The one where the girl has a stressful time watching My Neighbour Totoro

Can I share a secret? I haven’t seen My Neighbour Totoro. Well, that’s not technically true – now I have seen Totoro, just approximately ten years later than everyone thought I had done. Opinions? It’s great! It’s fun! Cutesy, funny, I want a dust bunny (as the sub apparently incorrectly translates). 1 hour 25 minutes of pure unadulterated mindless bliss-

Is what I was promised, and if you’re familiar at all with the plot of Totoro, this is a perfectly reasonable stab at the take-home message. If, however, you’re an idiot like me – one who apparently managed to have this cultural moment completely pass her by while still managing to have a Ghibli poster on her wall – you start to go through several stages of grief.

  1. That mother

My first mistake: my viewing of Totoro coincided with my restart of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. You know what happens to the mother in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood? Well, first she gets sick, and then there’s a grave, and then there’s a shoddy attempt at necromancy by two cute young siblings, and then – look, you get the picture.

Being immersed in half a season of angst-porn, it turns out, gives you a fight-or-flight response whenever an anime mother starts coughing. 

As such, my Netflix Party chat looked roughly akin to:

KT: no.

KT: nonononono.

KT: THE MOTHER’S GOING TO DIE I’M LEAVING

(Spoiler: the mother does not, in fact, die.)

  1. That face

It’s easy to see why Totoro became the cute mascot of Ghibli – at least when you see the logo itself. Just look at him! Happy. Peaceful. Slightly bemused expression. Then that famous bus stop scene – fish out of water scenario, oversized leaf umbrella. Pure pastoral bliss.

This is not the expression Totoro has for most of the film!

Look, I always (somehow) knew Totoro was somewhere on the chaotic spectrum, but with that face, the needle could honestly have fallen anywhere between good and evil. Dust bunnies? Absolutely. Totoro? Malevolent or sympathetic? Who knows!

Speaking of chaotic forest entities…

  1. That cat

I feel like some kind of warning was needed before the cat (with the same malevolent face) elongated its body, stretched aside its ribs, and allowed visitors into the plush confines of its upholstered intestines. Possibly in writing, definitely in advance.

Have you seen that comic of Garfield becoming one with the room? This was the sole image in my mind.

  1. That shoe scene

KT: WHAT IS HAPPENING

My friend duly reminds me that this is a film for children and, as such, isn’t prone to having a child drown in a lake after she’s told her mother is going to die. This does not comfort me, because I know the premise of Grave of the Fireflies.

It also doesn’t help when you have the object permanence of, say, a goldfish, or maybe a three-month old baby, because I saw a pink shoe and was convinced that child was gone. Convinced.

Anyway, everything ends happily, which means I get approximately three minutes of anxiety-free viewing, and that’s only after a character utters the words ‘She doesn’t look like she’s going to die’. Honestly, I’m only fully convinced when I see the mother alive in the credits.Somehow I was more stressed watching this than I was with the inevitable spectre of war in, say, Howl, or The Wind Rises. Who knew that unobtrusive peace could be more threatening than actual bombs! Ghibli, you outdid yourself with this one. I salute you.



Katie Knight (@codaevermore) is a Classics grad and librarian working in the UK. She spent her first lockdown discovering the Death Note Musical. She’s spending her second lockdown trying to catch up on 5 years of One Piece (before its 1000th chapter).

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