Though their parents never actually see Totoro, they see enough hints that they don't doubt his existence by the story's end.
  • Period Piece: The film takes place in rural Japan roughly around the early 1950s, as evidenced by the fashion, the technology, several calendars dating to the 50s and there not being any television sets present.
  • Pink Means Feminine: Mei wears a pink dress all the time, although her pyjamas are yellow instead.
  • Plucky Girl: Mei.
  • Pokémon Speak: Totoro is only ever heard growling, roaring, and saying his own name.
  • Random Events Plot: With the exception of Totoro himself and the girls' worrying that their mother might be dying, nothing really happens in this movie. It's just two girls hanging out in their new home.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: Totoro. C'mon, just look at the picture, and try to tell me you don't wanna give the big fuzzy critter a hug, too.
  • Rousseau Was Right: Satsuki and Mei are all round innocent and good...until they hear news of their mother's illness seemingly getting worse, causing Satsuki and Mei to take their fear and anger out on each other.
  • Scenery Censor: During the bath scene, the family is framed with Mei placed conveniently in front of her father.
  • 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.
  • Shrines and Temples: Quite a few pop up at key moments in the movie. Shrines to the Bodhisattva Jizo show up several times. When Satsuki and Mei are waiting for their father at the bus stop, Mei wanders around and finds a disused shrine to Inari, which seems to unnerve her.
  • Slice of Life: The film is mostly about two siblings and their interactions with spirits from the forest.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: An extremely idealistic film. It uplifted everyone's spirits up after this was in a double feature with Grave of the Fireflies.
  • Soap Opera Disease: The mother's illness is never explicitly identified, but is implied to be tuberculosis; the hospital specializes in the disease. Miyazaki's own mother suffered from it as well.
  • Straying Baby: Mei's running off with no sense of the dangers involved triggers the climax.
  • Terrible Artist:
    • Averted with Satsuki's cute drawing of Mei as the crab who waited over a persimmon seed to grow.
    • However, Mei is shown drawing "a Totoro" with crayons (and the Cat Bus in chalk during the epilogue), both of which are... done by a four-year-old, shall we say.
  • 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.
    • 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").The big guy's name is sometimes rendered as "Ou Totoro", resulting in the alternate English translation "King Totoro".
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: Totoro's wide starey eyes are one of its hallmarks.
  • Trampoline Tummy: Mei uses Totoro as a cushion when she finds him sleeping belly up, waking him up in the process, before falling asleep together. Satsuki also bounces briefly when she lands on Totoro.
  • Tsundere: Satsuki and Kanta are this to each other, hiding their affection for each other with snark, especially Kanta who teases Satsuki for being in a "haunted house".
  • "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. The film also features Susuwatari (wandering soot), a fictitious Youkai created by Miyazaki. (The Susuwatari would later appear in Spirited Away.)
  • Zig Zag Paper Tassel: The Shinto ropes on Totoro's tree count.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): My Neighbour Totoro


Tree growing scene

Totoro and the kids magically grow a few seeds into a massive World Tree.

How well does it match the trope?

4.92 (13 votes)

Example of:

Main / ConstructionIsAwesome

Media sources: