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Parent’s Guide to My Neighbor Totoro from Studio Ghibli

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Navigating the world of anime movies can be difficult for parents when they aren’t familiar with the genre. This is one of many posts that you can use as a guide so you can enjoy many of the films from Studio Ghibli with your children. Today we present, My Neighbor Totoro

As always, use your own discretion when selecting movies for your family.

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My Neighbor Totoro Movie Summary

Sisters Mei and Satsuki are moving to an old house in the country with their dad, a professor, while their mother convalesces in a nearby hospital. Their “new” house has some friendly spirits, including a giant gray cat-like creature they name Totoro. The girls enjoy gentle frolicking with human neighbors and Totoro, who gives them supernatural help to visit their sick mother. 

My Neighbor Totoro Movie Information

As strange as it may sound, when I think of My Neighbor Totoro I think of that trendy word “hygge”. Although My Neighbor Totoro has nothing to do with twinkle lights, woolen socks, or other comfy winter staples (in fact it’s set in summer!), it still has a homey, cozy feeling that infuses the whole film with an air of innocence and peace.

Part of it is the old-fashioned setting: an ancient Japanese house without any modern conveniences but with plenty of character, which together with the human neighbors gives a nostalgic glimpse into a (heavily romanticized) pre-modern Japanese farming community. This part alone might be worth the viewing, as undoubtedly American children will be curious about some of the unfamiliar practices like mosquito nets, communal bathing, and pumping water. 

Another aspect that contributes to the comforting atmosphere is undoubtedly the quiet, meditative story. There is a storyline, but it’s told more like a picture book than a high octane blockbuster.  This aspect in particular appeals to very young children; mine were absolutely mesmerized by it the first time they saw it (whereas I was stifling yawns and resisting the urge to check my phone, again).

My Neighbor Totoro embodies all the peace, innocence, harmony with nature, and unhurried wonder we long for when we gaze at the perfectly styled rustic lifestyle photos on Instagram, but without any guilt or envy. 

The one moment that breaks the pastoral placidity is a tense scene when Mei has gone missing and the villagers worry she may have fallen into a pond and drowned. Although this did not strike my children’s hearts with the tremulous anxiety that makes mine skip a beat, I feel it’s worth mentioning as it is the climax of the film.

All is well in the end, though, as the family is reunited with triumphant warmth. Recommended for children ages 3 and up

My Neighbor Totoro: Where to Watch

Watch the trailer online.

Grab the Blu-Ray or DVD.

*Note, this is one of the few Studio Ghibli films that had two English releases. Look for the 2005 Disney version as it is much superior. 

My Neighbor Totoro Discussion

  • How is Mei and Satsuki’s home like yours? How is it different? What do you think their old house in Tokyo, the one they lived in before moving to this house, was like? 
  • Why do you think only the children can see the soot gremlins, totoros, and catbus? 
  • Do you think the “growing seeds” dance was real, imagined, or a dream? Why or why not? (The film intentionally leaves this ambiguous.) 
  • The giant Totoro is the most recognizable symbol for Studio Ghibli – you can see him in their logo. In a way, he’s like Mickey Mouse and Disney. Compare and contrast these two mascots. 
  • There are lots of references to Japanese life and culture in this movie, especially the Shinto and Buddhist religions: the giant tree with the white paper banner around it is a Shinto holy place; the statues with the red bibs are a popular Buddhist icon. This might be something interesting for your family to research and discuss. 

This post is one of several in our series, “A Parent’s Guide to Studio Ghibli.


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