The buzz

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 December, 2010, 12:00am

Every summer when my youngster and I head overseas for some quality father-daughter time, one of the most important items we take is an iPhone loaded with movies to keep us amused on the road and when we return to the hotel after a long day in the sun.

One film that never fails to make our playlist is My Neighbour Totoro - the 1988 animated movie by the famed Japanese anime powerhouse Studio Ghibli - and setting aside one night each holiday to indulge in this wonderfully whimsical tale of two young sisters' adventures with friendly forest spirits has turned into a family tradition.

The titular Totoro is the cute, cuddly but slightly freaky guardian of the forest, and has become the face of Studio Ghibli - the 'Mickey Mouse' of this Japanese version of the Disney empire - appearing in its company logo as well as becoming its representative around the world, even making a cameo in the recent Toy Story 3.

In these days of effects-heavy, dumbed-down children's films involving hamster secret agents and exploding meatball machines, Studio Ghibli's output harks back to a more innocent era of animation, with lush, hand-drawn frames and an almost Zen-like atmosphere of restrained integrity.

The studio was founded in 1985 by the famed anime directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, and since releasing its first film, Laputa: Castle in the Sky, in 1986, Ghibli has gone on to win the Animage Anime Grand Prix award several times as well as an Oscar for best animated feature in 2002 for Spirited Away.

Just as many Disney films occupy a special place in the hearts of youngsters - and the young at heart - throughout the world, the Japanese studio's films have been an important part of the childhoods of many Asian people, and the legions of local Ghibli fanatics have some Totoro-size treats to look forward to this month.

To celebrate the release of the studio's latest film, The Borrower Arrietty, the MCL cinema chain is presenting a mini-festival also involving screenings of the most acclaimed Ghibli movies, including Spirited Away, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, My Neighbours the Yamadas and, of course, My Neighbour Totoro. The shows run from December 10-19 at various MCL cinemas, and full details can be found at

And leading up to the festival are two performances at the Cultural Centre on December 8-9 featuring Japanese composer Joe Hisaishi conducting the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra through the soundtracks he composed for Studio Ghibli films such as Castle in the Sky, Kiki's Delivery Service and, again, My Neighbour Totoro.

Studio co-founder Miyazaki is responsible for writing and directing the greatest Ghibli films, and his films often revolve around man's relationship with nature, with strong, independent girls or young women as the protagonists. This approach finds its most refined expression in My Neighbour Totoro. Of the film, renowned critic Roger Ebert wrote: 'It is a little sad, a little scary, a little surprising and a little informative, just like life itself. It depends on a situation instead of a plot, and suggests that the wonder of life and the resources of imagination supply all the adventure you need.' Going Out couldn't agree more.