Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.



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My Neighbor Totoro

Film #282


When two girls move to the country to be near their ailing mother, they have adventures with the wondrous forest spirits who live nearby.

Year 1, Day 286

BEFORE: Miyazaki returns with his sophomore directing effort, My Neighbor Totoro. As I mentioned yesterday, I’m very excited to see how this plays out as I’m expecting Miyazaki’s style to remain pretty much the same, which is a good thing. Hopefully, I’ll be able to actually focus on and write about My Neighbor Totoro specifically instead of talking in broad strokes for the whole review (I know, not my best).

AFTER: My Neighbor Totoro is very different from Miyazaki’s first film and not in a very good way. Stylistically things are very much the same. The animation looks very similar in colors and shapes, but it’s the characterization and story where things started to vary. Still very similar in many ways, but in My Neighbor Totoro I found things to be extremely slow; not in terms of fluff or being drawn-out, but in terms of pacing.

Before you make the assumption that the reasoning for not liking My Neighbor Totoro is because it wasn’t in the same vain as Castle in the Sky, let me stop you right there. Yes, I was a bit disappointed and taken aback because the first film was near-perfect. Besides some great all-around things, the story specifically had a great draw and really kept me hooked throughout. With Totoro, not only were the general aspects not as great (characters, animation), but the story also felt lacking a bit.

I could argue for these individually, but all three areas - characters, animation, and story - have an overarching reason as well: the aforementioned pacing. The reason I didn’t like the film isn’t because of these things specifically, but how they relate to the pacing. It’s here where I wonder whether or not I should be watching these films in Japanese with English subtitles to get a better sense of the original version because that could solve this whole issue, maybe. By slow pacing I mean that constantly, not just in select scenes, it felt as if there was pad for more lines lost in translation from Japanese to English. The extra seconds add up throughout the film and do more than just make the film feel slow. For the characters, it diminishes their characterization and made me feel more distant from them. It wasn’t like Castle in the Sky where I immediately clicked with the kids and adults. In Totoro the kids were likable but I couldn’t like them. Again, it’s part of that slowness but what exactly do I mean. The best analogy I could come up with is this. Imagine a conversation and after you finish talking, the person listening just starts nodding their head for a few seconds and maybe gestures a bit with his hands - not in the polite, “I’m paying attention to you,” or, “I understand what you’re saying,” but in the, “Now this is awkward, what are you doing,” way. And here this ties in with the animation (which shows you what you’re hearing in this case - the awkwardness) and the story.

The story is slowed down by these moments as well but also just because of it’s premise. There isn’t much happening, a major difference from Castle in the Sky. It’s much more of a character-centric film, seeing these two girls, Satsuki (Dakota Fanning) and Mei (Elle Fanning) deal with moving into a new home, being young children, and - here’s were it’s more of a typical drama film - having a sick mother who’s in the hospital. For me, things only got interesting towards the end when the film turns dark (more in tune with the style I was expecting from Castle) and there’s tension and suspense as to what will happen next. Again, I don’t dislike My Neighbor Totoro because it’s not what I was expecting from Miyazaki, it’s because the execution is off which affects almost every part of the film.

Now I have another data point to make my judgements on not just for Miyazaki’s films or animation films, but films in general. While I didn’t find My Neighbor Totoro nearly as entertaining or interesting as yesterday’s Castle in the Sky, and I think I have some very good reasons to support my claim, but many others disagree with me. I can say that despite a less than stellar performance today, I’m still excited for the future films in this chain and have now expanded my expectations for what could be coming.

RATING: 2 out of 5