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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    ‘Totoro’ DVD impresses

    “”My Neighbor Totoro”” is such an absorbing and delightful film that it is startling to realize that not very much actually happens in it.

    The film, made by the great Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki (“”Spirited Away,”” “”Howl’s Moving Castle””), revolves around two sisters, 10-year-old Satsuki (voiced by Dakota Fanning in this new DVD version) and 5-year-old Mei (voiced by Elle Fanning), who move to the countryside with their father. Their mother is recovering from an illness in a nearby hospital, a fact the movie does not dwell on but also does not forget.

    One day, Mei is walking through the woods when she spots a little creature that looks something like a cross between a rabbit and a ghost. She chases it, tumbles down a hole, and lands on a much larger version of the creature – a Totoro. They are forest spirits, quiet and friendly and invisible whenever they wish to be.

    When Mei tells her father about seeing the Totoro, we know what to expect: a long, drearily ironic scene in which he refuses to believe her. But it doesn’t happen like that: Instead, he does seem to believe her. Mei and Satsuki, in fact, have something virtually no other cartoon children have ever had: two loving, understanding parents.

    Later, as the two girls stand in the rain waiting for a bus, they realize that the Totoro is standing beside them. Satsuki politely hands him an umbrella.

    A few minutes later, the bus arrives – but it’s not the one they waited for. This bus is shaped like a giant cat, and whisks the Totoro off into the forest.

    Perhaps the most astonishing thing about this scene is its understatedness. The music doesn’t swell to alert us to the fact that something strange is happening. There’s a certain magical hush whenever the Totoro appears, a magic that we’re allowed to perceive for ourselves.

    “”Totoro”” bears almost no resemblance to the kind of animated films we’re used to seeing in America. There are no off-color wisecracks or any musical numbers. There’s nothing scary about the Totoros. In fact, this is a cartoon with no villains, no frightening moments and virtually no dramatic conflict at all.

    And yet it remains interesting, for the same reason that the real world is interesting despite its frequent absence of those things.

    Miyazaki is often called the Japanese Walt Disney. The remark is meant as a compliment, but it doesn’t really do him justice. While “”Totoro”” can certainly be appreciated by children – and the DVD packaging seems to be aimed at the kid market – its qualities are as universal as those of any great film.

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