Today's Screenshots - My Neighbor Totoro

Here are some terrific shots from one of my favorite scenes from My Neighbor Totoro. You could probably take screenshots from every cut in the movie and have something wonderful to look at. I don't think there's a superfluous shot in the entire movie.

For one thing, the background art is amazing. Lush, detailed, full of subtle hues and contrasts and just teeming with life. Kazuo Oga was the Art Director for the movie, and he's the master painter at Ghibli - he's the one to turn to when you want detailed paintings of the outdoors. Can you believe I still haven't purchased Oga's direct-to-DVD film yet? That's definitely going into the shopping cart on my next buying spree.

I love the way these first two shots make use of negative space, the way the trees focus our attention to the center of the frame. The Japanese are far more conscious of using formal compositions than in the West, and it's one of the reasons I prefer these animated movies to what we have here in the States. It's more painterly, more artistic, more skillful.

The comic bit where Mei tumbles down the tree and flops into Totoro's lap is a riff from somewhere, most likely an episode of Future Boy Conan, but I can't remember right now. Maybe I'm just reminded of that animated pinball sequence from '70s Sesame Street (the surreal one that got spoofed on Family Guy).

This fourth shot is one of the funnier bits in Totoro. I think it's probably important to let the little kids know that a giant cat-like, owl-like animal isn't something to be afraid of. Totoro is really a gentle sort, and we all see that Mei can yell just as loud. Poor Totoro's more scared of the girl than she is of him. Pay attention, storytellers - this is important. Make sure this scene is burned into your memories.

This whole scene is wonderfully staged, very genteel and pastoral and quiet. From the West's point of view, nothing much really happens, and that's what makes it work. This is the one film where Miyazaki most closely follows the style and methods of Takahata's work. When you get down to it, the main character in My Neighbor Totoro isn't the two girls or even the Tororos. It's the forest itself. Miyazaki's intention was for children to see this movie, and then go outside and play in the woods and let their imaginations run free.

I've long felt that My Neighbor Totoro is the finest children's movie ever made; these are only but a few examples why.


Reel Fanatic said...

My Neighbor Totoro is indeed a visually lush movie that tells a wonderful story .. it's among my favorite of the Miyazaki movies, but my two favorite of his flicks would have to be "Kiki's Delivery Service" and Porco Rosso"

Klaus said...

I've long felt that My Neighbor Totoro is the finest children's movie ever made;

You take the words right out of my mouth! And: wonderful blog, man!

Chris Sobieniak said...

It's only a shame I'm nearly 30, I'm too old to take part in the movie's message since I wasted my youth! :-(

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

Whaddya mean, "too old"?! That's crazy talk. Stop making with the crazy talk.

Sen to Chihiro wouldn't have been the monstrous success it was in Japan if it wasn't cutting across all ages. When you really get down to brass tacks, it's theme is the same as Pom Poko, only without all the tragic melodrama. It's an appeal to reconnect with their cultural heritage and their history.

Miyazaki knows that Japan's rich history is buried deep within the hearts of the young, hidden deep within the collective unconscious. It's only a matter of digging it out and letting it bloom.

For older viewers, Spirited Away is very nostalgic, a tribute to that lost way of life before everything became so Westernized. There's a pretty strong political bent to it, underneath all the female empowerment. As Miyazaki has said, this film is for nine-year-olds, and anyone who was once a nine-year-old.

Stephen said...

Just found your blog today through the entry for 'Little Nemo' on Wikipedia (and corrected the entry to point to your new site). I've been looking through your archives on Totoro, but can't find your take on which DVD version of MNT is best, or your email address. :) Can you email me that information some time (stshores24 at gmail dot com)? Thanks.

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