My Neighbor Totoro (of 1) (Mania.com)

Review Date: -



What They Say
Totoro' on DVD at last! Hayao Miyazaki had been cradling the idea for this wonderful fantasy for a long time before he finally decided to write and direct it. Although it's set in the mid 1950's in Japan's rural area, the sceneries with lots of trees, of fields and meadows with colorful flowers bring a universal feeling of joy and harmony even to those who have never left the big cities or living in other countries. Another charm of the movie is of course it's heart warming tale of the two little sisters and their relationships with the land's mysterious creatures (including a 'Cat Bus!') whose plots aren't forced or condescending in any way, which makes the film such an enjoyable experience for kids and adults alike. It's a 2-disc set with loads of special features, including a storyboard-to-film comparison for the entire film.

The Review!
This is the kind of film I wish Disney would make. My Neighbor Totoro would have to be Miyazaki?s simplest film, yet in most peoples minds his most enjoyable. There isn?t much in terms of plot to this film, but it still managed to keep me glued to the screen through out the entire film.

Audio:
The Japanese audio is just stereo. I wish they had made a 5.1 remix for it, but unfortunately they haven?t. Still it sounds quite good (on my poor audio set up), and I couldn?t hear any problems with it.

The English dub is mono, and is the one that Carl Macek of Streamline Pictures and Robotech fame created for a theatrical release in the US by Troma Pictures. Yep that?s right, the studio that gave us films such as ?The Toxic Avenger?, and ?Surf Nazis Must Die?. Why they decided to release this family film is beyond me. The audio sounds quite good for a mono track, and I didn?t here any problems with it, but it sounds rather flat when compared to the Japanese track. Believe it or not, the dub is excellent. The acting is quite good from both the main and secondary characters, and the dialogue never sounds awkward or forced. Personally I love the dub, and this is coming from a person who hates most dubs.

Video:
Well, it looks really stunning. Coming from the same year and studio as ?Grave of the Fireflies? (1988), when you compare the two DVDs together, Totoro looks so much better. Why is that? Was the source material for Totoro treated better than Grave of the Fireflies? There was some minor dirt on the Totoro print, but for a film that?s 13 years old it?s in excellent shape.

Packaging:
A lot of people don?t like the way the Ghibli DVDs have been packaged. I tend to agree, but you must admit the cover is rather cute. It features the Totoros with Mei and Satsuki fishing for crabs on a branch. On the back we have the girls again, this time waving to the Catbus who is perched on top of their house. The DVDs are housed in a white double ?flipper? style Amaray case. There is an insert which explains how to use the menus, an insert for Ghibli and Bunea Visa DVDs, and one for Ghibli art books.

Menus:
Pretty much standard for Japanese DVDs, the menus are rather static but get the job done. Each menu and sub-menu has a Miyazaki watercolor on it.

Extras:
There are a huge amount of extras on the two discs.

First up the English subtitles. Yes, they are dubtitles as such. Well really they are dubtitles for the hard of hearing. Every now and then, subs will come up for sound effects like; ?(Whoosh!)? and ?(Makes airplane sounds)?. A lot of dialogue was added to the dub, so it?s really weird to listen to the Japanese track with the subs on. Nobody says anything, and subs pop up every where. It makes some sense though. You can understand what?s going on. The dub (and dubtitles) are very true to the original except for a line or two. I can imagine though, that the dubtiles on this disc will annoy most people. This disc is meant for a Japanese audience though. They didn?t have English speaking fans in mind when they made it, so there?s nothing much you can do. There are Japanese subs included too.

Like the ?Kiki?s Delivery Service? disc, this set contains a storyboard to film comparison as a separate disc. It?s basically the film again with an angle option to view the storyboards. Very nice. Only the Japanese audio track appears on this disc. There are no additional subs or the dub.

The ?making of? feature is rather interesting. It was probably made around the time of the release of the films and features clips from both ?Totoro? and ?Grave of the Fireflies? (both films were released as a double bill in Japanese cinemas in 1988), and interviews with the staff. Miyazaki and Isao Takahata (director of ?Grave of the Fireflies?) certainly look a LOT younger in this feature ^_^. Owners of the Japanese DVD of ?Grave of the Fireflies? will certainly recognize this particular feature. The 8 minute making of feature included on that disc was edited out of this 15 minute version.

One odd inclusion is a short 20 minute feature about the new Ghibli museum. Basically it?s Miyazaki and some other guy showing us around the almost complete museum. It also shows Miyazaki?s original watercolor designs and compares them to the finished product. Yes, it?s a 20 minute ad really. At the end they even give explicit instructions on how to get to the museum. But the feature is worth watching just to see the life size model of the robot from Laputa.

We also get three trailers, which the first two are dual Grave of the Fireflies/Totoro trailers. The quality is OK for the first two, but the third is horrendous. It was obviously sourced from a video tape. We also get additional trailers for the forthcoming DVD releases of ?Panda Kopanda? (?Panda! Go Panda!? in the US), ?Mononoke Hime?, ?Great Detective Holmes? (AKA ?Sherlock Hound?) and one for the ?Ghibli Collection? (basically the same as the one on the Yamada?s disc, except with different music). Also included is the textless opening and closing animation, which is a nice bonus.

One thing I would have really liked was a commentary on the film by Miyazaki. It looks like none of the Ghibli films will have commentary track, which is rather unfortunate. He is an important filmmaker, and I?m sure most people would love to here his original ideas for the film, what he scrapped, and why he makes films the way he does.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Possibly the simplest and having the least plot ever in a Studio Ghibli film, Totoro still pleases most anime fans. This film is probably the closest

Sometime in the 1950?s in a rural town outside Tokyo, Mei and her older sister Satsuki are settling in after moving into their new house with their father. Their mother is recovering in hospital from an illness. Exploring her new surroundings Mei comes across a little blue creature collecting acorns. She follows the little creature down a path, which leads inside a giant camphor tree. There she finds a huge sleeping creature, which she names Totoro. Satsuki and Mei become friends with Totoro and the other sprit creatures of the forest, though a series of chance meetings with him.

When Satsuki receives a telegram saying that her mother's condition may be taking a turn for the worse, Mei decides to run off to the hospital to visit her by herself. While the townsfolk search high and low for her, Satsuki asks Totoro to help her.

After directing and writing two fantasy films for Studio Ghibli, this film was a bit of a departure for Hayao Miyazaki. Nausicaa and Laputa were for the most part action adventure/fantasy films. Totoro does have fantasy elements, but it?s set in a familiar place and time, and the characters are just ordinary people. With Totoro, Miyazaki has cleverly used children?s imaginations as the basis of the film. Only children can see Totoro and the spirits of the forest, but the adults believe the children?s stories of the sprits too and even encourage them. This is quite a refreshing change in a kid?s movie, as in most films the adults never believe the tales children come up with, even though they may be true. Also what I like with Miyazaki films, is that he never speaks down to his audience. I find most children?s films are rather condescending. Miyazaki speaks to them as equals. This makes the film accessible to adults as well.

The movie goes back and forth between the real world, and the world where the girls can meet and play with Totoro. Miyazaki has created some wonderful sequences involving Totoro and his friends. In one, Totoro helps a seed grow into an enormous tree and then gives the two girls a joy flight (yes, Totoro can fly). The other memorable sequence involves the ?Cat Bus?, which is what it sounds like; a giant cat that?s like a bus. It?s really hard not to love the enormous grinning brown and white creature name Totoro. Myazaki portrays him as a very kind, playful and thoughtful creature with an odd sense of humor. He?s the kind of furry, huggable monster that most kids would love to play with.

Despite almost having no plot, this is an excellent and heart warming little film. With the superb dub, it?s a great film to show kids as well. Despite the ?dubtitles? this disc is a must have for Ghibli and Miyazaki fans, and also for anybody who wants an anime film the whole family can watch. This film probably won?t be released outside of Japan on DVD for a while, so if you want to see any of the Ghibli films on DVD, investing in an all region DVD player is must if you haven?t already got one.

Features
Japanese Language (Dolby Digital 2.0),English Language (Mono 2.0),English Subtitles (Dubtitles),Japanese Subtitles,Three theatrical trailers,Mking of featurete (15 mins),Storyboard to Film comparison,Textless Opening and Ending animation,"Mitaka No Mori Ghibli Museum" clip (20 mins),Ghibli Collection Trailer,Panda Kopanda DVD Trailer,Mononoke Hime DVD Trailer,Great Detective Holmes DVD Trailer

Review Equipment
Toshiba SD-2019Y DVD Player (PAL/NTSC, Region Free), 60cm Panasonic TC-59R62 TV set (PAL/NTSC)



Mania Grade: A
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: A-
Age Rating: All
Region: 2 - Japan
Released By: Buena Vista Home Entertainment Japan
MSRP: 4700
Running time: 86
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: My Neighbor Totor