Veteran Studio Ghibli composer explains why the play isn’t being produced in Japan.

If you were going to go looking for Totoro, you’d probably start your search in a Japanese forest, maybe even the wooded section of Saitama Prefecture that served as the inspiration for the setting of the My Neighbor Totoro film. But this fall, Totoro will be waiting for fans half-way around the planet, as the beloved Studio Ghibli anime is being adapted as a live-action stage play by the U.K.’s Royal Shakespeare Company.

As with the stage adaptations of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Spirited Away, anime director Hayao Miyazaki is not directly involved in the production. There is, however, a key member of the original Totoro anime’s creative team who’s taking on a key role. Joe Hisashi, composer for Totoro (as well as other Ghibli classics such as Nausicaa, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away) will be the stage play’s executive producer. In fact, it was Hisaishi who first floated the idea of a Totoro stage play to Miyazaki, who responded with “If it’s you who’s handling it, Hisaishi, then OK.”

▼ Preview video for the My Neighbor Totoro stage play

The play will be directed by Phelim McDermott, with a script written by Tom Morton-Smith. Also notable is that the preview video gives screen time to puppeteer Basil Twist, implying that Totoro will be brought to life using practical effects.

▼ We see your teeth there, Totoro!

Hisaishi, who is in charge of the play’s music, has praised the talent of the team and their unabashed love for the anime source material. As for why the play is being produced outside of Japan, he commented:

“I was involved with the original work, and so I feel strongly that I don’t want to shatter the film’s identity. If the play was being first produced and performed in Japanese, the play and film would end up overlapping each other in people’s minds. So I thought it would be best for the play to be produced overseas.

I believe My Neighbor Totoro has a universal quality, and if that is true, then even if it is produced in a different language by people who grew up in a completely different culture [from Japan], I believe it can still move people all over the world.”

That open-minded attitude doesn’t mean Hisaishi is ambivalent to loyalty to the source material’s atmosphere, though. “There is a concern that a foreign-country stage adaptation could lead to the play being a flashy spectacle. ‘Let’s not have Totoro flying around all over the place’ is something I’ve been saying. The staff is forming a good relationship where we can honestly and openly exchange opinions with each other.”

The My Neighbor Totoro stage play is scheduled to run from October 8 to January 21 at London’s Barbican Centre theater, with ticket reservations opening May 9.

Source: My Neighbor Totoro stage play official website, PR Times
Featured image: YouTube/Royal Shakespeare Company
Top image: Studio Ghibli
Insert images: PR Times, YouTube/Royal Shakespeare Company
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