In 1988, we were treated to a great tale by Studio Ghibli and director Hayao Miyazaki. This man’s work is always brilliant, and never ceases to amaze us, and this movie is no different. As usual, the story tends to revolve around a girl of age ten to thirteen, and this time it is Satsuki Kusakabe’s (Dakota Fanning, 2005 Disney version) turn along with her little sister, Mei (Elle Fanning). The Kusakabe family has moved out to the country to be closer to the hospital where Mrs. Kusakabe (Lea Solonga) is recuperating from her illness. Professor Kusakabe (Tim Daly) has his hands full taking care of two little balls of energy like Mei and Satsuki on his own, but in this rice-farming community has move to, he has plenty of friendly neighbors to help out, including some that only the children can see. Their first friend is an old woman that is loved by everyone, and simply is known as Nanny (Pat Carroll), but she is also the grandmother of the boy next door, Kanta (Paul Butcher), that becomes a thorn in Satsuki’s side, or so she thinks, because at that age, to girls, boys are just a nuisance they have to tolerate.
Behind the old house, that is filled with little black soot sprites, is a huge camphor tree, but this is no ordinary tree. This tree is the home to the forest spirit Totoro (Frank Welker) and his little friends. Mei finds them by accident one day while exploring the backyard of her new home. She is bored since Satsuki is at school, and what does a four-year-old girl do when she’s bored, and all the older kids are at school? In Mei’s case, she sees a small forest spirit, that looks sort of like a fat white bird with cat ears, and chases it until she finds a tunnel that leads her to the home of the forest spirits. She spends the afternoon with Totoro and his friends, and they watch after her until Satsuki comes to find her.
Later on, we enjoy more of this slice of life when the Kusakabes take a long bike ride down to the hospital where Mrs. Kusakabe is staying, and they learn that she will be coming home soon, if only for a weekend. The girls are overjoyed, but mostly Mei, until later on that week, they learn she can’t leave, since she has caught a cold, and the doctors want her to stay under their care. Mei becomes a stubborn little devil, and is bound and determined to be with her mother, and takes it upon herself to go to the hospital. A huge feat for a little girl, and we know how much chaos one lost little kid can cause, but not all of them have a friendly forest spirit like Totoro looking after them.
This is a beautiful movie, and is on par with every other film that has come from the creative team at Studio Ghibli. It is full of fun, fantasy, and wonder, and a new kind of perspective those of us used to Western-made films don’t get to see. Open up your DVD box, and let loose the possibilities of a new world that you did not even know was there. That’s the way things work in the world of Hayao Miyazaki.
I give this film a Musing review of