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Satsuki and her
little sister Mei have just moved into a house in the countryside with
their professor father. Their mother is sick and in the local hospital;
the new house is close enough for the family to visit, and will provide
a calm, restful place for her to recuperate once she's finally able to
return home. It's an old house, long deserted, and as Satsuki and Mei
explore their new place, strange things begin to catch their notice -
zillions of whispy little black creatures zipping out of eyesight just
as the girls enter the room, not insects or anything else that seems
remotely familiar. When the girls mention it to their dad and the old
lady who's been brought in to help take care of the house and girls, the
old lady is delighted. She tells them that she could see the creatures
too back when she was a child; they're harmless spirits that like to
inhabit empty houses. With the arrival of Satuki, Mei, and their dad,
she assures them, the spirits will soon be gone. True enough, the
creatures disappear after a great big windstorm. But not long after,
curious little Mei finds herself encountering even more magical
beasties. While wandering in their backyard one day, she sees an odd
little creature bouncing through the grass. Naturally, she can't help
but follow it. The shy critter disappears briefly, then turns up again
with a friend that's a slightly large version of itself. Mei ends up
following them through the fields and into the woods, and finally down a
deep tunnel nestled at the base of a great big camphor tree. There, she
encounters the giant totoro -- and soon, Mei and Satsuki find themselves
on a series of magical adventures.
ago, my brother bought me an alarm clock while he was living in Taiwan.
It was a rotund whiskered creature with pointy little ears; it played a
maddeningly catchy little tune that could be stopped only with a good
smack to the ear, at which point, the creature screeched a
slumber-rattling "Ohio!" (Japanese for good morning). Not
knowing better, I called it the fat cat. So imagine my surprise when
about a half-hour into My Neighbor Totoro, a strangely familiar
song started playing. It was my alarm clock song, and apparently the
totoro theme song as well. As I realized that my fat cat clock wasn't a
cat at all, I felt a little like Mei, discovering an unexpected bit of
magic in something I'd heretofore considered fairly mundane. It's the
sort of gosh-wow excitement that happens all the time when we're kidlets,
but sadly becomes rarer and rarer as we grow up. And it's a feeling that
Miyazaki's animated classic captures perfectly, even if you've never
been the oblivious owner of a totoro alarm clock. Featuring charmed
seedlings and an amazing cat bus and of course, those adorable totoros, My
Neighbor Totoro is just chock full of magical marvels. Still, as
appealing as the enchanted elements are, just as much of the charm comes
from the details about the girls' new life in the countryside. One of my
favorite scenes is of Satsuki preparing lunchboxes for her family just
before she has to head off for school. We seeJapanese bento boxes
artfully stuffed with rice and veggies, fish and an assortment of lovely
sides. It's an utterly normal thing -- a simple lunch -- turned into
something beautiful and special. And maybe that's the real magic in
Miyazaki's film: it celebrates the ordinary, and reminds us how much
wonder there is to be found in the day-to-day world, even when we're too
grown-up to believe in tree spirits and soot sprites and cat buses. —reviewed
by Yee-Fan Sun
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