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My Neighbor Totoro Collector’s Edition Blu-ray Anime Review

11 min read
Often the first exposure of Studio Ghibli for many people, My Neighbor Totoro finds new life in a beautiful new collector’s edition that is completely shelf-worthy.

Often the first exposure of Studio Ghibli for many people, My Neighbor Totoro finds new life in a beautiful new collector’s edition that is completely shelf-worthy.

What They Say:
When Satsuki and her sister Mei move with their father to a new home in the countryside, they find country life is not as simple as it seems. They soon discover that the house and nearby woods are full of strange and delightful creatures, including a gigantic but gentle forest spirit called Totoro, who can only be seen by children. Totoro and his friends introduce the girls to a series of adventures, including a ride aboard the extraordinary Cat Bus, in this all-ages animated masterpiece from Academy Award-winning director Hayao Miyazaki which features the voices of Tim Daly, Lea Salonga, and real-life sisters Dakota and Elle Fanning, in one of their earliest roles.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this film is definitely solid as we get the original Japanese language track and the previously created English language adaptation in stereo using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. We also get a French 2.0 mix in Dolby Digital. The lossless tracks definitely give the film a lot of life, from the subtle sounds of the forest to the big action sequences that we get at the key times, though those are obviously few and far between. This film is one of the more dialogue-driven works from the Ghibli side and it is standard Ghibli fare where it works the stereo channels well and we get the levels set really well with everything clean and clear no matter how low they talk, and it has a very appealing design to it overall. We didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally in theaters in 1988, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. While not quite the same as some of the later works in terms of color quality or fluidity of movement that came from process changes, there’s a lot to love here with how it looks. The film takes place in a lot of lush and natural settings and the backgrounds are beautiful with how they come across in detail and color design. The fine detail in the film in both character designs and backgrounds is strong throughout, which makes it easy to pause and soak in certain areas of it. The colors have a lot of people with some really wonderful areas that stand out more so because of particular scenes. I’m also once again just in awe of the fluidity of the animation at times as it’s just so smooth and wonderfully presented here and at a time when it still feels like it was ahead of its time.

This collector’s edition release is something that I hope GKIDS and Shout! Factory can do for a lot of the Studio Ghibli works as it’s fantastic. The oversized square box brings us the familiar visual on the heavy chipboard material where it uses the English language version of the film’s name. It blends into the black along the top where we get the name of the film and then the gold stripe along the very top with the text in black. It all looks very elegant and regal in a way that’s quite appealing. The back of the box is a deep blue solid field and that’s it. We do get a glued on paper that you can slide inside the box that provides a breakdown of how the disc is setup, what’s included, and a summary of the premise so it’s easily figured out and laid out nicely. Within the box we get two “books” to work with. The first is made up of about three thick “page”s where we get some nice artwork before getting to the “page” that holds the Blu-ray disc in the tray. This one also stands out as it uses the same artwork as the main cover but it uses the Japanese logo design, which gives it a classic feeling. The final page has the soundtrack CD on one side and a breakdown of the tracks on the other. It’s a bit of a treat in opening it up as you feel like you’re grabbing something important out of it.

The other book is thinner as it’s a standard 40-page book in the same size/shape as the box set itself. We get a lot of great color artwork, director’s statements, backgrounds, and much more on the production itself that really brings it to life in hearing what went into it and why. Lauren Wilford writes extensively about the film opposite the beautiful imagery and we also get some of the review thoughts on the film from A.O. Scott and Roger Ebert, both of who effused much praise on the film. Though the shape may frustrate some that want their shelves to be uniform, a potential strong Ghibli collection of collector’s editions like this would look fantastic on a special shelf.

The menu design for this release works a standard approach with a static image. This utilizes the same visual as from the box cover itself which looks good as it fills the screen completely without the black along the top. It’s brighter and more colorful as you’d expect where it needs to be and the details look great. The logo is kept to the upper right where it doesn’t dominate or cover too much while the navigation is along the bottom but up just a bit. It’s done as a soft red that works well with the four main pieces spread across it. It’s easy to setup and access both as a main menu and as the pop-up menu and I appreciated the clarity in the subtitle options that are presented.

The extras for this release pretty similar to what we got on the Japanese side as well as what we see on most of the US releases. My favorite continues to be the Behind the Microphone piece which shows the US voice actors going through their work and talking about their experiences with Ghibli, often for the first time, as well as voice acting in general. This one has some good bits showing Dakota Fanning and her younger sister Elle working as the girls and I was glad to see Tim Daly as enthusiastic as he is about it. It’s always interesting to see very mainstream people talking about Ghibli material. We get some fun behind the scenes/creating of material for locations and characters as well that adds more to the experience.

I also enjoyed the Producer’s Perspective piece of how the project came together and the scoring piece as the music of this film was one of the things that would definite it – and a lot of Ghibli thereafter – so well. There’s also the inclusion of the original opening and ending sequences in Japanese without credits and the original theatrical trailer for the film. The set also contains the other big extra of the film in storyboard mode which continues to fascinate me. While I don’t visit it in full, every time I take a brief dabble into it I’m reminded of the first time this option was available and how revelatory it was to the whole storyboarding process and how Miyazaki works.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
One of the earliest Ghibli films I had seen, My Neighbor Totoro is the kind of property that I enjoy revisiting every time it becomes available again, both in home video and theatrical experience. The film is something that director Hayao Miyazaki had in mind as early as Panda! Go Panda! And is in a lot of ways very similar to Kiki’s Delivery Service in that it’s very much a slice of life kind of story with some fantastic elements mixed into it. There isn’t any real major plot to be had here but more just the kind of storyline where you follow the adventures of these kids and it leads you through a number of key moments in their young lives. Most of Miyazaki’s films have some element of wonder and innocence to them but My Neighbor Totoro is the one that is almost purely all about that. It’s something that gives it a much more laid back and slower pace but it draws you in and really just makes you all warm and snuggly about it.

The show is focused around a young family who is moving to the country to an old house that’s not been used for some time. The family has gone through some problems, mostly in that the mother has been hospitalized for some time and cannot come home, so the father and two girls do their best and visit her as much as possible. The father, a professor at a nearby university, is very much hands on with his children and does plenty with them around the house but once they’re settled he spends time away as well. This gives the kids time to explore and make new friends with others around there, including the neighbors next door such as Granny and her cautious grandson. Most of the film revolves around the two girls though. Satsuki is the older sister who is in school and has tried to take on the role of being a mom for the family while younger Mei is very much enjoying her childhood and just lives to play.

The lives of the young girls takes on an interesting change when Mei is out playing and she comes across a tiny creature that can become invisible walking along the yard. She follows it as it tries to escape and she ends up deep in the forest surrounding the massive tree that is the basis of the area only to discover a family of these creatures of different sizes, including one massive one she calls Totoro. Nobody believes her when they find her later on asleep in the woods but eventually Satsuki is able to see him as he becomes more involved in the area and there is a very quick friendship that’s struck between them, one that has little to no real words. Totoro and the girls have some brief adventures, do a bit of magic with some tree growing and take a trip across the beautiful countryside in the very creative Catbus. It’s not meant to have any real overarching elements to it but rather to just show how close they’ve become over time.

Along the way there are issues with the girls’ mother at the hospital and some drama as well which has this film feeling very much like Kiki’s Delivery Service in a lot of ways. You get a great amount of the show that’s laid back and whimsical and then all of a sudden it rushes into a bit of drama before simply ending. So much of this film is just about the magic of the forest spirits and what they and the girls do together that any sort of real world element that’s brought in to provide the drama is going to feel somewhat out of place. Even though it does that, so much of the film is just pure magic and highly entertaining that it’s easy to forgive such things. There are scenes that will be in my mind forever from this film, such as the two girls waiting in the rain for their father to come home and Totoro experiencing it with them. It’s the quiet beauty of the film that really shines here.

The English language adaptation is quite good as she managed to fit the role of Satsuki just right. The bonus of her own younger sister doing the voice work for Mei just added all the more that it needed to be believable as the two of them together have the right kind of synergy to pull it off. It didn’t feel forced and it’s easy to imagine the girls were just pretending to be someone else and playing along. I was also really glad to see Pat Carroll get her feet into the Ghibli realm as well with the role of the grandmother. She kept that to the right tone without being too “eh!” with her inflections. The same goes for Tim Daly who is sort of kept to really minimal use throughout a lot of this in the role of the father but he gets some good scenes towards the end where he’s a bit more frantic and it’s a good evolution from his laid back manner early on to that.

In Summary:
My Neighbor Totoro is one of those classics that never seems to get old with age. I’ve seen it so many times now in so many different forms but each time it still contains some of the magic to it that keeps it alive and pleasurable to watch. GKIDS’ presentation of it here with Shout! Factory does a fantastic job all around and it reminds me again that they’re being wonderful stewards of the Ghibli franchise for North American fans. The film looks and sounds great and they put together a wonderful Collector’s Edition that in some ways reminds me of the old Disney VHS tapes with the gold stripe along the top and a sense that something really magical is here. While it may not be packed with a ton of physical extras as we see with other properties, it’s done in a beautiful package and the inclusion of the soundtrack is a great way to extend the time and love of the film outside of the viewing itself. Very recommended..

Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, French 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Princess Mononoke in the U.S.A., Original Japanese Storyboards, Original Japanese Trailers, Original Japanese TV Spots, Featurette, Soundtrack CD

Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: A-

Released By: Shout Factory
Release Date: December 11th, 2018
MSRP: $49.99
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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