My Neighbour Totoro (UK - BD RB)
Marcus sits down with his family for one of Miyazaki's best movies on Blu-ray...
The Kusakabe family move to an old rural house in Japan to be closer to the hospital where their mother is recovering from a long term illness. Satsuki (Dakota Fanning), age ten and Mei (Elle Fanning) age four, fall in love with their new surroundings immediately but when Mei chases some strange creatures into the woods and discovers a giant spirit of the forest, that goes by the name of Totoro, the girl's lives change forever.
My Neighbor Totoro is a family favorite in the house of Doidge. My kids love pretty much all of the Ghibli movies but early on Totoro became the No.1 choice in all things Japanese animation and really made them want more for anime. I suppose this is helped along by the fact that my two eldest daughters are about the same age gap as Satsuki and Mei and share a lot of their traits but it’s Miyazaki’s ability to capture the childhood wonder of the events that make this a true animated masterpiece.
The kids in this movie are kids. Yes, I know all kids in movies are kids but here it’s very much a true reflection of the childlike approach to all things. The two girls are having fun, their wide eyed approach to their new home and how the two sisters interact with one another is absolutely spot on and the casting of the Fanning sisters was a master stroke when it came to the English re-dub because you can feel their connection perfectly.
Of course the heart of the film is the Kusakabe family but their new neighbour is the star. Totoro is easy to love with his smily face and sheer furry size. My kids love collecting the merchandise associated to the big fella. Hats, purses, toys, teddies, books, Totoro has that classic design that translates to pretty much anything and while his character is only mildly examined within the film, he's instantly lovable with those big eyes, whiskers and size. Same can be said for the other wonders the film has to offer. The Cat Bus is another favourite and I always forget how cool it is until it bounds through the rain in the film. He deserves his own movie. The Cat Bus Returns maybe?
Miyazaki is having fun with this movie. It's light and joyful but has an emotional backbone with the family's sick mother that's hard not to feel for. There's a celebration of Japan and the simple but amazing magic that comes from the forest spirits, who are looking out for the kids in the film. This is Ghibli playing to the younger crowd, yet it's packed with enough charm to keep the adults on board, without gags and wink wink nudge nudge pops at the silliness of childhood. This is a movie about kids, for kids, told without a cynical tone and that's quite a rare thing. My Neighbor Totoro is an animated classic and its arrival on Blu-ray is most welcome but does the disc deliver on the goods?
The 1080p presentation has its share of sharper edges but sadly there's very little in the way of wow factor in this HD upgrade. It looks a little soft and in some cases hazy too but the character designs do seem a little fresher than the standard definition presentation, if only for the brighter look to the young girls' summer dresses.
The countryside setting has its far share of great looking moments with the various layers of green trees and grass but there's a real sense this image could do with more pop, given the HD release. One other minor qualm is the slight flicker to some moments but this is more to do with the animation process than the disc's failings and given how clean and fresh the rest of this HD overhaul is, it's easy to ignore the limitations of a near 25 year old animated joyfest.
Despite the stereo presentation, this is a full sounding layered track. The musical assault from the opening credits kicks off the strong audio. It sounds a little tinny in the higher pitches but given the all out joy of the song with the clashing symbols exploding at the end of the kiddy lyrics, this is all part of the experience.
As we move on, the joyful, child like wonder music bounces through speakers in much better ways than the DVD did and dialogue is very strong and central while the countryside ambience dots around the room to build the world of Totoro. Small elements like creaking floorboards, sliding doors and bare feet on floorboards all sound realistic and well placed within the track and add a realism to the film. There's also a nice and bassy sounding Totoro as he snoozes and roars his way through his first lazy meeting with Mei and beyond.
As always, storyboards are available throughout the film, sitting in the bottom right corner. Anyone with the art of book for the film knows how good many of these storyboards are and it's great seeing each part of the movie in sketch form.
'Creating My Neighbor Totoro' (02:58 HD) is Miyazaki's celebration of the Japanese countryside. 'Creating the Characters' 04:23 HD) looks at Totoro's design and 'The Totoro Experience' (01:59 HD) goes into the audience's love of the film.
'Producer's Perspective: Creating Ghibli' (01:23 HD) has Toshio Suzuki explaining how they named the studio and 'The Locations of Totoro' (28:48 SD) takes us on a trip around Japan and what inspired the film.
'Scoring Miyazaki' (07:18 HD) looks at the music in the film while 'Behind the Microphone' (05:40 SD) looks at the English speaking cast.
There's also 'Textless Opening and Closing' scenes as well as the original Japanese trailers, Studio Ghibli Collection trailers and a DVD copy.
My love for Totoro runs deep and it's one of the key titles I've wanted from the Ghibli Blu-ray releases since they started (now I need Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke please). The disc itself doesn't feel as much like a full restoration as it does a spring clean, with brighter colours, a slightly sharper image and a cleaner look than the DVD. Don't be expecting a presentation akin to titles like Ponyo but this is a step up from DVD, even if it's not a leap. Audio however is much better and while the new extras are not all that long they are still enjoyable.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable for all
Release Date: 12th November 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: LPCM 2.0 English, LPCM 2.0 Japansese
Extras: Storyboards, Creating My Neighbor Totoro (new), Creating the Characters (new), The Totoro Experience (new), Producer’s Perspective: Creating Ghibli (new), The Locations of Totoro (new), Scoring Miyazaki (new), Behind the Microphone, Textless Opening, Textless Closing, Original Japanese Theatrical Trailers, Studio Ghibli Collection Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Cast: Hitoshi Takagi, Noriko Hidaka, Toshiyuki Amagasa, Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning, Tim Daly
Genre: Animation, Drama and Family
Length: 86 minutes
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