This is the first one I've come across in my viewing so far that seems to delve deeper into Japanese lore and traditions, any of which are brand spanking new to someone like me. That said, its a much more subtle story, dealing less with an epic adventure and more with a slice of life.
Before jumping right in, however, I should be clear about something. There seem to be a few dubs of this movie, so I'm running under the assumption that the voices I heard were among the Disney version.
In 1958, university professor Tatsuo Kusakabe (Shigesato Itoi/Greg Snegoff/Tim Daly) and his two daughters, Satsuki and Mei (Noriko Hidaka/Lisa Michelson/Dakota Fanning and Chika Sakamoto/Cheryl Chase/Elle Fanning, respectively) move into a new house. The mother of the family, Yasuko (Sumi Shimamoto/Alexandra Kenworthy/Lea Salonga) is recovering from a severe illness, so the house is located close by so they can visit her more often.
Now, here's where it gets a little weird. They end up living with little back fuzzy fuzzball spirits called susuwatari. They learn that if they laugh loud enough, the spirits will go away. It doesn't take long before the family are perfectly comfortable in the new house, and these girls take to playing around the property, and discovering their new surroundings.
One day, Mei follows a cute, bunny-eared spirit into a hidden grove, where she meets the likes of a much larger bunny-like spirit known as a Totoro (Hitoshi Takagi/Frank Welker) She takes a nap on top of him as though he's a gigantic teddy bear, and the next day is discovered all by her lonesome, as everything around her disappeared. This is where we see just how awesome the father of the family is, as he comforts her, suggesting she met the likes of the spirit of the forest. He kinda comes and goes as he wants to. So right away, we see just how tight this family is. The typical would tend to be no one believing Mei, and claiming her as being crazy. But here we have such a solid family dynamic that the father either straight up believes her, or, if not, certainly encourages her imagination.
Anyway, the rest of the movie unfolds as sort of the back and forth meet-up with Totoro, where every time they get together, its something interesting. That's kind of about it though. You may wonder, who's the antagonist in this movie, and this is where things get sort of interesting, at least judging from my own perspective.
Ghibli fans, please do feel free to correct me on anything I get "wrong" here, but this is just how I see the movie. The villain of the movie is really nothing more than Yasuko's illness. The hero of the movie is Totoro, who may or may not be a figment of Mei and Satsuki's imagination and/or dreams. The idea is that Totoro is a sort of guardian angel creature, if you will. He's there to be there for these girls in their time of need, as they are worried about what may or may not be happening with their mother. He's there to give them hope, and something to hang on to.
Now, again, if I missed the point entirely, do feel free to correct me on things. This is only my guess at what Hayao Miyazaki may have been trying to accomplish. He furthermore seems to know exactly what he's doing when writing about the imagination of a small child. The way Mei's childlike innocence is captured is kinda something to be admired, and the whole thing adds a certain level of adorable charm to the whole thing. Fair warning though, they like to scream for no good random reason, which can get slightly annoying at times.
I'm not sure I liked this one as much as the first couple, but its also certainly nothing bad. It is a breath of fresh air to see something a bit more simplified and innocent, and the film does have a heartwarming sense of humour throughout. What you essentially get in the end is the imaginative world through the eyes of Mei, and it's a pretty damn cool world. I just hope I didn't get confused as to what it all stood for, and missed the whole point in the end.
As anime is an all-around untapped resource for my viewing pleasure, I have decided to explore the Ghibli titles, one-by-one. It seemed good a place to start as any. I'll be focusing on these titles throughout the month of August.