Released thirty years ago My Neighbour Totoro was an instant classic and cemented Studio Ghibli's fledgling reputation. In 1988 the film premiered as the third feature to be released by Studio Ghibli the same year as Grave of the Fireflies. With My Neigbour Totoro the studio found a level of widespread appeal and notoriety beyond expectation. Prior films, Castle in the Sky, and Grave of the Fireflies, were undoubtedly rare works of art but My Neighbour Totoro changed the emerging formula to aim for a younger audience with the presentation of its themes and world exploration. As a result the studio went from being notable to iconic. The film was an overnight success and is still widely regarded as one of the best explorations of the wonderment and experience of childhood.
The legacy of this film, and especially Totoro himself, cannot be understated. Essentially the Winnie the Pooh of Japan the image of Totoro is an inescapable part of Japanese culture and has been so since the dawning of the 90's. Miyazaki himself includes Totoro as part of the official Studio Ghibli logo. While the forest guardian hasn't officially appeared in another motion picture, the sheer merchandising machine behind its image is truly staggering. Imagine Mickey Mouse without any controversy.
A very large part of his appeal is what he is representative of in Japanese culture to all age groups. To young children he's a helpful guardian and a mystery of the wider world. To adults, he's a representation of classical Japanese mythology and has become something of a rallying icon for movements that work to preserve Japan's history and classical culture as it rapidly advances and urbanizes. This is a huge deal as it gives what was ostensibly a character for children a much broader reach than you'd expect.
In Canada we may look at characters like Mickey Mouse with the joy of nostalgia but his image has never been emblematic of cultural revolution in North America. Totoro's influence and meaning are not to be taken lightly. In under 30 years this forest guardian of Miyazaki has become a cornerstone of Japan's popular culture and may well be his most influential and lasting creation.
There's still time to visit the show on Sunday from 12-4. Don't miss out!