‘My Neighbor Totoro’ – Hayao Miyazaki’s children’s masterpiece on Max

Hayao Miyazaki is one of Japan’s living treasures, a beloved filmmaker whose animated films number among the most beautiful and most enchanting productions ever drawn by hand. In this day of CGI productions, the aging artist still personally draws his key frames and defining characters, with a love and craft that comes through every frame.

My Neighbor Totoro (Japan, 1988) is perhaps my favorite of Miyazaki’s films, a magical family film with a darling story of two young sisters befriended by forest spirits (among them a friendly, perhaps imaginary, giant blue hedgehog who introduces them to the wonders of nature) one magical summer. While the fantasy and whimsy captures the playful imagination of children, a powerful undercurrent of emotional crisis grounds their experience: their infirm mother is recuperating from some unexplained illness in a local hospital and the anxiety takes its toll on the youngest.

The compassion of Miyazaki’s world is in the way the spirits (including a bus that is part Cheshire Cat) rally to look after the little girl lost. Rarely has there been such a tender and respectful exploration of the emotions and fears of children, and never in such a delightful flight of fantastical adventure and wonder. It’s a masterpiece of modern animated fantasy made for children and adults alike.

It won the Kinema Jumpo Award for best feature in Japan, one of the country’s most prestigious awards, and placed in the number 74 spot in the 2022 Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time poll.

Rated G, with original Japanese and English dubbed soundtracks and optional English subtitles.

Dakota Fanning and Elle Fanning voice the two sisters in the American language version created by Disney in 2005, and Tim Daly is the voice of their father.


Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video (English language and Japanese language editions), iTunes, GooglePlay, Fandango, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
My Neighbor Totoro [Blu-ray+DVD]
My Neighbor Totoro: 30th Anniversary Edition [Blu-ray]
My Neighbor Totoro {DVD]

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The film has been released on Blu-ray and DVD from multiple companies. Most feature the original Japanese soundtracks and English dub soundtracks produced by Pixar director (and die-hard Miyazaki fan) John Lasseter with excellent American voice casts, and feature a bonus disc of supplements. Along with introductions by Lasseter and a couple of English language featurettes, the American DVD releases include the “Storyboard Presentation of the Movie” (which replays the entire film soundtrack to a slideshow of storyboards and sketches) plus featurettes and interviews with Miyazaki produced for the Japanese market.



Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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