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My Neighbour Totoro storyboards reveal hidden secrets behind Ghibli film

Original storyboards and Miyazaki’s handwritten notes hint at the film’s hidden backstory

It’s been more than three decades since My Neighbour Totoro, Studio Ghibli’s squeezably cute film about a giant, cuddly forest spirit, debuted in Japan in 1988, and we’re still uncovering hidden secrets behind the hit anime.

Back in 2010, a hardcover book titled My Neighbor Totoro (Studio Ghibli Storyboard Collection, Volume 3) was released featuring the film’s storyboards and director Hayao Miyazaki’s handwritten notes. An article from Sora News 24 offers a glimpse at these notes, translated into English, which reveal fresh details about the story.

In the original storyboards, which are translated from Japanese, Totoro – who, in the film, spends a majority of the film either yawning or silent – initially had dialogue. There’s a scene near the beginning of the story where Mei first encounters Totoro sleeping in the forest. In the film, Totoro appears to communicate its name to Mei by roaring out what sounds like “To-to-ro”. According to Miyazaki’s storyboards, however, it was actually Mei who came up with the name.

Mei: Who are you? Are you a big dust bunny?

Totoro: I’m sleepy.

Mei: Gwaaaaaaa! (imitating Totoro’s large yawn)

Totoro: Are you sleepy too?

Mei: Totoro!!! You’re Totoro, aren’t you?

Totoro: I don’t know.

Mei: I bet you’re Totoro.

This is further explored in the scene at the bus stop in the rain, where Totoro appears next to Satsuki (right before the Catbus makes its first appearance). In the film, Satsuki asks, “Are you Totoro?”, to which the giant character simply stands there, saying nothing. In the original storyboard, however, there’s a short exchange between the two:

Satsuki: Totoro?

Totoro: What’s that? What’s Totoro…

The storyboard also hints at why Totoro jumps under the umbrella by suggesting that its wide grin is a response to the raindrops hitting the umbrella and making an exciting sound.

Another detail is the scene when Mei, Satsuki, and the three Totoros bounce through the air on a magic spinning top. In the film, Satsuki says, “We’re the wind!” but written on the storyboard is: “Yes – the voice of Totoro is the wind!!” This suggests that Totoro might, in fact, be the wind, or nature, itself.

Listen to the audio during this scene, and the sound of the wind sounds suspiciously like Totoro’s roar. Coincidence? I think not.

Also, remember Kanta, the neighbour boy who stops by Satsuki and Mei’s house to deliver something to his grandmother? In the film, his and Satsuki’s relationship grows from the occasional tongue-poking to Kanta eventually agreeing to drive to hospital to look for Mei, who’s gone missing. While Satsuki ends up finding Mei and they travel aboard the Catbus to the hospital together, Kanta is nowhere to be seen.

What happened to Kanta en route to the hospital isn’t mentioned in the film, but the storyboard tells us that he got a flat tire. Interestingly, Satsuki begins to refer to Kanta affectionately as “Kan-chan” near the end of the film, suggesting that Satsuki’s began to develop feelings for the boy-next-door. This actually takes place in the end credits, but the “My Neighbour Totoro” ending song plays over the top of their dialogue.

Read the full article on Sora News 24.