My Neighbor Totoro
When Spirited Away won the 2002 Oscar for Best Animated Feature, Hayao Miyazaki received some U.S. recognition, but the work of this Japanese writer and director extends back more than 25 years. My Neighbor Totoro, one of his oldest films, is a perfect example of the artist’s uniquely creative voice. When two young girls move with their father to a small village near their hospitalized mother, they discover a mysterious and playful forest spirit. Japanese culture inherently provides part of the magic in the 1988 film. Unlike in American cinema where imaginary friends beget ridicule, adults accept and embrace the kids’ guardian Totoro and the fantasy that envelops him. When Disney acquired the U.S. distribution rights for many of Miyazaki’s films, there was hesitation among fans. On one hand, we now have new DVD releases with clean picture and mini-documentaries as special features, but the English audio option stars Dakota Fanning. Luckily, Fanning, and younger sister Elle, do a great job of embodying the noble innocence of the characters. Totoro wants us to look at the world through a child’s imagination, and Miyazaki rewards and thanks us for doing so.