Studio Ghibli recently revealed some surprising secrets behind their 1988 film “My Neighbor Totoro.”
Details emerged last week during Nippon TV’s “Kinyo Roadshow,” where Studio Ghibli movies are aired every Friday night during the summer months. The screenings have become more of a mixed-media event over the years, with the animation studio divulging information about the movie via their Twitter account as it is being aired and allowing fans to answer trivia questions.
Here’s what we learned:
Satsuki, the older sister in “My Neighbor Totoro,” and Setsuko, the younger sister in “Grave of the Fireflies,” were born in the same year.
Each of these movies were the first that Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, who had co-founded Studio Ghibli with producer Toshio Suzuki in 1985, created independently from one another after having worked together on Ghibli’s first movie “Castle in the Sky.” “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Grave of the Fireflies” were both released to Japanese theaters in 1988 as a double feature, with the two directors working together to ensure they would be cohesive. Fireflies were intentionally excluded from the river scenes in “My Neighbor Totoro” to enhance the imagery in “Grave of the Fireflies,” while Satsuki is shown biting into a cucumber in one of Miyazaki’s scenes in a way that mirrors Seita’s bite into a tomato in Takahata’s.
While watching “Grave of the Fireflies,” viewers were able to calculate Setsuko’s birth year to be 1941 as she’s 4-years-old by the end of WWII in 1945. The connection isn’t as obvious in “My Neighbor Totoro,” though early concept art for the movie indicated that the movie takes place sometime in the early 1950s. Miyazaki also revealed that it’s set in 1953 in the movie pamphlet for “From Up on Poppy Hill.”
The confirmation that the two share the same birth year has left some viewers grieving the life that Setsuko, who died in the film, could have led and who she could have become had she survived the war — especially when considering the contrasting imagery in “My Neighbor Totoro,” where Satsuki and Mei live a life of peace.
One Twitter user shared this sentiment in a viral tweet over the weekend: “The fact that Satsuki and Setsuko were born in the same year (1941) gives me chills down my spine. Even though the story happened in the same country and at the same time, their expressions are so different. At the time of release, ‘Totoro’ and ‘Grave of the Fireflies’ were screened as a double feature. If something were different, their lives could have been the exact opposite.”
1941 also poses significance as it was the same year Miyazaki was born.
The reason that only one girl, who is neither Mei nor Satsuki, is featured in the movie poster is that Miyazaki had originally planned for the movie to center around one 7-year-old girl named Mei.
While this is hardly new information for Studio Ghibli fans, “Kinyo Roadshow” provided additional context as to Miyazaki’s reasons for the swap.
They tweeted: “Initially, Miyazaki had envisioned a scene where ‘While waiting for a bus at the bus stop a ghost appears.’ Originally, the main character was set to be only one girl. After that, he learned that the screening time of ‘Grave of the Fireflies’, which was set to screen alongside ‘My Neighbor Totoro’, was longer than planned, so Miyazaki changed things to include two girls so the screen time would be about the same. The composition of Satsuki and Mei next to Totoro was also considered for the visual on the poster, but the design didn’t turn out well, so in the end, the characteristics of Satsuki and Mei were combined into one girl, and the poster was produced.”
Hayao Miyazaki created “My Neighbor Totoro” with the intention of making people “happy.”
By the end of the film, Satsuki and Mei’s mother is discharged from the hospital while Mei is seen taking care of the younger children around her and Satsuki regains her childhood, no longer having to take on the role of the mother.
Miyazaki spoke more on the message he hoped to convey: “The goal of “My Neighbor Totoro” is to make a happy and heartwarming movie … parents are moved and reminisce about their childhood, and children want to meet Totoro and start climbing trees and exploring. That’s the movie I want to make.”
The gust of wind Satsuki feels might have actually just been the Catbus passing by, and Totoro really isn’t that deep.
Totoro isn’t a deep-thinker, according to Miyazaki. There wasn’t much of a reason for his decision to help Satsuki find Mei other than thinking she was cute. Totoro calls the Catbus knowing that Mei is closeby but doesn’t join, knowing that they wouldn’t be able to return to the human world with him onboard.
The destination for the Catbus is set as “su,” which translates to “nest,” suggesting that the Catbus will be going home to rest after completing its work.
Featured Image via Studio Ghibli