Totoro’s missing dialogue, Kanta’s final revelation, and… Totoro has a crush on Satsuki?!

It’s been over three decades since Studio Ghibli’s My Neighbour Totoro debuted in Japan in 1988, and we’re still uncovering little-known secrets behind the beloved animated feature film.

This week we discovered another set of My Neighbour Totoro secrets, after a recent broadcast of the movie on Japanese television prompted us to take a look at the original storyboards for the film, found in the 2010 book My Neighbor Totoro (Studio Ghibli Storyboard Collection, Volume 3).

The book, by Ghibli director and co-founder Hayao Miyazaki, contains a number of storyboard notes written in his hand during production, which add some juicy details to the narrative and an extra layer of depth to the well-known story.

Some of Miyazaki’s direction didn’t make it into the movie, and after reading through the book, we’re now seeing some of the scenes in a different light. So let’s take a look at some of the secrets behind the film, starting with the relationship between Satsuki — Mei’s older sister and female lead — and Kanta, the boy who develops a crush on her.

What does Kanta say to Satsuki at the very end of the movie?

The first meeting between these two characters is a memorable moment in the story, but not because Kanta makes a good impression on his crush. He stops by Satsuki’s new house to pass something on from his mother to his grandmother, who’s helping Satsuki and her family get settled in, and after initially being stumped for words, he quickly races outside and yells at her, “You live in a haunted house!

However, as the story progresses, Sattsuki and Kanta go from poking their tongues out at each other to showing a heartwarming level of care for one another, expressed at the very end when she refers to him affectionately as “Kan-chan” instead of the less-friendly “Kanta”.

“What’s that? I never heard her say “Kan-chan”, you might be saying to yourself, even if you’ve watched the original non-dubbed version of the film. That’s because she says it right at the very end, when the final scenes of the movie are shown as the “My Neighbour Totoro” ending song plays over the top of their dialogue. At this moment, you can see the character’s mouths move but you can’t hear what they’re saying.

However, the storyboard for this scene reveals what they’re saying to each other at this moment:

Satsuki: “Thank you Kan-chan”

Kanta: “Hehe … I got a flat tyre so I couldn’t make it to the hospital.”

[Quoted from My Neighbor Totoro (Studio Ghibli Storyboard Collection, Volume 3)]

It’s a short exchange but it explains quite a bit, as Kanta previously told Satsuki she should go home as he would go to the hospital to look for her missing sister Mei. However, Satsuki ends up finding Mei and they travel on the Catbus to the hospital together, but Kanta is nowhere to be seen.

So was Kanta playing a prank on Satsuki? Was he distracted by something on the way that made him forget about the mission to find Mei? No – the revelation that he was sidelined by a flat tyre means he really was trying to get to the hospital for Satsuki. And if you look closely at that scene at the end, you’ll be able to see his busted front tyre.

Totoro’s Missing Dialogue

The next big revelation from the storyboards is the fact that the giant Totoro initially had dialogue. In the scene where Mei encounters Totoro sleeping in the forest, Miyazaki had envisaged this conversation between the two characters:

Mei: “Who are you? Are you a big dust bunny?”

Totoro: “I’m sleepy”

Mei: “Gwaaaaaaa!” (imitating Totoro’s large yawn)

Totoro: “Are you sleepy too?”

Mei: “Totoro!!! You’re Totoro, aren’t you?”

Totoro: “I don’t know”

Mei: “I bet you’re Totoro”

[Quoted from My Neighbor Totoro (Studio Ghibli Storyboard Collection, Volume 3)]

This puts a different spin on their first meeting in the film, where Totoro appears to communicate its name to Mei by roaring out three syllables that sound like “To-to-ro”. According to Miyazaki’s initial vision, however, Totoro didn’t know what its name was — it probably didn’t even know the concept of names existed — and Mei was the one who gave the giant character its name.

At the Bus Stop In the Rain

During the scene at the bus stop in the rain, where Totoro appears next to Satsuki as she carries her sleeping sister on her back, Totoro simply stands there as drops of rain drip onto its snout from the leaf on its head. When Satsuki asks, “Are you Totoro?” the giant character simply looks at her from the side of its eye and says nothing.

In the original storyboard, however, this is the exchange that occurs between the two at that moment:

Satsuki: “Totoro?”

Totoro: “What’s that? What’s Totoro…”

[Quoted from My Neighbor Totoro (Studio Ghibli Storyboard Collection, Volume 3)]

This original storyboard version also shows Totoro being fascinated by the drops of rain that drip onto his nose from the leaf, and its confusion over the word “Totoro” reinforces the notion that the mysterious giant doesn’t know Totoro is its name — it doesn’t even know what Totoro is or what it’s meant to mean.

And if you were confused as to why Totoro jumps under the umbrella, the storyboard images suggest the initial wide grin after the raindrops hit the umbrella is because Totoro thinks it’s a great musical instrument. The jump is meant to convey Totoro’s excitement over the sound being made.

Totoro is The Wind?

Another change in direction that deserves a mention is the scene when Mei, Satsuki and the three Totoros fly through the air and swoosh past the long grass on a magic spinning top. In the film, Satsuki says “We’re the wind!” but written on the storyboard is: “Yes — the voice of Totoro is the wind!!”

If you listen to the audio during this scene, the sound of the wind as they swish by really does sound a lot like Totoro’s roar, only on a much quieter level.

Totoro has a crush on Satsuki?

Finally, we have a bombshell of a theory, related to the climactic sequence towards the end when Satsuki asks Totoro for help in finding her missing sister.

At this part of the movie, Satsuki tumbles onto the sleeping Totoro’s chest, just like her younger sister did earlier, and when Totoro wakes and sees her crying he takes her into his arm. He then sits up and blushes while holding her, letting out a loud roar before they take off into the sky together.

In the film, he doesn’t say anything intelligible but according to the storyboard, Totoro says:

Totoro: “Kawaii”

[Quoted from My Neighbor Totoro (Studio Ghibli Storyboard Collection, Volume 3)]

“Kawaii” — like its English translation, “cute” — can be used when gushing over adorable children and animals and also when gushing over your crush. However, the fact that Totoro’s cheeks turn red suggest the character is actually blushing over a crush, and if that’s true, then My Neighbour Totoro can be seen as a romantic comedy with Totoro and Kanta as love rivals in a very bizarre love triangle.

Regardless of whether Totoro really does have a crush on Satsuki or not, the two do share a very special bond, and similar big-sibling roles too, as Totoro acts as a big brother to the smaller forest Totoros much in the same way Satsuki is a big sister to Mei.

So there you have it — some of the little-known secrets behind the making of My Neighbour Totoro, thanks to handwritten notes and storyboards from the director of the movie. The book provides some fascinating insights into a film we thought we knew so well, and opens up options for reinterpreting some of the movie’s most memorable scenes.

It also makes a great companion for another Studio Ghibli tome, The Place Where Totoro Was Born, which takes us into the movie’s real-world setting of Sayama Hills, also known as Totoro’s Forest, which is the real birthplace of Totoro.

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