Go on a Journey with 'My Neighbor Totoro'/Written & Directed by Hayao Miyazaki/Grade: A+
The Studio Ghibli co-founder's semi-autobiographical fantasy tale has come to mean a great deal to me in dealing with my own grief.
I love fantasy films, and this one has to be the cutest dang movie I've ever seen, in addition to being an all-time favorite in general. One of Hayao Miyazaki's most celebrated pictures, it follows two sisters named Satsuki (American dub voice by Dakota Fanning) and Mei (American dub voice by Elle Fanning) who've moved to the countryside with their father (American dub voice by Tim Daly), in order to be closer to their sick mother who's been hospitalized. While there, they discover a hidden world of fantastical creatures called Totoros, making for grand adventures that eventually help Mei and Satsuki deal with their fear of the unknown regarding whether their mom will be okay.
This connects with me for a few key reasons. One, the fantastic element of this story is so relaxing; Satsuki and Mei are pleased to just, say, take a nap on Totoro's stomach, or the latter will wait with the two sisters by the bus stop as they wait to go visit their mom. This isn't a fantasy full of epic battles or world-threatening conflicts, i.e. Lord of the Rings.
Second, having dealt with losing a pair of loved ones to cancer last year, it isn't lost on me how therapeutic it can be to escape into another world to help yourself navigate that hardship. My Neighbor Totoro has a dual value for me in that it is a ceaselessly adorable movie that I can just watch to unwind, as well as a cathartic experience for how it's helped me cope with loss in my life. It makes me cry, it makes me laugh, and it leaves me awestruck, sometimes all at once.
On top of all that, the movie is just stunningly animated. From its watercolor backgrounds, to the sharply defined details of nature, to the relatable and expressive character animation, this is a visual marvel, and I have endless respect for the folks who put their blood, sweat and tears into every little cel and frame of this masterpiece. It deserves its reputation as one of the best anime films, and family films, ever made, and if a friend of mine wanted to start getting into Studio Ghibli, this would immediately be my first recommendation. Thank you, Mr. Miyazaki.