In watching My Neighbor Totoro, it was clear that this movie would be appropriate for elementary age students. The movie is about a Japanese family that moves to the country. There are two daughters in the family, one in school, Satsuki, and one too young for school, Mei. The girls' mother is in the hospital, so their father and elderly neighbor "Nanny" are watching after them. During this difficult time, the girls meet a mysterious magical creature they refer to as Totoro. He supports them by bringing joy and magic to their new home and by transporting them with a magical cat bus to help them.
This film shows a rural community. Students will be able to see a snapshot of life in a rural area of Japan when Nanny is harvesting vegetable with the girls. The style of the home is different than in the U.S., and student would be able to identify similarities and differences.
One aspect of the movie that is relatable to many students is that their mother is in the hospital due to illness. With COVID, many students have experienced spending time away from loved ones while they recovered. This film would allow for discussion of family dynamics and how illness affects families. This topic is appropriate for Social Emotional Learning lessons.
In addition, simple Japanese terms can be taught while watching the film:
-tonari, next-door neighbor