American anime connoisseurs were hip to Hayao Miyazaki even when his imaginative, epic adventures were only available on the bootleg market. But average moviegoers (or, more accurately, video renters) first encountered Miyazaki via My Neighbor Totoro, an atypical and arguably non-ideal way to meet the master. Compared to the breathtaking action sequences and elaborate fantasy landscapes of Miyazaki’s early features (not to mention subsequent films like Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away), the genteel, languid Totoro seems at first slight, and even soporific. The sliver of a story—about two girls who move to a small village with their father while their mother recovers from a life-threatening illness—never gets past first gear, and the heroines’ few encounters with the mystical forest spirit Totoro hardly justify the movie’s title. Yet My Neighbor Totoro may be the most enduring entry in Miyazaki’s impressive filmography, because it’s so particular about the nuances of human behavior and emotion. The movie stands up to re-watching, gaining in profundity. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes Totoro breathe. Maybe it’s that the girls run, stumble, and daydream in ways that are familiar and notably unfussy. My Neighbor Totoro examines how a family crisis affects children, but Miyazaki keeps… Read full this story
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