MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO: A Visual Appreciation

I first saw My Neighbor Totoro as an adult. But I grew up in the 2D animation age, with the films of the Disney Renaissance era shaping my youth and teenage years. I’ve spent hours since then admiring frames, looking at the composition of the fixed backgrounds and the moving characters and how they blend. Each layer of the frame has to come together just so to add depth and a touch of realism, even in a fantastical setting. Studio Ghibli films excel at presenting stories that live comfortably in a magical realm and in the world outside our doors—Totoro especially. Even as an adult, I kind of believed I would find Totoro in the woods on my next camping trip. And that’s because of the movie’s knock-you-off-your-feet visuals.

To celebrate Hayao Miyazaki‘s film’s thirtieth anniversary, let’s look at some of the most spectacular shots.

Landscapes and Backgrounds

It doesn’t matter if it’s the countryside, the forest where Totoro takes naps, or a messy house, the backgrounds in My Neighbor Totoro are lived in and vibrant. Some are detailed (note the carefully shaded grime on some of the indoor surfaces), but sometimes an impressionist-like approach softens the edges and adds a hint of mystery and imagination–especially with the images centered on nature.


A single line on a face can communicate a world of information in animation. If those lines aren’t in the right place, you lose reaction and emotion, and therefore, story. The expressions on the faces of Kusakabes convey inner conflict, joy, fear–you don’t have to guess about what they’re thinking. The many looks of Mei are an excellent study in character expression.


Totoro and Catbus are the clear creature stars of My Neighbor Totoro, but the animators lavished just as much attention on everyday, real critters like toads and insects. Because they don’t treat them differently, it adds to the feeling that you just might spy Catbus the next time you’re waiting at the bus stop.

If you close your eyes and think of My Neighbor Totoro, what image comes to mind? What scene is your favorite? Tell us in the comments.

Images: Studio Ghibli, screencaps via Animation Screencaps

Amy Ratcliffe is an Associate Editor for Nerdist. Follow her on Twitter.

Top Stories
Trending Topics