I'm delighted this film has been recommended and absolutely agree it’s a 5 star film.
But I can't believe it has only gained 1 point each for positive role models and messages! Every character of this film is a walking example of care, compassion, resilience and intelligence. They don’t talk about how good they’re going to be – they just do it. Maybe that’s why it’s less obvious.
For example, the Dad doesn’t have some pivotal moment where he realises, “and now I’m going to be a really good Dad”. No, he just IS a really good Dad ALL the time. They are moving house, his wife is seriously ill, he’s sole parent, he still has to work – pretty stressful situation huh? What do we see from him? Quiet, calm, resilience and an unflappable positive attitude. What’s the effect on his girls? They feel secure and safe even during a period of great stress for the family. Ie: benchmark positive role model.
Satsuki shows tremendous maturity for her age, attempting to step into her Mum’s shoes while she is ill and being a superb older sister to Mei. Mei is the most tenacious, rambunctious, brave little 4 yo who can stare down any fear, except the fear of losing her mother. The neighbouring Grandma (and neighbours in general) show community values of practical support and compassion for the new family in a way that most of us would dream to see these days.
And then there’s Totoro himself. Yes – he is a bit scary on first sight. And that roar! But from the minute Mei roars back at him any child will know he is a friend. The fact that he is this mysterious giant monster with a mighty roar and sharp claws sends a vital message to kids – “Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.” (St Francis de Sales)
[PLOT SPOILERS COMING UP.] No moment sums this up better than how he responds to Satsuki’s desperation to find Mei. He doesn’t talk; he smiles assuredly and lets out the most mighty roar of the film to summon the magic cat bus. The cat bus doesn’t talk either. He just rotates his destination sign until it says “Mei”, yowls out her name, and tears off with Satsuki on board. And as Satsuki sees her sister’s name on the sign she instantly knows (as do we) that everything is going to be OK.
As a parent that moment is one of the most moving I’ve ever seen in a film. I’m tearing up just writing about it. Why? I don’t know. But my guess is that it shows how the makers of this film have established such a genuine relationship between the sisters that we truly feel the joy and relief that Satsuki must feel in that moment.
I could write forever. It’s a beautiful film and one that reveals more and more each time, and because so much is ambiguous it leaves much for families to talk about. Is the Totoro real? Does it matter? He’s a symbol of the compassion and strength in a time of difficulty. He appears in these children’s lives to give them a helping hand only when they truly need it and only for as long as they do. And at some point, all of us need a hand.
While I had always enjoyed this film, the beauty of its messages never struck me until we lent this film to another family who were the process of losing a grandparent to cancer. When we got it back the Mum said; “that was beautiful. I think every family needs a Totoro.”