With its whimsical tales of childhood wonderment set against fantastical backdrops, Studio Ghibli has established itself as a titan in the world of animation, often drawing comparisons to Disney and Pixar. Though it has more adult-skewing titles like The Wind Rises and Princess Mononoke in its catalog, the famed animation house traffics primarily in family-friendly fare like Spirited Away, Ponyo, and The Secret World of Arrietty.
One of the most beloved is 1988’s My Neighbor Totoro, a classic film that tells the story of two young girls, Satsuki and Mei, who move to the countryside to be closer to the hospital where their sick mother is convalescing. When one of the girls goes missing, her sister goes in search of her with the aid of some friendly forest sprits, including the titular Totoro, who looks like the adorable love child of a cat and a tanuki. Although it is by all accounts an adorable and ultimately heartwarming story, there is a terrifying theory circulating around the darker corners of the Internet: what if Totoro is really the god of death?
This theory has been making the rounds for a number of years now; I first heard of it back in 2011. However, with Ghibli’s latest film, When Marnie Was There, hitting theaters this weekend, it seemed like the perfect time to revisit the darker side of Japan’s answer to Disney. With eerie similarities to a series of child murders in Japan in the 1960s, the events of the film take on a creepy new subtext when viewed through this murdery lens. Whether or not it holds up to close scrutiny is another matter entirely, but it’s simply too fascinating (and unsettling) to ignore. And that’s precisely what we’re going to do on today’s episode of The Dan Cave.
Do you think Totoro is the god of death? What are your favorite creepy fan theories? Let me know in the comments below.
Dan Casey is the senior editor for Nerdist and the author of 100 Things Avengers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. You can follow him on Twitter.