Monday, March 20, 2006

My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

It's all in the detail. This beguiling fantasy from Hayao Miyazaki, so sweet and winsome, is impressive above all in its attention to detail. In fact, until a late-breaking narrative complication, the film is all details. It's driven by observation rather than plot, and the observations are precious. The way the sisters move, the way they talk, the benevolent reactions of their father, all the little curlicues and flourishes stuffed into the film's nooks and crannies -- all this adds up to a film that, while not conventionally satisfying, charms like no other. It is a wondrous and charming thing, too; while the environmental messages in other Miyazaki works can be a touch overbearing (hi, Nausicaa!), here it's as harmoniously married to the scenario as the girls are to their benign surroundings. Miyazaki's prodigious, jubilant imagination gets a thorough workout here (cat-bus!), but what's really impressive about this is how emotional heft sneaks in through the back door, so that by the time the aforementioned narrative complication occurs, it has an impact that would be lacking in a stereotypically maudlin treatment of the sick-parent material. (A week on and I still get teary in thinking of the line, "This corn is for my mommy!") It's possibly the perfect children's entertainment, one that shows us a world free of evil and overflowing with possibilities. My Neighbor Totoro made me feel happy to be alive.

Grade: A


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