7 Life Lessons From the Magical World of ‘My Neighbor Totoro’

'My Neighbor Totoro.'

‘My Neighbor Totoro,’ or simply 'Totoro' to Studio Ghibli fans, has cemented itself among the best-animated movies. (Image: via Studio Ghibli)

My Neighbor Totoro, or simply Totoro to Studio Ghibli fans, has cemented itself among the best-animated movies. Aside from the great drawings and cute characters, Studio Ghibli infused My Neighbor Totoro with solid emotional resonances and life lessons.

‘My Neighbor Totoro’ synopsis

The plot of My Neighbor Totoro is simple, with hardly any exterior conflicts. Instead, the movie is rooted in the characters’ exploration, experience, and situations they find themselves.

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At the film’s beginning, Tatsuo Kusakabe, a university professor, moved with his daughters, Satsuki and Mei, to a house in a rural area of Japan. Their mother is receiving treatment at a hospital close to where the two girls moved.

Like most Studio Ghibli movies, My Neighbor Totoro has magical creatures. Satsuki and Mei quickly found such a creature in their new home, one known as Susuwatari. Mei comes across two tiny Susuwataris who guide her into the hollow of a giant camphor tree. Next, she makes friends with an enormous spirit known as Totoro, who introduces himself by making a sequence of roars.

The two young girls quickly find many magical spirits while exploring the adjacent woodland. Then, one rainy night, while waiting for their father’s bus to arrive, Totoro materializes next to them. Satsuki offers Totoro an umbrella, and he gives her a bunch of nuts and seeds in return.

Satsuki offers Totoro an umbrella, and he gives her a bunch of nuts and seeds in return. (Image: via Studio Ghibli)

A few days after sowing the seeds, the girls are awakened at midnight to discover Totoro and his friends performing a ritual dance around the seeds. The girls decide to join in, which causes the seeds to sprout into a huge tree. When they awoke, the tree was gone, but the seeds had already begun to grow.

The story worsens when Satsuki learns about a setback in her mother’s rehabilitation. Mei, unhappy, runs off alone to the hospital and gets lost. Satsuki returns to the camphor tree in desperation and begs Totoro for assistance. Fortunately, the sisters reunited thanks to Totoro and were transported to the hospital.

The girls overhear their parents talking, discovering that she has a slight cold that has kept her in the hospital. Other than that, she is generally in good health. The movie ends when the girls’ mother returns while they play with other children. Totoro and other magical creatures are close by and watching Satsuki and Mei play.

Life lessons from My Neighbor Totoro

1. Respecting and appreciating nature

My Neighbor Totoro is set in rural Japan, surrounded by nature. And it’s no secret that Hayao Miyazaki loves showcasing Japan’s scenery in his films. For him, getting back in touch with nature offers us freedom and should be encouraged among children. Additionally, parents should teach their children to love and respect nature.

Totoro’s subtle and endearing message reveals the beauty of exploring and going outside. Not only that but immersing yourself in nature can alter your perspective on the world.

2. Showing kindness

Another valuable lesson My Neighbor Totoro exemplifies is kindness. I was being kind to all beings, whether humans, spirits, or creatures. The heart displayed in the film reminds us of this critical value and the lesson of being kind to all.

Instead of being fearful or cruel to Totoro, Satsuki and Mei made friends with the spirit. Satsuki didn’t hesitate to offer her umbrella to Totoro. The same goes for other magical creatures near their home. And don’t forget about the famous bus stop scene. 

3. Accepting change

Opening the film, Mei and Satsuki are introduced to a new environment after their big move. However, instead of being wary and fearful, they are eager to explore their new residence. Plus, to be nearer to their mother, they learn to appreciate their new home and make exploring and embarking on new experiences a significant priority.

4. Child’s curiosity and freedom

In their enthusiasm to learn and explore, Satsuki and Mei go beyond the boundaries that the adults had set for them. Despite being warned not to, they venture outside the garden. They also venture into the forest, where they run across Totoro. The movie’s obvious symbolism and message: giving kids agency is crucial.

The plot of My Neighbor Totoro is simple, with hardly any exterior conflicts. Instead, the movie is rooted in the characters’ exploration, experience, and situations they find themselves. (Image: via Studio Ghibli)

5. Face your fears and comfort others

Monsters, storms, and being alone are just a few of the things that frighten children. All these issues are present when we first meet Satsuki and Mei, but their main concern is that their mother won’t survive the disease. And the movie showed that it’s alright to be scared as there are people (or hopefully Totoro) to accompany you.

Totoro also provided Satsuki and Mei with support and courage at trying times. Totoro was a good friend even though he never spoke. And the best thing you can do for a friend is to sit next to them and be there.

6. Importance of family

My Neighbor Totoro also teaches children and adults alike about the importance of family. People can see this life lesson in the following scenes:

  • When Tatsuo relocated his family nearer to the hospital where her wife’s getting her treatment
  • When Mei got lost, Satsuki asked Totoro to help find her sister

7. Children need positive role models

The way adults are portrayed in Totoro is intriguing because they listen and aren’t judgemental. Plus, they don’t try to take over. Instead, conversely, they guide counsel, insight, and, if required, action. But they also let the kids go on their exploration of learning and discovery.

Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro

A great movie can signify different things to different people at different stages of their lives. And My Neighbor Totoro exemplifies that best. 

For years, My Neighbor Totoro has been putting smiles and tears on children and adults alike. It’s also a vital tale everyone should watch because of its reverence for nature and realization of the transience of youth, innocence, and existence.

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