Monday, September 2, 2013

Five Nights With...Elle Fanning: My Neighbor Totoro

The month as begun and it is time to push forward with this series.  This month we are spending the week with Elle Fanning.  Younger sister to the mega-famous 00's child star Dakota, Elle burst onto the scene in the mid-00's as a sweet face usually joined at the hip of a mega-famous playing the daughter who doesn't say a whole lot.  Then she started to talk, and act, and before you knew it she was a preteen with tremendous talent and the ability to choose quality work, which is going to take her very far.  Working with directors like David Fincher and Sophia Coppola and actors like Jeff Bridges and Joaquin Phoenix, it is apparent that Elle is on the right track to take her career to the top.  

For this mini-marathon, we started with 'My Neighbor Totoro'.  No, she was not around when the film was released, but she lends her vocal talents (ok, so that is a stretch when all she really does in the film is cry and scream and leave the real communication to her big sister) to the English version of the film.  I think it still counts as 'her work' though, and so it gave me the excuse to watch it again last night and review it today.

1988 gave us one of the greatest animated films of all time, ‘The Grave of the Fireflies’, a film that still haunts me and continues to develop strongly in my mind.  That very same year, another animated film that has garnered incredible praise was released; ‘My Neighbor Totoro’.  Personally, I wasn’t as keen to see this one as I was the former, and in my ignorance I assumed that this film was going to be mere child’s play.  To my astonishment, the two films work as beautiful companion pieces and I was taken aback by how honest and pure this film was.

For me, this film broaches a lot of the same themes that ‘The Grave of the Fireflies’ does, but in a more accessible and hopeful way.  Instead of relying on the grim realities of life to buy into our appreciation, ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ takes a more liberal approach and manages to capture an honest look at a child’s reaction to the tragedies that life tosses our way.

Here we are introduced to young Satsuki and Mei, two sisters who move into the country with their father.  Their mother is sick and in the hospital, and the two girls await her release so that they can be a family again.  In the meantime, the girls bond with a neighbor who offers her assistance in their mother’s absence and the two girls also catch the eye of a spirit named Totoro.  Totoro gives the children a distraction during the turmoil at home and offers them an outlet for their bent up frustrations.  Despite being saddled with some heavy baggage, the girls are able to find solace in Totoro’s giant arms.

Director Hayao Miyazaki does a fantastic job of allowing the audience to understand what is going on in the minds of these young protagonists.  What I loved so much about ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ is that it understood what it was like to be a child in this grave circumstance and it captured that avenue of adolescence without every once being overly saccharine or trying too hard to beat us over the head with the realities of it all.  In fact, the relevance of Totoro himself doesn’t become fully fleshed out until the film’s end, which is a wonderful way to keep mystery and a slight suspense to the whole thing.

Like I said, this is a great companion piece to ‘The Grave of the Fireflies’.  It adds an avenue of hope, lacing the final frames, a hope that ‘The Grave of the Fireflies’ doesn’t possess.  It is that hope that possibly (the ruling is still out) makes this the better film.  I said possibly, and quite frankly they are BOTH masterpieces.

So that wraps up today.  Tonight I'll be rewatching 'Ginger & Rosa' to review for you tomorrow.  I know that some of you have seen this so review it and link it and I'll put it in my post!!!  If you can't, I at least hope you can participate in the conversation.  Let the Fanning nights continue.


  1. I still think Dakota is the stronger of the two, but Elle is sure fun to watch. She's really growing as an actress. I've never actually seen My Neighbor Totoro, I kind of wish I had watched it back to back with Grave of the Fireflies, because God knows I needed a pick me up after watching something that depressing.

    1. I encourage you to watch it. Like I said, it's a perfect companion piece.

  2. Ugh. I need to watch this already. It's not even 90 minutes, so I don't really have an excuse. Since I'm also a fan of Grave of the Fireflies, I really need to check it out.

  3. Love your review of this, and now I think I know what my next Studio Ghibli film will be, Grave of the Fireflies!
    - Allie

    1. They are great companion pieces, for sure...just be prepared, because Grave of the Fireflies is NOT's BRUTAL and will make you weep...WEEP!!!