Miyazaki's classic children's tale gets a DVD reissue, and it's well worth it.
What They Say
Follow the adventures of Satsuki and her four-year-old sister Mei when they move into a new home in the countryside. To their delight, they discover that their new neighbor is a mysterious forest spirit called Totoro, who can be seen only through the eyes of a child. Totoro introduces them to extraordinary characters - including a cat that doubles as a bus! - and takes them on an incredible journey.
For this release, I listened to the English dub, which is offered in 2.0. There are also Japanese and French tracks also in 2.0, and subtitle tracks for English and French. Though it is a 2.0 setup, the mix is pretty basic, as the sounds and dialogue stay mostly centered on the two channels. There is a bit of directionality when it comes to sounds, but it is minor. This is not a big issue with a movie intended to be quiet as this one is, so I will not complain too much.
I will say that this is my first experience with the Disney dub after years of watching the Fox release. Though they are basically the same, a few minor changes did jump out at me. I think I prefer the Fox dub in general, but both are perfectly acceptable. And that feeling may be one of familiarity than anything.
For the most part, the video is nice. It is free of technical problems, but as may be expected for a movie from the 1988, it is a bit old looking. There are some noticeable instances of dirt and scratches, and the colors are a little faded. In general, I did not find this to be a huge problem, but it is worth noting.
Pretty basic packaging here. The two discs come in a single size amaray case with a card slip sleeve that has all the same images and information as the cover sleeve. The front has an image of Mei standing in the rain at the bus stop next to the big Totoro, which interestingly is different from the actual movie as Mei is sleeping in piggy back position on Satsuki when the Totoro shows up. The back has a summary, some technical details and a few screen shots.
This release has a really neat menu. In the background is a sketch of Mei squatting on the ground, looking like a watercolor on parchment. Next to her are three 'windows' of animated footage showing parts of various scenes. Some of the soothing music from the feature plays in the background, looping at two minutes so it doesn't get old. The menu feels quiet, which matches the feel of the movie very well.
There are some nice extras here, but nothing truly special. The first is a storyboard version of the feature with full audio. It is neat to watch, but gets old quickly. Then there are a series of short interviews with Miyazaki about various aspects of the creation and development of the movie. Finally, there is a feature called 'Enter the Lands.' Selecting this takes you to a visual representation of a world that has sections reserved for all of Miyazaki's movies. Clicking on the Totoro section gives you a quiz to see which character from the movie you are, while selecting any of the other sections gives you a trailer for that movie. It is a neat idea, but I was a little disappointed in it after hearing about it. It was not as deep as I might have liked it to be. There is also a lithograph provided inside of the cover image.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
My Neighbor Totoro is Hayao Miyazaki's first movie in his series of imaginative children's/family movies that later spawned Kiki's Delivery Service and'"recently'"Ponyo. It was a huge success; so much so that the big Totoro immediately became the logo and mascot for Studio Ghibli. Years ago, it was my first introduction to Miyazaki's movies, and it began a long love affair.
Satsuki, Mei, and their father, Tatsuo, are moving to a new house in a rural town. With his wife confined to a hospital room due to an unspecified illness, Tatsuo is charged with raising their daughters on his own. Considering he works fulltime, and sometimes has to travel back to the city to teach, this can be a tall order, especially as Mei is only four years old.
But he is not without help: aside from the other villagers chipping in where needed, he has the assistance of Totoro, the 'keeper of the forest.' One day while playing, Mei spies a little creature with rabbit ears and opts to chase it through the fields and into the woods. She soon comes to a clearing with a great tree, where a giant version of the little creature is sleeping. Curiously, Mei climbs on top of the creature, waking it up. Sleepily, the creature grunts at Mei, who interprets the grunts as 'Totoro,' and calls him that from then on. Mei falls asleep on Totoro's giant belly, but when she awakes both Totoro and the clearing are gone.
A few days later, Satsuki and Mei decide to go to the bus stop during a rainstorm to meet their father as he had forgotten his umbrella, but when he does not arrive on his normal bus, they are forced to wait. While waiting in the darkness, Totoro arrives, looking a little down as the giant leaf he has on his head is not doing much to keep him dry. Satsuki offers him the use of her father's umbrella, a gift Totoro loves, and from that point he does what he can to repay the girl's kindness.
Totoro is one of those movies that is a bit hard to describe, and generally, people who have not seen it think it sounds bizarre. But watching it is a total joy; it is virtually impossible not to love Totoro, and not be uplifted by his interactions with the little girls. The scene where they dance (with the two smaller Totoros) around the tree is particularly wonderful.
With their mother in the hospital and their father constantly working, Satsuki and Mei sometimes have trouble solving their own problems. Mei, in particular, has trouble accepting that their mother is forced to live apart. Totoro helps them get through their problems and provides a bridge between their imaginations and reality. He gives them a reason to be children when they otherwise might have to act more grown up.
It is what makes My Neighbor Totoro such a magical title. But what makes it an interesting title is the subtle influence of Miyazaki's environmentalism. Obviously, his titles like Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Princess Mononoke are rife with environmentalist themes, essentially declaring industry the root of all evil.
My Neighbor Totoro does not have that heavy-handed theme, but rather plays on an old theme that suggests that one has to go to the country to find magic. Satsuki and Mei have never heard of Totoro, nor experienced the sort of wonder he can provide, while living in the city. It is not until they are in the country that they find him. This theme is played up a bit with the scene at the bus stop: Tatsuo misses his bus in the city and is forced to wait until the next one; however, when Satsuki and Mei need to visit their mother in the hospital, Totoro and the awesome Catbus are there to take them wherever they want to go.
I cannot heap enough praise on this movie. It is magical and wondrous, a perfect movie for a family to watch together. I was already a fairly jaded adult (ish) by the time I first saw this movie, but My Neighbor Totoro still fascinates me every time I watch it. It is pure entertainment as you cannot help but feel like a kid again seeing Totoro and the children. Highly recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, French 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, World of Ghibli, Enter the Lands, Behind the Studio, Storyboard Presentation of the Movie
Magnavox 37MF337B 37' LCD HDTV, Sony BDP-S360 BluRay Player w/HDMI Connection upconverted to 1080p, Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System