So as I’ve already mentioned before, I really like Studio Ghibili animes. My Neighbor Totoro (となりのトトロ) is one of the most famous ones, and one of my favorites. It’s a sweet story about about two little girls, Satsuki and Mei, that move to the country side with their father. Unfortunately their mother is ill, and has to stay in hospital. After moving into their new home, the youngest sister Mei goes wandering around the house and enters a sort of rabbit hole where she meets totoro, a big furry racoon/bear type animal. Totoro is sweet and cuddly and has magic powers. He allows the girls to go see their mother in hospital, which makes them very happy and the story ends there. For those who haven’t seen it, I would highly recommend it. If you have already seen it and don’t want your lovely image of totoro spoiled, then I urge you not to read on.
Now for those of you who have decided to read on, let me give you a different summary of the story: Two little girls, Satsuki and Mei, move to the country side with their father. Unfortunately their mother is ill, and has to stay in hospital. While wandering around their new home, Mei goes missing. Everyone goes looking for her, and the one to find her is her older sister Satsuki. But she doesn’t find Mei alive. Mei has already been taken by the 死神 (しにがみ) death God, totoro. Filled with grief, Satsuki decides to join Mei in the other world. They go visit their mother in the hospital, as ghosts.
Rumor has it, according to my friend, that My Neighbor Totoro is based on what the Japanese call the “Sayama incident”. On May 1st 1963, 16 year old Yoshie Nakata was kidnapped on her way home from school. Her family received a ransom note. Unfortunately, Yoshie Nakata’s body was later found by her elder sister. She had sadly been raped and murdered. Her sister was so shocked and traumatized, that she committed suicide.
Now again, these are only rumors. No one truly knows if the movie was based on the Sayama incident, but there are several clues hinting at it. Here is a blog I found that describes those clues well:
In short, parallels can be made on the basis that the movie was set in Saitama (we don’t know where exactly), and the girls’ names meaning May, the month the incident occurred (Satstuki means May in Japanese, and Mei is pronounced like May in English). Furthermore, totoro is not a cute, cuddly friend, but instead a shinigami, and the girls are transported to the next world on the nekobus, which quickly shows the destination for 墓道 (the first character meaning “tomb” and the second “road”) at one point in the movie. Also when it rains, Satsuki and Mei take refuge underneath a shrine with Ojizou-sama statues. These statues are usually placed in memory of a child who has died. And there are many more parallels which can be found on the above blog link.
I hope I have not ruined My Neighbor Totoro for too many people, but I must say I found it quite interesting. After my friend told me about this urban legend, I watched the movie again, which gave me a slighly different impression. But I still love it, and would watch it over and over again.