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My Neighbor Totoro

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Kathryn Sutherland
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My Neighbor Totoro

Every year, I start kindergarten with a relationships unit.  We learn about family relationships, interpersonal relationships, relationships in the garden, and relationships between plants, insects and animals.  My Neighbor Totoro will be a perfect addition to this unit--this is a movie all about relationships.  The premise: Mei and Satsuki move to a new, rural town with their dad.  Their mother is in the hospital. The girls, adjusting to their new life, make new friends, including a forest spirit animal that they call Totoro, experience grief, and become closer as a family.  In the end, their mother gets better, and we are to assume they live happily ever after.

After comparing Mei and Satski's life in rural Japan to our life in urban Los Angeles and noting differences in culture that we see in their family dynamic (sleeping, bathing, and chores, to name a few), we will discuss three different relationships in our class after we watch the movie:

1. The relationship between Mei and Satsuki: as sisters, as children, as newcomers to the countryside.  They have a very interesting and relatable relationship, one that at times is positive and supportive, and other times is stressed and can be hurtful.  I think the students will really enjoy pointing out all the intricacies of their relationship

2. The relationship between the sisters and their parents: there is love and trust, but frustration and panic as well.  I could see my students coming up with positive and negative aspects of their relationship as a family--namely, that mom and dad are not always there, and the girls are forced to deal with the stress of having a mother in the hospital on their own.  

3. The relationship between humans and the environment: there are a lot of points in the movie where the respect for nature is emphasized.  The family prays to the tree, the girls dance with Totoro to grow the seeds--nature is seen as healing, wonderous, and to be respected. I know my students will have a lot to say about what positive and negative things that humans do to the environment--and vice versa.


If nothing else, the students will respond to the cuteness of Totoro, and the transformation of the neighbor boy from enemy to friend.  There is a lot that the students can relate to in this movie, as well as a lot they can learn! 

Lindsay Reiss
Topic replies: 31
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This seems like a great movie to share with elementary students! At my school, we focus on interpersonal relationships as well. It is important for our students to learn about this because it is one of the ways we navigate the world. We also have a student who moved to Japan so I think it would be fun for my students to watch a Japanese movie.

Margaret Siryj
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Margaret Siryj's picture

This movie, My Neighbor, Totoro, is part of a group of animated films by famous Japanese cinematographer named Miyosake.  Miyosake is an incredibly talented moviemaker who has created about 10 or so films with many of them previewing around 15 years ago.  Some of his most famous works are:  Nausicaa and Spirited Away.  I would highly recommend My Neighbor, Totoro, as it is a great story of the power and resiliance of coping iwth an ill parent.  This movie stars two sisters, elementary in age who are thrusted into an adventure.  

The two young sisters find their mother ill and in the hospital, but need to look after each other while do the best they can.  This movie even though focusing on younger females can be viewed and appreciated by elementary through high school aged students because of the powerful message of coping.  It is an emotional movie with coping as a moving theme that jettisens two siblings into an adventure with a forest creature.  They go to the forest, located by their home and befriend a magical creature.  This creature helps them cope and carry on while their mother is in the hospital.  

in one of the scenes, it is nightime and the sisters are visiting their outside garden and the forest creature appears and helps them and their plantings.  The two sisters experience "forest magic" by witnessing plants effortlessly growing, almost by magic.  Meanwhile, the girls' mother is getting worse and has to continue being away from her two daughters.  The older daughter attempts to carry on, but needless to say, this is quite difficult for an elementary aged girl..

This movie is geared more to a younger audience, but some of my colleagues teach Middle School, and have said that it can be effective to the tween audience, too.  I would suggest to high school students who have an Individual Education Plan with Special Educations services and instruction.  

Dan Thalkar
Topic replies: 33
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My Neighbor Totoro

What a great movie choice! The wonderful thing about Totoro is that it can appeal to viewers of all ages. Your plan & areas of exploration are for elementary school, but I'm sure that my middle school students would also be invested in and appreciate the opportunity to discuss those same issues. I'm particularly struck by the relationship between humans and the environment - we could extend it by focusing on the ideas of relationships, and whether we often think about nature as something we have a relationship with, or simply something that exists and provides us resources.