This movie, set in Japan in the early fifties, is director Miyazaki's tribute to his mother (who suffered from tuberculosis, just like Satsuki and Mei's mother), his childhood home, and childhood innocence. Although some people who watch this movie wonder where the Americans are (this is post-WWII Japan, after all) and why so little screen time is spent on the girls' mother, but that may be partly due to the dubbing.
First of all, the house the girls move into is rather European in design (with doorknobs, and an attic, and a front porch) despite the Japanese style bath and occasional sliding door. Secondly, Mei and Satsuki are really into Western fairy tales (the are brief glimpses of Japanese translations of The Three Billy Goats Gruff and other stories, along with Mei inadvertently re-enacting scenes from Alice in Wonderland and Chronicles of Narnia). On top of that, according to Helen McCarthy and other Miyazaki experts.
The name "Totoro" is little Mei's mispronunciation of the Japanese transliteration of the English word "troll" ("tororo," which the Japanese would pronounce like "tololo" because they do not distinguish between r's and l's). This is why an accurate dubbed version is nearly impossible (like any little girl, Mei mispronounces a lot of words).
I think this movie is entirely about the mother. Throughout, you see them subtly (almost too subtly at times) change from completely carefree to terrified with each scene involving the mother. This parallels Satsuki's coming of age subplot (she's ten and like anyone that age she is self-conscious about believing in Santa, or in this case Totoro). There's a little bit of both in the culturally-shocking--though completely innocent--bath scene (both girls take a bath with their father during a wind storm).
if you you are trying to figure out what to watch, through dvd collection, on a boring night at home. I would recommend, this film to anyone that would listen. Well, that's a pretty typical happening around the house.
Miyazaki created a true masterpiece with this film. It has everything a person, of any age, could want. There are points that it is hilarious, a few points where it makes one slightly nervous, the animation is outstanding (as with all Miyazaki films), and aside from lacking a little bit in plot (what movie doesn't nowadays?).
The story is wonderful, One of the things that makes this film shine, at least for me, is that there is absolutely no antagonist role. No bad guy whatsoever, and only a genius like Miyazaki could pull that off.
Is this a childrens movie? Yes, of course it is. Is it a movie only for children? Well... maybe for the inner child inside all of us. There's humour in this movie that the young will laugh at, and there's a bit of humour in the movie that only adults will fully catch and appreciate, without it being "adult humour".
Really, though, My Neighbour Totoro is less about story than it is about the imagination of children.
Thank you again Miyazaki Sensei.