My Neighbour Totoro is a 1988 fantasy story aimed primarily at children. Satsuki and Mei—a pair of young sisters—move to an old house in the countryside with their father Kusakabe as their mother recovers from an illness. The girls explore their new house and the surrounding forest, forming a secret friendship with a large forest spirit named Totoro. Totoro is depicted as a warm and nurturing figure, learning the girls to live close to nature and in harmony with their environment, something that mankind in general has failed to do.
Kusakabe learns his children to respect the forest, “trees and people used to be good friends”. The local nature is depicted in a spiritual way and populated with fantastic creatures such as spirits—think of the Soot Sprites, small black fuzzy creatures—a multiple-limbed cat bus, and main character Totoro (also the mascot of Studio Ghibli), all of them only visible through the eyes of children. The natural world is more than a mere backdrop, more than just a physical setting, it is charged with magic, a sensitivity and agency. This is the opposite of how Hollywood (read Disney) depicts nature. Hayao Miyazaki, co-founder of Studio Ghibli, shows in My Neighbour Totoro that he has a great respect for nature. The environmental message here is to protect nature not so much out of political or activist reasons but because of the beauty of it.