In many ways a precursor to Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece, Spirited Away, the magical My Neighbor Totoro is a fantastical trip down the rabbit hole, a wondrous journey through the sheer glee and universal fears of childhood. With their mother, Yasuko, suffering from an extended illness in the hospital, Satsuki and her younger sister, Mei, move to a new house in a rural farming community with their father, anthropology professor Tatsuo Kusakabe. Kanta, a shy boy who lives nearby, tells them the house is haunted, and indeed the two girls come upon a flurry of black soot sprites scurrying about. Mei also soon discovers a family of totoros, supposedly fictional characters from her storybooks, living in the forest, protected by a giant camphor tree. When the girls fear their mother has taken a turn for the worse, Mei runs off on her own, and it is up to Satsuki to find her. Working with art director Kazuo Oga, Miyazaki paints the film with rich, glorious skies and lush greenery, honoring the beauty and power of nature both visually as well as in the narrative. The scene in which Satsuki and Mei huddle with Totoro at a bus stop in a rainstorm is a treasure. (And just wait till you see Catbus’s glowing eyes.) The movie also celebrates the sense of freedom and adventure that comes with being a child, without helicopter parents and myriad rules suffocating them at home and school. The multi-award-winning My Neighbor Totoro is screening in a new 35mm print December 16 to January 5 as part of the series “Castles in the Sky: Miyazaki, Takahata & the Masters of Studio Ghibli,” a dual presentation of the IFC Center and GKIDS’ New York International Children’s Film Festival. The 2006 rereleased dubbed version, featuring the voices of Dakota Fanning (Satsuki), Elle Fanning (Mei), Lea Salonga (Yasuko), Tim Daly (Tatsuo), and Frank Welker (Totoro and Catbus), will be shown at all morning and afternoon screenings; the original Japanese version with English subtitles will be shown 6:00 and later.
The series also includes such other Miyazaki works as Howl’s Moving Castle, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Ponyo, Spirited Away, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Porco Rosso, Princess Mononoke, and Laputa: Castle in the Sky in addition to such lesser-known Studio Ghibli films as Hiroyuki Morita’s The Cat Returns, Tomomi Mochizuki’s Ocean Waves, Isao Takahata’s Only Yesterday, and Yoshifumi Kondo’s Whisper of the Heart, all being shown in new 35mm prints.