Australian Council on Children and the Media

My Neighbor Totoro

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Not suitable under 5; parental guidance to 8 (mild scary scenes, sad themes, tension)

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for My Neighbor Totoro
  • a review of My Neighbor Totoro completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 15 June 2020.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 5 Not recommended due to scary scenes and themes.
Children aged 5–8 Parental guidance recommended due to scary scenes and themes.
Children over the age of 8 Ok for this age group.

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines.

Name of movie: My Neighbor Totoro
Classification: G
Consumer advice lines: The content is very mild in impact.
Length 86 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

Written and directed by the acclaimed Miyazaki and animated by Studio Ghibli (The closest equivalent for Western audiences is Disney Studios.), My Neighbor Totoro is one of Japan’s most loved and well-known animated children’s films. Set in 1958, The story follows two young sisters, Satuski (voice of Dakota Fanning) and Mei (voice of Ellie Fanning), as they travel with their father (voice of Tim Daly), an archaeology professor, to stay in an old house in rural Japan. Their mother (voice of Lea Salonga) is recovering from a long-term illness and is staying in a hospital nearby. They arrive at the rather dilapidated but charming old house and discover (to their delight!) that it may just be a little haunted. Although they are a little nervous to start with, when little ‘soot sprites’ scoot out of the dark corners of the house, the girls get to work dusting and filling the house with laughter and light. One sunny day as Mei is exploring the lush gardens, she sees two little forest sprites bobbing along through the grass towards a towering and ancient camphor tree. With curious excitement she chases them through the undergrowth as they dash away, leading her directly into a deep, mossy and flower-filled hollow within the tree. Within lies sleeping a big cuddly bear-like being that Mei calls Totoro. At first it is just Mei who is able to see these creatures, but one rainy evening when Mei and Satsuki are waiting for their father at the bus stop, Totoro appears beside them and Satsuki offers Totoro her umbrella. It seems the forest sprites are happy to have Satsuki and Mei living beside them, and together they have some whimsical and magical adventures. The story takes a darker turn when the girl’s mother is unable to come home for the weekend as planned. In disappointment and worry about their mother’s worsening condition, Satuski takes out her frustration by shouting at Mae, who responds by running away, trying to make her way to the hospital on foot. As darkness descends and Mei is still nowhere to be found, Satuski in great despair calls on Totoro to help her find her little sister. Totoro calls out to the ‘Catbus’, a magical flying cat with the body of a bus and asks it to help Satuski find Mei.

Themesinfo

Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Sisterhood; Spirits of Nature; Ghosts and Japanese Animism; Spirituality; Illness; Fantasy; Fear of loss of a parent or a sibling; Running away; Getting lost.

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

  • There is no violence in this film.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

There are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of five, including the following:

  • The rural house is dilapidated and feels a little spooky when the girls first arrive. There are some scenes where the girls explore the dark house (i.e. a dark and narrow staircase leading to the attic) with some mild tension and eerie music.
  • Little clouds of spider-like ‘soot gremlins’ (‘soot sprites’) scuttle out of dark spaces in the house, which is a little startling. The girls are nervous, but soon overcome their fear and try to get the sprites to leave the house by filling it with loud laughter.
  • The style of animation can be a little disconcerting to children who are not accustomed to Japanese anime, for example the way that the characters open their mouths really wide when they laugh and shout, or the way that the Grandmother character looks slightly monstrous. Very small children may not like this.
  • The ‘Catbus’ is a big creature with a huge grin and glowing yellow eyes. It is friendly and soft but some children may find it a little scary.
  • There are some scenes which show nature as a strong and powerful force, i.e. Satsuki stands outside at night in awe as she watches the strong wind shake and rattle the trees and the house.
  • The father lets out a mighty roar and beats his chest in order to scare away any ghosts in the house, and then starts laughing loudly and maniacally – his face transforms and is unrecognisable.
  • When Totoro roars, it is loud and unexpected, and his mouth is huge with big teeth. Although you quickly realise that he is gentle and harmless.
  • There are scenes which show glimpses of little ancient shrines, sometimes shrouded in darkness and there is an air of mystery. Some children may find them a little spooky.
  • The girls are so upset and scared when they hear that their mother is not going to be well enough to come home for a weekend. Satuski gets upset with Mei, shouting at her “Do you want her to die Mei? Is that what you want? You are such a baby!”. This is a very powerful and emotional scene which results in Mei running away and getting lost.
  • Satuski is worried about her mother and breaks down, saying “This is just like last time. What will we do if she dies! What if she’s already dead!” A very upsetting scene.
  • When Mei goes missing everyone is extremely worried about her as she is only four years old and it is getting dark. Thinking Mei might have fallen into the lake, they start to trawl the lake. Satuski runs everywhere looking for Mei and is very upset, she feels it is her fault. There is quick and swift resolution and a great sense of relief when Mei is found.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

In addition to the above-mentioned scenes and scary visual images, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged five to eight, including the following:

  • Children in this age group are also likely to be disturbed by some of the scenes detailed above, particularly scenes where the sisters are worried about their mother dying, or where Mei has runaway and is missing. Parents should know that although the scenes are emotional and there is a lot of tension, there is a good resolution.

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

In addition to the above-mentioned scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged eight to thirteen, including the following:

  • Younger children in this age group may be quite disturbed by the theme of losing a parent, or a sibling running away.

Over thirteeninfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

Nothing further of concern.

Product placement

  • None noted.

Sexual references

  • None noted.

Nudity and sexual activity

There is some mild nudity in this movie, including:

  • The two girls have a bath with their father. Although the scene is strategically drawn to keep it modest, you do see one of the girls’ bottoms.

Use of substances

  • None noted.

Coarse language

  • None noted.

In a nutshell

My Neighbor Totoro is an absolutely delightful family film. It is whimsical and imaginative, perfectly capturing the magic and mystery of childhood. Parents should be aware that this is not simply a light and fluffy film as it touches sensitively on deeper themes of parental illness and the fear of death. Aside from the visually stunning animation, My Neighbor Totoro is a beautiful portrayal of sisterhood, and the lovely, caring relationship between the two siblings is very sweet. The characters of Satuski and Mei are excellent positive role models; fierce and brave, but compassionate and respectful. It is no surprise that this film has won many awards and remains a cult classic both in Japan and across the world.

The main messages from this movie are respect for the mystery and power of Nature, the joy of imagination, and the importance of family.

Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • Treating our natural surroundings with respect and reverence.
  • Being a responsible and kind sibling, looking out for each other.
  • That we can face our fears with laughter and a positive attitude.
  • My Neighbor Tororo is a great way to introduce children to Japanese culture.

This movie could also give parents the opportunity to discuss with their children attitudes and behaviours, and their real-life consequences, such as:

  • What happens when you run away from home? This movie is the perfect way to talk to your child about what could happen if you run away from home or go somewhere by yourself without telling anyone. There is just enough dramatic tension, and a lot of distress when Mei goes missing – and Mei is shown tired and scared as she finds herself lost.
  • A good chance to discuss with children how it must feel if a parent becomes ill and needs to stay in hospital. For children who have had this experience in their own lives, this theme could be difficult, and they may empathise deeply with Mei and Satuski.

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