Who is Totoro?

Totoro is the title character in the Japanese animated film by Studio Ghibli – My Neighbor Totoro. He’s a fuzzy, giant, furry, pointy-eared creature with wide eyes and a fantastic smile.

My Neighbor Totoro

This classic film was produced by Hayao Miyazaki (Studio Ghibli) in 1988.

The plot of the film is simple, but the magic is more in the characters. Mei, her sister Satsuki and their father move to a house in the countryside while the sick mother recovers in hospital. As the family settles into their new home, the girls discover a ‘Totoro’ and magical things occur. For example, Totoro calling on a 12-legged furry cat bus to take the sisters home after they get stranded in the rain at a dark bus stop. Bizarre and charming all in one!

Studio Ghibli style is more fantasy rather than fairy tale, which perhaps is why My Neighbor Totoro has captured the hearts of both adults and kids alike. Indeed the themes of many Studio Ghibli films are adult in some ways, and set against real backdrops (such as Post-war Japan) rather than the fictional make-believe settings of other children’s films.

Hayao Myazaki on My Neighbor Totoro

“I can’t make films that are, you know — slay the villain, everybody’s happy. I can’t make those kinds of films. I think that when children become three or four years old, they just need to see Totoro. It’s a very innocent film. I wanted to make a film in which there’s a monster that’s living next door but you can’t see it. Like when you walk into a forest, you sense something. You don’t know what it is, but there’s a certain presence. That’s happened to me many times, you know? I recently spent two months in a big old house, alone, on top of a cliff by the sea, and I would be in one room but it felt like there were other people living in the other rooms. When I would go out for a walk, I thought they would be lonely, so I turned on my radio to entertain them while I’m out! “Please, feel free to enjoy my music!” (Laughs) Of course, you can explain it: “It must be some kind of fear, you’re insecure,” but I really feel there was something there. In some ways I’m a very insensitive person, but I have this sense sometimes in certain areas...

“During production when it’s very hard, and the staff are suffering, there is a sort of smell, like a bad scent. People are drawing and animating and then everybody goes home and we open the windows to change the air. Now, that scent doesn’t go away — it’s this bad feeling I can sense. I think maybe small infants can feel and receive it more directly than adults can. At the same time they’re very easily fooled with smiles (laughs) — you just have to show them teeth and they’re happy!”