My Neighbor Totoro Ending Explained

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My Neighbor Totoro Ending Explained
Credit: Ghibli

My Neighbor Totoro might be a simpler children's movie compared to other Ghibli films, but this isn't to say that it doesn't have layers of meaning or that it's only for children. For those who recently watched the film and have any questions, here's the ending of My Neighbor Totoro explained.

For a cute film about two children's supernatural experiences, Tonari no Totoro as the film is called in the original Japanese involves some dark undertones and some darker theories.

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Was Totoro Real?

My Neighbor Totoro Ending Explained 1
Credit: Ghibli

Were the supernatural elements real, or were they a fragment of the sisters' imagination? The answer is rather ambiguous, as is the case with most Miyazaki films.

The question of whether the fantastic is real or imaginary is not exclusive to this film. Many books, films, and other media engage with this question in creative ways.

Sometimes, half the charm hides precisely in this hesitation. However, to dismiss all magical elements as imaginary is rather counterproductive.

Everyday magic is an integral aspect of Miyazaki's work. It's present in other films of his, such as Kiki's Delivery Service and Spirited Away.

While in Spirited Away the magic is also ambiguous, and even forgotten by the heroine in the end, this doesn't mean that it wasn't real.

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If we consider Totoro as a fairy tale, it would include all the key functions J. R. R. Tolkien recognizes as key functions of fairy-stories including escape, consolation, and recovery.

The sisters move to the countryside to be closer to their mother's hospital, and the magical elements they encounter offer them consolation and escape from their harsh reality.

The fact that they're able to see Totoro and his friends in the first place can be interpreted as a recovery of a clear view of an unspoiled world.

Of course, one might argue that Totoro only seems to exist for Satsuki and Mei, as the children's parents never interact with him and his companions.

But no matter how one looks at it, the magic is not to be dismissed.

Is Totoro a Death God?

My Neighbor Totoro Ending Explained 2
Credit: Ghibli
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Of course, many fans believe the film's fantastical elements are there. Not only that, but they also think that something more sinister is at hand.

A rather popular fan theory wants Totoro to be a death god. The idea is that those who can see him are already dead or close to death.

Fans who support this theory base their ideas on what came to be known as the Sayama Incident.

On 1 May 1963, in Sayama a young girl got kidnapped, and while her older sister tried to ransom her back, the girl was raped and murdered. Following that, her older sister committed suicide.

The sisters' names are Satsuki, which means May, and Mei, the phonetic pronunciation of May and as the incident took place in May, some fans believe the story of Totoro to be symbolic of the tragedy.

The location of the house, Sayama Kyuryo, only aids that impression, leading some to believe that when Mei disappeared, she had actually passed away, followed by her eldest sister.

In that light, their visit to the hospital is interpreted as their mother also dying, and their boarding the cat bus is perceived as a trip to the afterlife.

Of course, this is a bit of a stretch, and while these elements are eerie and quite scary it is still quite implausible that such a wholesome movie would use an incident this tragic as its backdrop.

Related: Best Studio Ghibli Movies Ranked

Sure, some Ghibli films are dark, but overall, Miyazaki has often talked about how he wants to tell young people through his films that life is worth living.

After all, the end credits themselves seem to debunk this theory, as the girls' mother is seen returning home to them, presumably having recovered from her illness.