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My Neighbor Totoro (a J!-ENT Anime Blu-ray Review)

May 18, 2013 by  



“My Neighbor Totoro” is a Studio Ghibli classic and a heartwarming animated film that will entertain families and even adults for more generations to come.  A beloved Japanese animated film and Studio Ghibili classic, “My Neighbor Totoro” is one of those must-own Blu-ray releases for Miyazaki and anime fans!  Highly recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2013 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: My Neighbor Totoro (となりのトトロ/Tonario no Totoro)

FILM RELEASE: 1988

DURATION: 88 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:85:1 Aspect Ratio), Audio: English, French and Japanese 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, Subtitles: English, English SDH and French

RATED:G (General Audience)

COMPANY: Disney

RELEASE DATE: May 21, 2013

Created, Written and Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

Storyboards by Hayao Miyazaki

Music by Joe Hisaishi

Art Director: Kazuo Iga

Animation Director: Yoshiharu  Sato

Director of Photography: Hisao Shirai

Executive Producer: Yasuyoshi Tokuma

Producer: Toru Hara

Anime Production by Studio Ghibli

Featuring the voices of:

Chika Sakamoto/Dakota Fanning as Mei Kusakabe

Hitoshi Takagi/Frank Welker as Dai-Totoro

Noriko Hidaka/Elle Fanning as Satsuki Kusakabe

Shigesato Itoi/Timothy Daly as Tatsuo Kusakabe (Mei & Satsuki’s father)

Tanie Kitabayashi/Pat Carroll as Granny

Toshiyuki Amagasa as Kanta

Lauded as “one of the most beloved of all family films” by critic Roger Ebert, “My Neighbor Totoro” is the heartwarming story of sisters Satsuki (voiced by Dakota Fanning) and Mei (voiced by Elle Fanning).  Much to their delight, when Satsuki and her four-year-old sister Mei move into a new home in the countryside, they discover that their new neighbor is a mysterious forest spirit called Totoro—who can be seen only through the eyes of children. Totoro introduces them to extraordinary characters—including a catbus—and takes them on an incredible journey. 

Hayao Miyazaki, the most prominent Japanese filmmaker who has created animated films that not only broke Japanese box office records but has created animated films that reflect upon nature, technology, family and more.  Compared to the accomplishments of Walt Disney, Miyazaki is a filmmaker who has amassed a respect from his fans worldwide and his animations studio, Studio Ghibli, continues to be one of the most appreciated and respected animation and production studios in the world.

In 1988, wrote and directed the animated classic “My Neighbor Totoro” (Tonari no Totoro) which won the Animage Grand Prix Award in 1988 and was brought over to the United States from Fox Video/Streamline on VHS in the ’90s and on DVD in 2002.  When their rights expired, Disney picked up the rights to the many of the Studio Ghibli films and redubbed the film featuring major Hollywood talent and re-released the film on DVD in 2006 but this time with both an English and Japanese audio track.  In 2010, “My Neighbor Totoro” was released on DVD as part of Disney’s releases of Studhio Ghibli classics which include  “Kiki’s Delivery Service” and “Castle in the Sky”.

In May 2013, Disney will be releasing “My Neighbor Totoro” for the first time on Blu-ray along with another Studio Ghibli classic, “Howl’s Moving Castle”.

What is “My Neighbor Totoro”?

“My Neighbor Totoro” is a film that takes place in 1958 and is about the Kusakabe family which include university professor Tatsuo Kusakabe  (voiced by Shigesato Itoi/Timothy Daly) and his daughters, 10-year-old Satsuki (voiced by Noriko Hidaka/Dakota Fanning) and 4-year-old daughter Mei (voiced by Chika Sakamoto/Elle Fanning).  The family has moved to a rural area in Japan to be closer to a hospital where their mother Yasuko (voiced by Sumi Shimamoto/Lea Salonga) is trying to recover from her illness.

When the daughters check out the house, they discover the home is filled with susuwatari (dust bunnies/creatures) and try to move to dark places of the house.   They are greeted by Granny (voiced by Tanie Kitabayashi/Pat Carroll), the landlord of the house and grandmother of a young boy named Kanta (voiced by Toshiyuki Amagasa/Paul Butcher), a boy who is a neighbor and soon-to-be classmate of Satsuki.

The family carries on life in the country but for young Mei, one day while playing outside, she sees two rabbit like creatures in the grass.  When she goes to follow them, she ends up finding this very large creature which she names “Totoro” (voiced by Hitoshi Takagi/Frank Welker) and falls asleep on him.  When Satsuki finds her, she is alone but Mei tells her about this big creature she saw.  Of course, Satsuki doesn’t quite believe her at first but their father tells them that Totoro is a keeper of the forest.

One rainy night as the daughters wait for their father to return by bus and doesn’t arrive, while Mei is fast asleep on Satsuki’s back, Totoro shows up and Satsuki sees the creature for the first time as he is protecting himself with a leaf from the rain.  She offers him her father’s umbrella and happy about the umbrella, he gives her some nuts and seeds.  Meanwhile, we see what Totoro is waiting for as a big bus-shaped giant cat (voiced by Naoki Tatsuta/Frank Welker) comes to pick up Totoro.

While Satsuki and Mei are overjoyed by seeing Totoro and other creatures, they are struck by bad news when they find out their mother will not be coming home from the hospital and both girls now worry that she may die and take the possibility of that happening very hard.

But on one day, young Mei is missing and it prompts Satsuki and the entire village to search for Mei.  What has happened to her?

VIDEO:

“My Neighbor Totoro” is just an amazing animated film which I first watched back in 1993 (in Japanese, no subtitles) and at the time, although I didn’t know what was going on, I was simply in awe with the animation.  Of how beautiful the artistic backgrounds were.  The village and its lush green, to the painted detail on the trunk of the trees to even the ground during rainy weather, I was impressed. Now, the film is 22-years-old and watching it again, the film still holds up remarkably well today.

For the first time in the U.S., “My Neighbor Totoro” is presented in 1080P High Definition.  While one should remember that this film is old school anime from 1988, the film is not going to have the amazing detail and vibrancy of Studio Ghibli films made digitally today, but with that being said, the film is lush and beautiful too look at for a film that is 25-years-old.  This is amazing cell art production of Japanese animation of the late ’80s and looks amazing on Blu-ray.  Background details are much more clearer, no blurriness and the picture quality looks clean, no dust or white specks.

When it comes to picture quality, in America, this HD version of the film is the definitive version to own.

AUDIO:

As for the audio, “My Neighbor Totoro” is presented in English, French and Japanese 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio.  The film is presented in English Dolby Digital Sound and also includes the Japanese and French language tracks.  It’s important to note that fans of the film have heard two different English dubs of “My Neighbor Totoro” in the past (with the old FOX Streamline English dub) and the version included on the Blu-ray release is the Disney verison.

Audio is crystal clear but as I hoped a lossless upgrade to 5.1, for a film of this age, it’s understandable to get the English and French lossless soundtrack in 2.0.  But the biggest news is the inclusion of the Japanese 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio lossless track.

Subtitles are in English, English SDH and French.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“My Neighbor Totoro” comes with the following special features on a second DVD disc.  Included are:

  • Original Japanese Storyboards – (1:26:16) – Watch the entire film but this time with the video showcasing the original storyboards.
  • Original Japanese Trailer – (1:50) The original Japanese theatrical trailer.
  • Behind the Microphone – (5:41) Featuring the English dub voice talents talking about their role, their appreciation for Miyazaki and his films.  Also, behind-the-scenes of the talent recording their voices.
  • Creating My Neighbor Totoro – (2:59) Hayao Miyazaki talks about how he came up with the concept of “My Neighbor Totoro”.
  • Creating the Characters – (4:22) Producer Toshio Suzuki talks about the characters of “My Neighbor Totoro” and how “E.T. was an influence.
  • The Totoro Experience – (2:00) Producer Toshio Suzuki talks about how the film didn’t do well in the box office but when it aired on television, it did remarkably well.
  • Producer’s Perspective: Creating Ghibli – (1:22) Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki talks about how the named “Ghibli” came about.
  • The Locations of Totoro – (28:34) An excerpt from a Japanese documentary on “My Neighbor Totoro” and visiting the areas that inspired Miyazaki to create the village of Totoro.
  • Scoring Miyazaki – (7:17) A featurette about Joe Hisaishi’s scoring Miyazaki films and more.

EXTRAS:

“My Neighbor Totoro” comes with a slipcover.

I absolutely love “My Neighbor Totoro”.  From when I first saw it in Japanese (which I didn’t understand at the time) at a Japanese animation club screening back in 1993 and now watching it over 15-years-later and watching it alongside with my son.  There is this captivating quality with Miyazaki’s characters, his enjoyable to sometimes serious screenplays and Studio Ghibli always delivering when it comes to quality.

And when you consider how a lot of animated films today are 100% CG animated, when you see a Miyazaki film, you know that he doesn’t follow the mainstream.  He makes the kind of films that he wants and for the most part, every film that I have seen from Studio Ghibli, I’ve been more than satisfied.

I remember watching “My Neighbor Totoro” and enjoying the lively moments from the beginning but having seen his animated films “Nausicaa”, “Laputa: Castle in the Sky” and even “Kiki’s Delivery Service”, as his films are happy and humorous, by the final half of the film, the story definitely shifts to a serious tone and in this film, it does get a bit serious when both Satsuki and Mei facing the probability of their mother dying in the hospital.  These are genuine emotions that these two young girls feel but at the same time, what transpires afterward was captivating and how the film ends, Miyazaki definitely knows how to wrap up a film and make you feel content and satisfied with overall story.

“My Neighbor Totoro” is a wonderful family film and by no means is it scary.  For the parents, this film is among the more lighter-toned Miyazaki films out there.  Miyazaki has mentioned in interviews that he created “My Neighbor Totoro” for the children while his latest film “Ponyo” was more of him wanting to create a film for even younger children.  But for the most part, if you want to introduce a Miyazaki film to your children, “My Neighbor Totoro” is a great place to start.

But the big question for many people is if “My Neighbor Totoro” is worth the investment to upgrade to Blu-ray.  My opinion is yes!

While the 2010 DVD release was fantastic, the detail and picture quality on Blu-ray is much better!  If you own the older 2006 Disney DVD, there are a large number of special features on this 2013 Blu-ray release that are not included in the 2006 DVD but personally it comes down to picture quality and better audio.  But for those who have never owned the 2010 DVD and now the 2013 Blu-ray release, upgrading to Blu-ray is a no-brainer.  The film just looks and sounds better!

I know there are some fans who prefer the original dub from the old Fox/Streamline years but that release was pretty much a barebones DVD.  Yes, I still have my old copy of “My Neighbor Totoro” and I did enjoy the original dub a lot but personally, with this newer release, you get the Japanese audio track and plenty of special features that were not included in the 2006 DVD release.  Also, for voice acting, I felt that Dakota and Elle Fanning did a wonderful job and Tim Daly and Lea Salonga also did a solid job with their voice acting.  But of course the voice acting of the original Japanese featuring Chika Sakamoto, Hitoshi Takagi, Noriko Hidaka, Naoki Tatsuta, Toshiyuki Amagasa is fantastic!

In Japan, the Totoro character has become so iconic that Studio Ghibli stores, may it be near the Tokyo Sky Tree or Yokohama to Kinokuniya stores in America, the Totoro character or even the Cat Bus are still characters that are featured in stores and many, including John Lasseter of Pixar has them in his office and even included it in his film “Toy Story 3”.

“My Neighbor Totoro” is a Studio Ghibli classic and a heartwarming animated film that will entertain families and even adults for more generations to come.  I watched this film when I was younger and now I’m sharing it with my son, who may share it with his family in the future.

A beloved Japanese animated film and Studio Ghibili classic, “My Neighbor Totoro” is one of those must-own Blu-ray releases for Miyazaki and anime fans!  Highly recommended!






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