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Back to School

I am heading back to CCAD tomorrow
for my 4th and final year in the Animation program!

I also got an on-campus job as a "Creative Coach."

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My Neighbor Totoro: A Lesson in Story Structure

My Neighbor Totoro (となりのトトロ)
Dir. Hayao Miyazaki
Studio Ghibli


My Neighbor Totoro has been my favorite Studio Ghibli film since I saw it
on VHS when I was around the same age as Mei (5). I used to take it
to school and all the teachers would want to borrow it to show to their classes.

And now that I've taken two screenwriting classes at CCAD and am currently
working on my own screenplay for a personal project, I wondered how the
Three Act Structure would apply to this movie, or any Miyazaki movie, since
there are no inherent "good v.s. evil" plots to be found.

"To have a film where there's an evil figure and a good person fights against
the evil figure and everything becomes a happy ending, that's one way to make a film.
But then that means you have to draw, as an animator, the evil figure.
And it's not very pleasant to draw evil figures. So I decided against evil figures in my films."
- Hayao Miyazaki (x)

Story structure is easier to pick apart when there's an obvious good v.s. evil dynamic.
Jedi v.s. Sith, Spider-Man v.s. Venom, etc. But Totoro doesn't have that.

I'm gonna try to break it up anyway.



Satsuki, Mei, and their father are moving into a quaint house in the country.
Is it just me, or does moving/finding a new home seem to be a popular theme in Miyazaki's films?

Next: Lots of screaming!

Satsuki and Mei soon realize that their new home is inhabited by soot sprites.
I consider the attic scene to be the inciting incident, since it kicks the story into
motion and lands close to the 10:00 mark that is the usual time frame for this point.

The inciting incident: Satsuki and Mei discover the soot sprites

Up Next: The Reveal?

The reveal: Satsuki and Mei's mother

After the soot sprites leave, we find out what's really happening:
Satsuki and Mei's mother is very sick.

Throughout the film, there will be an interweaving of two stories:
the magical forest creatures & their mother's illness.
Is there some kind of deep meaning behind it?

What about those who see deep meaning and mythology in his work?
"I don't intentionally make deep movies," he said. "It's not that I set out to make films
that deal with myths, but as I develop the story,
aspects of older stories or myths enter into the story."

Anyway, back to the structure...

The Climax of Act I

While Satsuki is at school and their father is working,
Mei discovers some interesting woodland creatures.

The Climax of Act I: Mei meets Totoro




Okay, so while Mei's hanging out with Totoro under the tree,
Satsuki gets back from school and we find out that their father
isn't very good at keeping track of his children.

Obstacle #1: Bad parenting

Satsuki finds Mei asleep in the middle of the woods.
The path that once led to Totoro is now closed.

After that, their father goes off to do some work, and Mei
refuses to stay at Nanny's house, so she forces her way into
staying by Satsuki's side at school. Then, it starts to rain.

Obstacle #2: Why are you at school and why didn't I bring an umbrella?

Kanta is nice enough to offer his tattered umbrella for them to use.
Many umbrellas later, Satsuki and Mei decide to wait at the bus stop
for their father, who forgot his umbrella much like he forgets his children.

Obstacle #3: Is he ever coming back?

Totoro shows up as they wait for their father to return,
and soon after he leaves with the umbrella they brought for their father.
Way to go, Totoro.

But that's okay! Totoro comes back that night to help with the seeds
he gave them back at the bus stop. Then they go on a little adventure.


Totoro's never giving back your dad's umbrella, kids.

But then...

The Big Twist!

Midpoint (big twist/mini-climax): A call from the hospital

Satsuki gets a telegraph from the hospital. It turns out
that their mother won't be visiting like she had promised.

Satsuki and Mei get into a heated argument.

Obstacle #4: Argument and worry

"What'll we do if she dies?"

The All-is-Lost Moment

Mei runs away and everyone is sent into panic.

All-is-Lost Moment (Disaster): Where's Mei?

Obstacle #5: They found sandals in the pond

Kanta finds Satsuki and informs her about sandals his family found in
a nearby pond. Are they Mei's? Did she fall in?

A sigh of relief: no, they aren't Mei's sandals.
(My question: whose are they? Should we really be relieved?)

Finally, Satsuki goes to Totoro for help.

News of Hope

News of Hope: The catbus returns!

The Climax

The Catbus takes Satsuki to Mei, who was standing at a crossroad, lost and scared.

The Climax: Finding Mei




After that, they pay a visit to their mother at the hospital,
and Mei leaves a head of corn to help her mother get better.

The Wrap-Up

Now comes the happy ending! We see Satsuki and Mei
catch up with Nanny and Kanta, who had been searching for them both.

The End

And that's it! We get to see them greet their mother at the end
on her trip home the following weekend. Happy end for everyone!

Unanswered questions:

1. Did Totoro ever give back that umbrella?
2. Whose sandals were those? Is she okay? (Was it Chihiro?)

Well, I'm not going to worry about it that much.
Thanks for reading.


More Poultrygeist + Salamanders

I've been using Poultrygeist as my personal project to get me through the Summer.

Designs for Eva's mother.



I also drew some salamander-esque creatures.