My Neighbor, Totoro

Average: 5 (1 vote)



Rebecca Banko
Grades 6-8
Language Arts and Social Studies
Queen of Angels Catholic School
Hayao Miyazaki’s childhood tale, My Neighbor Totoro, is about a family moving to new village outside of Tokyo. His storytelling skills are revealed as he combines fantasy and reality in a way that blends culture with universal themes.
The two young daughters of a university professor befriend Totoro, an ancient spirit animal. The spirit animal can only be seen through the eyes of a child. That is revealed as part of the story when the girls’ father and another family friend (Granny) remember fondly their encounters with Totoro when they were children.
The girls are facing adversity. Their mother is in a hospital many miles away. They must try to cope without a mother’s guidance in a new town with new people in a small village. The girls are open to the challenge hanging onto the hope of their mother’s homecoming. They connect with Granny, a wise woman of the village who oversees the girls.
Totoro is the friend they need to give them strength to endure this difficult time. Totoro appears as a playmate and a protector. He is a fantastical character that the oldest daughter turns to when shards of doubt and despair enter her mind. Totoro helps the eldest daughter, Satsuki, find her little sister, Mei when Mei runs away to the hospital on her own. The spirit animal seems to be a natural friendship that is allowed to flourish almost as a surrogate parent to the girls.
This movie is suitable for student viewing in grades two and up. I think that those students can best separate fantasy from reality. Totoro is not a pet, but an imaginary creature. I would use this movie to discuss writer’s purpose asking students: Why does Miyazaki choose to use a spirit animal, not a nanny or a friend as the new character that the girls meet? This would prompt a discussion of Japanese culture and how spirit animals are often used in Japanese literature. My middle school students enjoyed the movie and were surprised that it is a part of the Disney family of films.