My Neighbor Totoro is set in 1958, in rural Japan. College professor Tatsuo Kusakabe (Tim Daly, Wings) has just moved into an old countryside house with his daughters, Satsuki and Mei (Dakota and Elle Fanning), the purpose of the move being to be closer to their hospitalized mother (Lea Salonga). They are the picture of a perfect family in an innocent time: the girls are vibrant balls of energy, and their parents show a great deal more respect for their children's intelligence than most parents I know. The girls are allowed to venture off on their own, which would be absolutely appalling in this day and age. But that's the beauty of this movie: it illustrates a world that is completely free of evil, and it is all the more seductive because of that.
It becomes apparent upon arrival that the Kusakabes have moved to a very special place that seems to coexist peacefully with nature; the presence of an enormous camphor tree suggests as much. However, once the girls start exploring the house and the surrounding areas, it is made clear that there is a very real magic to the place. Tiny critters called soot gremlins scatter as the girls explore their new home, and before long, little Mei discovers a group of tiny creatures that collect acorns. She gives chase and discovers a hulk of a furry beast sleeping peacefully in the woods. What does she do? Well, let's just say that what follows is the direct opposite of what would happen if this film was written by anyone else.
My Neighbor Totoro is full of delightful surprises that please the eye and warm the heart. You just want to scoop up all the characters and give them a big hug. The artistry is superlative, Joe Hisaishi's soundtrack is divine, and the voice acting is top-notch -- particularly for a film that is largely voiced by what were at the time very young children. The plot of the film may not conform to your expectations, but if you go in expecting something different, you will be pleased.
This Blu-ray/DVD combo pack comes with a helping of solid extra features, all of which appear on the Blu-ray disc. The Original Japanese Storyboards (complete with sound from the Japanese version) are a treat. Behind the Microphone will give you an idea of exactly how impressed you should be with the voice talent. Finally, there's an extensive Behind The Studio feature, which gives insight into the masters at Studio Ghibli, including Hayao Miyazaki and Joe Hisaishi. It's good stuff.
In this age of dark, dreary, and edgy storytelling, it's wonderful to see something as innocent and as pure as My Neighbor Totoro. It's a masterwork of animation and storytelling that should not be missed by anyone who can claim that they have a soul.