My Neighbor Totoro (FAQ)

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What is Totoro?

He has been called many things from "a giant furry thing" to "a rabbit-like spirit". Basically, he is a spirit of the forest. Totoro is not a traditional Japanese character, he came completely from Miyazaki's imagination. However, he is obviously a mixture of several animals: tanukis (ie. the raccoon dog, an animal distantly related to foxes), cats (the pointed ears and the facial expressions), and owls (the chevron markings on their chests and the "ooo"-ing sound they make with their ocarinas at night).

Reading a book

The name "Totoro" comes from Mei mispronouncing (she has a tendency to do so, though it wasn't clear in the dub) the word "tororu", which is the Japanese word for "troll". When Satsuki asks her "Totoro? You mean, the Troll in our book?" she is referring to their book "Three Mountain Goats" (The Three Billy Goats Gruff). In the closing credits you can see their mother reading the book to them. Although it's hard to see it on the tape, in the picture book for the movie you can see the picture on the cover shows a goat running over a bridge while a Totoro-like troll looks up from underneath the bridge.

Are the little ones also Totoros?

Yes. They are:

  • Big Totoro (gray) Oh-Totoro
  • Medium Totoro (blue) Chuu-Totoro
  • Little Totoro (white) Chibi-Totoro

"Oh" means "large" in Japanese, but Oh-Totoro has been translated as "King Totoro" in the U.S. "Chuu" and "Chibi" mean "medium" and "small", respectively. However, when people say "Totoro", they are usually referring to Oh-Totoro.

Are there more Totoros?

Totoros in a Catbus

Some watercolor pictures that Miyazaki painted show a whole Catbus-load of Totoros showing up at the bus stop where Mei and Satsuki waited for their father to arrive.

In the short film Mei and the KittenBus made specially for the Studio Ghibli Museum, many other Totoro-like creatures also make an appearance.

What is a Catbus?

Literally, a bus which looks like a cat (or a cat who works as a bus). ^_^ In Japan, cats are believed to have magical shape-changing powers if they get old enough. They are called "Bake Neko" (which is also Moon's nickname in "Whisper of the Heart"). The Catbus is a Bake Neko who saw a bus, became intrigued by it, and changed itself into a bus. He's Miyazaki's original design, but some wonder if he was inspired by the Cheshire Cat in "Alice in Wonderland". Mei following chibi-Totoro and falling into a hole in a tree is also reminiscent of "Alice".

In the short film Mei and the KittenBus made specially for the Studio Ghibli Museum, many other cat-like modes of transport also make an appearance.

What does the destination sign on the Catbus say?

In the scene where Satsuki and Mei saw the Catbus at the bus stop for the first time, it said "Tsukamori". Tsukamori is the name of the forest where Totoro lives. In the scene where Satsuki tried to find Mei, Catbus came to her with "Tsukamori" displayed, changed it between several names such as "Nagasawa" or "Ushinuma", then to "Mei". When they found Mei, it changed to "Shichikokuyama Byouin" (Shichikokuyama Hospital). Interestingly, the kanji for "in" was upside down. It seems that the Catbus wasn't good at kanji. ^_^

What are the Dustbunnies?

Dustbunnies are little black fuzzy things, about the size of a ping-pong ball. In Japanese, they were called "Makkuro Kurosuke" (a literal translation would be "Pitch-black Blackie"). In the original, to scare them away, Satsuki and Mei shouted "Makkuro Kurosuke, come out! Or we'll poke your eyeballs out!". This doesn't sound politically correct today, so in the English dub, it was changed to "come out... come out...".

Kanta's Granny then told the girls that they were called "Susuwatari" (Traveling Soot), and that they wouldn't do any harm and would soon go away (Susuwatari sounds more, well, professional). Indeed, they moved out of the house to Totoro's tree that night.

What was the girls' mother suffering from?

It was implied that her illness was tuberculosis. In the novelized version of "Totoro" (illustrated by Miyazaki), it was stated that Mom was suffering from TB. Shichikokuyama Hospital, where she was staying, had a good reputation for treating TB, and that's why they moved there. The house they moved into was originally built a long time ago by a rich city man whose wife was suffering from TB. Granny used to work as a domestic for this lady, but the lady died. That's why the house is somewhat different from the other village houses, more Westernized, with gables.

This is a bit autobiographical: Miyazaki's mother suffered for many years from spinal TB, and she was away from home for a long time.

What does the girls' father do for a living?

He is a university professor in archaeology. He has to commute to the university in Tokyo.

What is the rope on Totoro's tree?

It is called Shimenawa, made of rice straw and paper ribbons. It signifies that this tree is sacred, part of the nature worship aspect of Shintoism (the native religion of Japan which has elements of nature and ancestor worship) and traditional Japanese cultural beliefs. When the father and the girls bow to the tree, he is literally thanking the spirit of the trees and the forest for protecting Mei.

The Totoros are, in a sense, the physical embodiment of the spirit of the forest and trees. You can also see an old abandoned Shinto shrine under the camphor tree and a Torii (a sort of gate for a Shinto shrine) at the entrance to the hill.

What is the little road shrine where Satsuki and Mei took refuge from the rain?

Small shrine

In Japanese Buddhism, there is a tradition of building small shrines by the side of the road. These are often erected as a memorial to a child who died, and the figure is that of Ojizou-sama, a sort of patron deity of children in Buddhism. Satsuki and Mei put their hands together, bow, and ask the Ojizou-sama for permission to stay there till the rain stops.

Also, when Mei is lost, she sits down next to a row of Ojizou-sama statues: that is Miyazaki's way of telling the audience that Mei is safe, for she is being watched over by these deities.

Where did the story take place?

In Tokorozawa City, Saitama prefecture. Miyazaki lives in Tokorozawa, which is now a bedroom community of Tokyo. Tokorozawa used to be a farming community, surrounded by Sayama Kyuuryou (Sayama Hills). There are still some natural areas left, and there is a group of people who are trying to preserve what's left by buying up the land. It is called "Totoro no Furusato (Totoro's Home) National Trust Movement", and uses Totoro as a symbol character. [../books/miyazaki/#mori This book explains the movement].

Miyazaki donated watercolor pictures of Totoro to be used in pamphlets, membership cards for contributors, T-shirts, and so on. Miyazaki also donated about $3 million to Tokorozawa city so that the city could buy up some land which was about to be developed.

When did the story take place?

It was loosely described as the latter part of the 1950s. Miyazaki set the time as "when televisions were yet to be brought into homes".

1958 is the exact year using evidence within the film. In one of the hospital scenes a calendar is visible with the month of August. In the 1950s only 1952 and 1958 start on a Friday.

Then, in the book "The Art of My Neighbor Totoro", Miyazaki acknowledges "It's supposed to be 1955, but we weren't terribly thorough in our research". (p33, Viz edition, 2005)

I saw a picture of Totoro and a girl at the bus stop. Who is that girl?

Early watercolor from The Art of Totoro

She's not Mei or Satsuki, but a combination of both of them. When Miyazaki first did the concept for Totoro, there was just one girl who was 6 years old. Many of the early watercolors in "The Art of Totoro" have just this one girl. Before they actually started production, however, Miyazaki decided to split her into two sisters, one older and one younger than the original girl he had in mind. This is shown in the two girls' names. "Mei" is a "Japanized" version of the English word for the month of May. "Satsuki" is an old Japanese name for the fifth month of the year (May).

Ghibli has used the picture you're talking about repeatedly, even though it has the "old" concept. They even used it on some of the movie posters. This must have really confused people when they saw the film.

What is the drawing of a crab in Satsuki's letter to her Mom?

It's based on the Japanese folk story, "Saru Kani Gassen" (Monkey-Crab Battle). In this story, a crab plants a persimmon seed, and hovers over the garden every day, waiting for the persimmon to sprout. Satsuki says that Mei is acting exactly like the crab, drew a picture of a crab who looks like Mei, and named it "Mei Gani" (Mei Crab). Since this would make no sense to American children, the Streamline dub changed it to "Mei drew this picture for you".

Disney's version, on the other hand, goes like this: "Mei watches them all day, every day, waiting for them to sprout, and it's starting to make her crabby. Here's a picture of Mei as a crab."

Is "Totoro" available in English?

Yes. It was dubbed by Carl Macek (Streamline Pictures) and theatrically released in the US by Troma Pictures in 1993; the video, LD, and DVD were released by Fox. The dub is also included in the Ghibli LD Box Set, with English on the right analog track, as well as the Japanese R2 DVD release.

Disney acquired the global distribution rights for Ghibli movies, including Totoro, but their version was delayed until March 2006 due to legal wrangling. The Disney DVD contains a new English dub and the opening/closing songs are sung by Sonya Isaacs. Like all of the other Disney DVD releases, the original Japanese audio track is included.

Is it true that some scenes, such as the bathing scene, were cut in the dub?

No. Nothing was cut.

Is it true the image quality of the dub isn't as good as that found on the Japanese LD?

Yes and No. The Japanese LD is letterboxed, while the American LD and videocassette aren't. However, the Japanese LD is a bit darker, so you get a brighter image if you buy the American LD. This problem has been corrected by remastering in the Ghibli LD box set, so the LD in that set has sharper and better images than both the American and the old Japanese LDs.

Will there be a Totoro sequel?

No. Miyazaki doesn't like to make sequels, since he isn't interested in continuing what he has already done.

Furthermore, Miyazaki said that Satsuki and Mei would never see Totoro again. He intentionally put no picture of them and Totoro together in the ending title. Instead, he put pictures of Satsuki and Mei playing with other children. According to Miyazaki, if the two children had stayed there (Totoro's world), they wouldn't be able to return to the human world. Once their mother came home, they became ordinary children. Meeting Totoros once, and knowing that they are there is enough.

Then what is this "Mei and the Kittenbus" I've heard about?

Mei to Konekobasu (Mei and the Kittenbus) is a short film by Miyazaki that is shown at the Studio Ghibli Museum. See the Museum page for more details.

Where can I get Totoro toys?

You can buy them at anime importers such as those listed in our Shopping Guide. The enduring popularity of "Totoro" means toys and related items will never go out of stock.

I heard that it was double-featured with "Grave of the Fireflies" in Japan. Is this true?

Yes. See the Grave FAQ for additional details.