My Rating: 5 stars
This is one of my favorite films ever, and I had forgotten how much I loved it until watching it again a few days ago. It’s been so long since I’ve seen a lot of these Miyazaki films that I’ve been in the process of systematically re-watching them all. And, the most surprising thing that I’ve been noticing is just how much darker these movies are than I had remembered. There’s a lot of death, and dismemberment, and accepting one’s fate. Even this film features a little bit of darkness, even though it’s nothing but charming.
The main characters are little girls, moving into a new country home with their absent-minded professor father. It’s a big job, because their new house is old and kind of falling apart. It’s located in a very rural area so they really have to rely on neighbors for help. And, the reason it’s just the three of them is because the girls’ mother is in the hospital for tuberculosis. This means that the little girls, Satsuki and Mei, are largely unsupervised. And, they take full advantage of this freedom to explore the surrounding countryside, discovering all the wood sprites and mythical beasts that live around them.
That includes little soot-spreaders who live in the dark corners of their home, as well as the enormous giant Totoro who lives in the ancient camphor tree next to their house. They tell their father about all the strange things they see each day, and he seems pretty ok with the idea of his daughters cavorting with magical beasts. This guy really has no business being in charge of kids. It’s a good thing he’s hired the elderly, decrepit obachan from the neighboring farm to do some light babysitting and cleaning. But, she’s as old as time, and just can’t keep up with those spry little ladies. So, they elude her watchful eye quite frequently.
This movie is so adorable. Little, four-year-old Mei is an especially charming little urchin. She’s willful and stubborn, and is always quite busy with things that she “has to do.” This includes exploring the creek, busting into her sister’s classroom at school to do “work” with the other kids, and delivering an ear of corn to her mother in the hospital because she heard that vegetables make you healthy. Of course, this is the source of all kinds of trouble. But, I can’t get enough of that chubby, little, snot-nosed girl. Furthermore, these kids get to hang out with big furry creatures who take them on flying adventures, while looking out for their wellbeing (because no one else seems to be doing it). It’s so great. It’s everything you’ve ever dreamed of as a kid.
This movie is so magical. You should absolutely go out and buy it right away if you haven’t seen it yet. It’s an absolute classic. And, I think it’s arguably Miyazaki’s best film. Some of his other films tend to take a turn for the bizarre somewhere around the middle. And, some of them are really a bit too dark for really young kids. But, this movie is just a gentle, enchanting fairy tale. It’s practically perfect.