Japan has a venerable tradition of lovable monsters – see the whole Pokemon phenomenon for an example. Or see the works of animator Hayao Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli, wondrous features where children come of age in countrysides full of mysterious, wondrous, sometimes dangerous creatures. So it is in My Neighbor Totoro, one of his earliest films (though it was only just released on Blu-ray last month).
Here, two young sisters and their professor father move to the sticks to be near the hospital where the girls’ mother lies gravely ill. There, the girls meet a variety of woodland spirits, most notably, Totoro, a sometimes scary but generally friendly and protective monster who looks like a cross between a cat, a bear, and an owl. The giant monosyllabic beast takes the girls on adventures and helps them in their time of need (for instance, when they’re stranded in the rain, sending a furry-footed cat-bus to drive them home). The movie is a lovely reminder that, for children facing some truly scary reality, fantasy monsters can offer cathartic solace.