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My Neighbor Totoro: One of the best family films of all time

23 Dec

Totoro 8 totoro stuffed animal3 (640x400)When the movie, “My Neighbor Totoro (Tonari no Totoro)” came out in 1988, children in Japan became captivated by this big, fluffy, magical creature called Totoro.  The movie was a big hit.  Hayao Miyazaki, the director of the film, was already well-known by then.  “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind,” released several years before, made him a household name.  But it was “My Neighbor Totoro” that turned him into a beloved film director in the hearts of Japanese.

Twenty-five years after the movie was released, Totoro is still one of Japan’s favorite animation characters.  Its popularity among Japanese children is sometimes compared with that of Winnie the pooh in England.  One million Totoro stuffed animals have been sold so far, and you’ll still find Totoro items sold everywhere in Japan.

The other day my friend made Totoro dolls.  When I saw the picture of them, I suddenly had the urge to see the movie which I had not seen since my childhood.  In the following weekend I sat down to watch it.  What struck me was that  I recalled every song in it, even though I didn’t remember the storyline at all.  The music brought back the excitement and joy I had felt as a child.  And this time around I came away with a deeper understanding of what Totoro, the forest spirit, represented – the mystery of nature and the mutual trust between humans and animals.

Totoro 9 (621x640)

Handmade Totoro dolls

Even though you haven’t seen “My Neighbor Totoro,” you may have seen other movies by Hayao Miyazaki.  One of his more recent films “Spirited Away” won the academy award in 2002, making his film international success.   Miyazaki’s other masterpieces include  “Princess Mononoke,” “Howl’s Moving Castle,” and “Ponyo.”  His colorful images and complex storylines have fascinated us during his impressive career spanning over forty years.

Miyazaki  announced this summer that he’d be retiring, which sadden many of his fans.  His last film “The Wind Rises” was released this summer.  It’s based on a true story of a man who designed fighter air crafts used during WWII.  The film will be coming to the U.S in February.  In the meantime, you can enjoy his classic films on DVD.  “My Neighbor Totoro” is a perfect family movie, one that will captivate your imaginations and delight the hearts of children.


Story of Hachi: The faithful dog

26 Aug
Taxidermy of Hachiko

Taxidermy of Hachiko

Hachiko Monogatari (monogatari = story)” is a Japanese movie based on a true story about an Akita dog named Hachikō (aka Hachi).  The film was released in 1987, and it was a big hit.  I remember watching it and crying as a child.  The story affected me so much that I began asking my parents if we could have a dog.  Since then I’ve had several wonderful dogs in my life, but I still dream of having an Akita dog like Hachi one day.

Hachi lived with his owner near Shibuya station, one of the busiest train stations in Tokyo today.  At the end of each day Hachi went to the station by himself to greet his owner.  But one day the owner died suddenly from stroke, never returning to the station where Hachi was waiting.

After the owner’s death Hachi continued to appear at the station preciously when the train was arriving, awaiting his owner’s return.  For the next 9 years until his death Hachi waited for his owner every day at the station.  The statue of Hachi was built a year before his death, and it still remains in Shibuya station today.

The story is legendary in Japan, because it shows the deep connection between dogs and humans.  Even Hollywood took a note of it and made a move called “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale,” starring Richard Gere as the owner.  The Hollywood version slightly differs from the Japanese version, but the basic storyline is the same.

Whether you’re a dog lover or not, the story will move you.  And you’ll learn about Japan’s most famous and beloved dog, Chuken Hachikō (the faithful dog Hachi).


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