My Neighbor Totoro (1988) meaning and film summary

My neighbor Totoro, a simple yet intriguing story of hope, magic, and love. A story that sparkles the life of everyone who tries to find a middle ground between their expectations and reality.

The classic my neighbor Totoro directed by Hayao Miyazaki and presented by Studio Ghibli tells us a tale of two lively and vibrant sisters, Satsuki and Mei who move to the countryside with their dad Kusakabe to be near the hospital where their mother is under treatment for a mysterious illness.

The movie starts by setting a magical tone for the journey that the sisters were about to embark upon. The sisters were so excited to move into the new house which looked old, rambled, and haunted.

Click on the image below to purchase the My Neighbor Totoro novel!

Satsuki and Mei catch a glimpse of black things coming by when they unknowingly disturb the Susuwatari; the soot spirits which reside in abandoned houses. The Susuwatari would pack up and leave whenever they heard the sound of laughter, and there were acorns that came out of nowhere. After few days of settling in, Satsuki heads to her school and Kusakabe gets indulged in his university works which leaves Mei alone. Consequently, she decides to explore the garden all by herself.

Mei meets her neighbor Totoro

Her eyes fall upon the two tiny Tororos who were holding a bag full of acorns and upon seeing Mei, they try to escape as soon as possible. Amazed by those tiny Totoros she starts following them and ends up tumbling down the wooden tunnel where she meets their neighbor Totoro. The big Totoro was the spirit of the forest who was napping in the sunshine. Mei gets excited and curls upon his large tummy and later falls asleep but when Satsuki and her father notice she is missing and come looking for her, the giant Totoro vanishes, leaving her still sound asleep in the clearing. She then tells her family about him which as a result arises curiosity in Satsuki to meet him, as well.

Mei in My Neighbor Toroto following the tiny toroto
Mei in My Neighbour Totoro following the tiny Totoro

In no time, Satsuki has her encounter with the giant neighbor Totoro on a stormy night at the bus stop where both the sisters wait for their father to return from the university. Totoro comes and stands next to the sisters. Satsuki gives her the extra umbrella.

Filled with joy Totoro uses the impact of his massive weight to rattle the raindrops from the trees for his amusement; after which he offers Satsuki a reciprocal gift of acorns wrapped in bamboo leaves.

Satsuki and Mei on the magical journey

The following day, Satsuki and Mei plant the seeds within the garden, and Mei waits day and night to see them sprout; when one night the giant Totoro following the tiny ones start jumping around the plantations. The girls hear the noises and go outside. Under a full moon, and the magical influence of Totoro; a Jack-and-the-Beanstalk-like forest springs from the soil and ascends upwards toward the heavens. Totoro takes them on a soaring spree; up to the treetops, beyond the clouds. The girls scream in excitement and enjoy the moment to the fullest. The next morning Totoro and the forest Gods are not to be seen, but the seedlings have sprouted.

The seed sprout scene in My Neighbor Toroto
The seed sprout scene in My Neighbour Totoro

Later, Satsuki and Mei are out helping their old nanny in her vegetable farm. Kanta comes in running with the telegram from the hospital and the sisters learn that their mother is unwell and won’t be coming home for another weekend. Satsuki runs to the nearest phone booth to inform her father and asks Mei to stay with her nanny, but Mei refuses, which irritates Satsuki and she rages upon Mei.

Mei naively but resolutely traverses on her own towards the hospital, with fresh corn from the garden to assist in restoring her mother’s health. Mei gets lost along the way, and everybody starts searching for her. Satsuki rushes to Totoro and asks for his help to find her little sister.

Totoro without a wasting second, calls upon his “cat-bus” which first locates Mei; and then takes the sisters to the hospital where their mother was hospitalized. They leave the corn on the window for their mother.

What is Totoro?

To answer what/who Totoro is let’s delve into some facts. Firstly Totoro is a troll from the picture book of Mei who comes to life. A pear-shaped, pointy-eared creature endowed with magical powers. He represents the spirit we can summon to lift ourselves out of dark times. We already know that both the sisters were having a hard time coping up with their mother’s unavailability and her illness.

Therefore, their neighbor Totoro appears whenever the girls face difficulty, giving them hope that everything will eventually be alright. When the girls wait for their father in silence, we deeply feel what went on unspoken. The tense silence, the dark nights, the longing; Totoro appears as the knight in shining armor and lightens the mood of the girls as well as the viewers.

The comforting nature of Totoro means that the girls will always be safe and have a positive outlook on life. Satsuki cries when she isn’t able to find her sister but Totoro and the Cat-bus help Satsuki find Mei.

My neighbor Totoro
My neighbor Totoro

Totoro is a mystical beast who to both the sisters, becomes a form of escapism to relax and get away from the harsh realities of their mother’s illness and their family situations.

Click on the image below to purchase My Neighbor Totoro fluffy beanbags!

Leave a Reply