Tonari no Totoro [My Neighbor Totoro] (1988)

(On DVD, October 2017) There’s a refreshing refusal to play by conventions that shines at the heart of Tonari no Totoro: The avoidance of conflict, the supernatural seen as wonder, domestic concerns and a constantly inventive imagination at play. There’s quite a bit of darkness in the film as it focuses on two girls waiting until their mother is well enough to be released from the hospital, but much of the movie is about discovering the hidden magic in their bucolic setting, with dream sequences and spirits helping out the two girls. Whatever drama in the film is limited to looking for a lost girl and the tension of knowing if their mother is doing well. I suspect that Totoro works on a level that escapes analysis or narration—it’s just cute, comforting, wondrous and unlike anything else. It plays like a pleasant daydream, non-threatening to a fault. The cute creature design may also help explain its popularity with kids of all ages. While I wasn’t as taken by the movie as I hoped I would, it’s squarely in Hayao Miyazaki’s impressive body of work and does rank highly as a must-see animation film.

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