‘My Neighbor Totoro’ gets London stage play adaptation produced by Ghibli composer Joe Hisaishi

My Neighbor Totoro stage play
  • Studio Ghibli and Britain’s Royal Shakespeare Company are bringing Hayao Miyazaki’s 1988 animated feature film “My Neighbor Totoro” to the stage starting on October 8.
  • The new adaptation, which is produced in collaboration with Nippon TV and English theater company Improbable, will run for 15 weeks at The Barbican Theatre in London until Jan. 21, 2023.
  • Renowned Japanese composer Joe Hisaishi will serve as the stage play’s executive producer and will collaborate with playwright Tom Morton-Smith, stage director Phelim McDermott and set designer Tom Pye, among others.
  • Hisaishi, who has composed several iconic scores for Studio Ghibli films such as “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Spirited Away,” shared that Miyazaki only agreed to bring the classic anime to the world of theater if the composer was involved in the project.
  • “I was involved with the original animation film, and so I feel strongly about not harming the film,” the Japanese composer said.
  • Set in Japan in the 1950s, “My Neighbor Totoro” follows the story of two young siblings who move from Tokyo to the countryside. There, they meet several spirits and magical creatures, including the ancient protector of the forest who they call Totoro.

The beloved 1988 Studio Ghibli classic “My Neighbor Totoro” is coming to the stage in London this October with the blessing of its legendary creator, Hayao Miyazaki.

Set to make its debut at The Barbican Theatre in London on October 8, the stage adaptation of “My Neighbor Totoro” is being developed by Britain’s Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) in partnership with Studio Ghibli. The new adaptation, which is produced in collaboration with Nippon TV and English theater company Improbable, will run for 15 weeks until Jan. 21, 2023.

Renowned Japanese composer Joe Hisaishi will serve as the stage play’s executive producer, and British playwright Tom Morton-Smith will compose the script. British actor and director Phelim McDermott has been tapped to direct the production, which was designed by British set designer Tom Pye.

In Japan, many people are passionate about theater and musicals, but there are no original Japanese shows or musicals performed in the world,” Hisaishi said in a statement. “‘Totoro’ is a Japanese work famous throughout the world, and so this stage adaptation could have the potential to reach global audiences.”

Hisaishi said Miyazaki only agreed to bring the classic anime to the world of theater if the composer was involved in the project. Hisaishi has written several iconic scores for past Studio Ghibli movies such as “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Spirited Away.”

I was involved with the original animation film, and so I feel strongly about not harming the film,” the Japanese composer said.

Aside from Hisaishi, Miyazaki also gave Morton-Smith his blessing when the two finally met in person.

Hisaishi applauded the team’s enthusiasm, commitment and creativity while developing the production. “The sense of anticipation is high, and we hope to live up to the audience’s expectation,” he said in a promotional video.

Puppetry will reportedly be the main element used to bring Totoro to life. Basil Twist, the puppeteer in charge of this, said it “has to be right” because people “know that image, his proportions, his expressions.”

Other members of the production’s creative team include costume designer Kimie Nakano, lighting designer Jessica Hung Han Yun and movement director You-Ri Yamanaka.

I’m not from that [Japanese] culture and there are things in the piece I don’t understand about. It’s absolutely essential to have those voices in the room,” McDermott told Deadline.

The cast will reportedly consist of Japanese, East Asian and Southeast Asian actors, but McDermott noted that the production will not cast children and is also not a musical “in the strictest sense of the word.”

Adapting this deeply loved magical story for the stage is the next chapter in our longstanding commitment to making spectacular and accessible productions that see the world through the eyes of children, most recently, ‘The Magician’s Elephant,’ ‘Wendy & Peter Pan’ and of course ‘Matilda The Musical.’ We know that this major new commission will attract a wide range of theater audiences as well as loyal fans of the original film,” Erica Whyman, acting artistic director of RSC, said in a statement.

Set in Japan in the 1950s, “My Neighbor Totoro” follows the story of two young siblings who move from Tokyo to the countryside, where they meet several spirits and magical creatures, including the ancient protector of the forest who they call Totoro.

Hisaishi’s scores from the 1988 film will be used in the stage adaptation, along with orchestral pieces and songs that were previously omitted.

It’s going to have music very present,” McDermott said, noting that there will be a live band onstage during every performance. “And it may be that during certain scenes you’ll hear a beautiful voice, like you do in the film.”

Feature Image va Madman Anime

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