My Neighbour Totoro

Starring (voice): Noriko Hidaka, Chika Sakamoto and Shigesato Itoi
Optimum Releasing
RRP: 19.99
Certificate: PG
Available 27 March 2006

In 1950's Japan Mr Kusakabe, a professor of anthropology, takes his two young girls Satsuki and Mei to live in the countryside whilst their mother is in the hospital. There they meet Granny, a kindly old woman who knows a lot of woodland lore, and her nephew Kanta. The house they move into is no ordinary dwelling as the girls find susu-atari, little puff ball soot creatures who are dwelling in the dark places in the house. Granny tells the girls that the little spirits are harmless, but the girls are in for a greater surprise, as in the camphor tree which stands in their garden Mei discovers a Totoro, which she takes for a troll but which is really a woodland spirit. Before the girls know what has happened they are off on adventures with their new friend Totoro...

This is another sweet little tale from the production house Studio Ghibli and director Miyazaki. This tale has the simplicity and delicacy of a flower and is a consummate joy to watch. Although the narrative is deceptively simple, it is free from violence and evil - the worst things in the film are the little puff ball sprites and the Totoro, who looks bizarrely like my cat, cuddly, friendly with not a hint of fear.

In a way, it makes it all the more emotionally poignant when Mei goes missing following the news that her mother isn't coming home as she has deteriorated, in the hospital. Even though it turns out that she has only a cold, Mei's distress, disappearance and Satsuki's search for her nearly brought a tear to my eye and defiantly softened my hardened heart.

The list of characters is small just the girls, their mother and father, granny and her grandson and that's all you really need. Whilst there is much for adults to enjoy, this like most other Ghibli films really should be a family experience.

Once more Disney has assembled an impressive group of actors to provide the English audio dub. Dakota Fanning provides the voice of Satsuki. Of course Dakota is that talented little girl from the recent War of the Worlds and Spielberg's Taken. Her younger sister, Elle Fanning who at the age of only eight has already been in I am Sam, Taken and Daddy Day Care, plays Mei. I think these girls are planning to take over the world before they are twelve. Given their young age they do a magnificent job of imbuing their characters with real and engaging personalities.

The rest of the cast is made up of Timothy Daly, who plays the professor. Daly had the lead role in Diner, but is most probably better known as the voice of Superman in the animated series. His on-screen wife, Mrs. Kusakabe, is played by the very beautiful Pilipino actress Lea Salonga who, although mainly a theatrical actress and singer, also had previously provided the voice of Princess Jasmine in Disney's Aladdin and Fa Mulan in Mulan. Another from the Disney stable is Pat Carroll who provides the voice of granny; she had previously provided the voice of the sea witch in The Little Mermaid.

Oddly enough, the actor who has had the most experience gets the smallest role. If you've ever watched any animated show then at some point you would have heard the vocal talents of Frank Welker who plays the most excellent Tortoro. Although, on one level the role of Totoro could be considered to be a small role, after all he does not exactly speak, the skill that Welker brings to his vocalisations imbues the wood spirit with real life, bringing out his playful non-threatening persona.

Extras are similar to the Porco Rosso disc, I feel a pattern here. You get the usual trailers for the film and the Ghibli trailers as well as a stand alone trailer for Howl's Moving Castle. There are textless opening and closing titles, which for once is good as the tracks are very much the kind of sing-a-long stuff they used to do on Play School and great for small kids to join in with. As in Porco Rosso you can watch the whole film either from the finished produce of as the complete set of storyboards, of course if you really bored or just want to annoy the kids you can use your angle button on the DVD to flick between the two throughout the movie.

The print is perfect with a very decent stereo English or Japanese audio track with captions for the hard of hearing.

Charles Packer

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