I never sat down and powered through Totoro until when I did a few days ago. It’s a massive piece of Ghibli that I’m missing out, but it isn’t the first time I’ve seen it. Growing up East Asian necessarily means I’ve seen it going to houses of other East Asians with little kids, but never was it a sit-down experience. Given the short length of the movie, all the key takeaway scenes have been countless times repeated by other media, in AMVs and whatever, ever since its first days under the sun. The look and feel of Totoro, by the means of osmosis, is no stranger to most people anyway.
But as Totoro fits the fantasy of that big, huggable bear-thingy without any sign of malice is kind of the thing I wanted to ascertain when I finally saw the film. As in, Totoro’s basic story can be summed up in one sentence. It is closer to a static illustration than a chain of events. And a short one at that. So in a sense if you’ve never seen Totoro, you really aren’t missing anything that much. Instead, treat it as a fully visceral experience, where what is truly attractive is conveyed by the animation, not by words.
But if you’re into the whole inaka stuff, it’s definitely one of the best. At least Totoro shouldn’t bore you, given how short it was.And to me that is already a great feat. In comparison to Mai Mai Miracle, the lack of a notable plot in Totoro seems to work better than the presence of a muddled one. Well, both of those films get at you from the same angle anyways, the difference is remarkable only in this sense.
Well, maybe in one other sense: In Totoro, the sense of danger is actually more pronounced. Death and bodily harm was lurking at every corner, so to speak. It is kind of like the sort of suspense witness in Spirited Away, except it isn’t at all a dangerous thing. Perhaps it was best illustrated when Satsuki and Mai was shaking their balcony’s pillar. In Mai Mai, the danger was more with the human elements, and not with nature; it painted a less eco-aware but a more socially-aware aspect. You trusted people, as kids. In Totoro it feels more like the accumulation of children’s indifference to nature’s hazards.
In the end, it was a movie that you just had to see to believe. Totoro may not stand tall by itself, but it is sure big and round and it is the comfort of children everywhere in the Television age. Writing about it somehow feels like I am cheapening the experience.