by Jürgen Fauth
Slowly but surely, Hayao Miyazaki is becoming one of my favorite filmmakers, from any country and any genre. With light but distinctive touch, his animated features cast a magic spell, whether it is genre-driven ("Castle of Cagliostro"), cloaked into an eco-fable of cosmic proportions ("Princess Mononoke"), or in the guise of a classic coming-of-age story ("Kiki's Delivery Service"). Just this year, his 1999 masterpiece "Spirited Away" was finally released in the U.S. and has gathered rave reviews from critics who are otherwise loathe to embrace Japanese animation.
Already an artist working at the height of his powers in 1988, "My Neighbor Totoro" showcases Miyazaki's delightful iconography of spirits, demons, and wood sprites at their most gentle. Suitable even for the youngest demographic, "My Neighbor Totoro" tells the story of Satsuki and Mei, two sisters who move into a haunted house to be near their sick mother who is in the hospital. During this difficult time, wood creatures and spirits come to their aid, including the Totoro, a furry, egg-shaped cross between a rabbit and a bear with a wicked roar. As sweet as the images are, the film never collapses into dishonesty or condescension.
If "Princess Mononoke" and "Spirited Away" are attempts at myth-making, "My Neighbor Totoro" is a fairy-tale, a less threatening, safer story. It is the perfect kid's movie, and older viewers with open eyes and hearts will find plenty to love.
One warning: the DVD is a dubbed full screen pan-and-scan version of
the film, perfectly suitable for children but the worst combination for
a serious film fan. A wide screen version with a subtitled/original dialog
option would have been more than adequate. Let's hope that Fox will remedy
the oversight with a future release that does this animated classic justice.
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