Is My Neighbor Totoro actually the God of Death?

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been a Studio Ghibli fan. I received my first Ghibli movie when I was nearly 7 years of age. It was My Neighbor Totoro, and it was on VHS. Old, right? As I’ve grown older and learned to appreciate the Ghibli films more, I’ve become more involved with the stories behind them and the production of the entire films. But are you familiar with the Samaya Incident?

my neighbor totoro
Art by Sachsen

In the year 1963 on May 1st in a town known as Sayama (Saitama), one girl went missing on her way home from school. A few hours later, a note was delivered to her house, asking for 200,000 yen to go to the kidnapper who was located near her house. The victim’s sister did as the note said, but with fake money and with the police involved. They attended the location and before the police could catch the suspect, he snuck off into the night. Nearly 3 days after the incident, the girl who was kidnapped was found dead. The older sister was so depressed about her sister being murdered, she committed suicide.

Now what does this have to do with Ghibli? Trust me, when I first read about this I was thinking the same thing. Well theoretically, this entire scenario was later created into a movie known as the film we all love, My Neighbor Totoro. How? Well let’s take a further look.

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First of all, the two main characters of My Neighbor Totoro are named Mei and Satsuki. Satsuki is another way of saying May. The murder happened in the month of May. Coincidence? That’s just one of many.

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The story of My Neighbor Totoro takes place in Saitama, which also happens to be in the same location as the murder case. If you pay attention to some of the signs on boxes in the movie itself, they say Sayamacha and similar things. Let’s take a look at this certain picture. If you were to translate the sign it would say Sayamacha, or Samaya Tea.

If you are familiar with Japanese terms and such, you would understand what Shinigami is. (For those who aren’t familiar with the term, it translates to “death god”.) Totoro is actually part of Shinigami, along with all his cute little friends. However, they don’t seem to come off as cute anymore, do they?

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In the first few scenes, when Mei and Satsuki are exploring their new home, they come across little, black soot balls. Now these soot balls are also known as susuwatari. The back story on the whole thing states that if you see susuwatari, you will be facing death soon. Little soot balls of death don’t sound so promising. These little, two eyed, soot sprites can also be seen in Spirited Away working with Kamaji at the bath house. If you remember anything from the film, you would know that everyone in the Bath House is actually dead. Makes more sense now, doesn’t it? No one else in the film seems to be able to see them either. Kanta, the young boy featured in the film who lives next door, can’t even see them. Hmm.

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(From My Neighbor Totoro)

spirited away
(From Spirited Away)

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Remember the hospital their mother is staying at? The name of the hospital, Hachikoku Byouin, is actually located in the town of Sayama. Not just in the movie, but also in the actual town. And they are both located in the same exact place. That’s too real for this theory to not be true, for me at least.

 

There is a scene where Mei is seen crying because she is lost. She is sitting in front of 6 地蔵 Jizou statues. These statues are “a buddhist deity that looks after the souls of deceased children in Japan.”

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Towards the end of the movie, it branches out to another plot in the story. Mei goes missing, just like the girl who went missing on the way home from school. Satsuki later finds what she thinks is Mei’s shoe in a pond nearby her house. From there on out, Satsuki doesn’t give up hope and continues to look for Mei. She rides the Nekobus in hopes to find her, and even asks Totoro for help.

We finally see them together at the end of the movie, sitting in a tree with the Nekobus. Mei and Satsuki’s parents sit below in their mother’s hospital room, while the girls and the bus look down at them from the tree. If you remember, the parents never acknowledge the fact that the girls are right outside.

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If Mei and Satsuki are with the Nekobus, that means they are either close to dying, or have died. The parents also cannot see the girls. Both sisters in the Sayama incident are dead. Little too close to not being true, am I right?

Believe what you want to believe, but for me personally, I think that this film is in fact based on the Sayama Incident. Ghibli Studios once confirmed that the movie and the incident are nothing in comparison, and to base them off one another was never their intention. Do you believe they’re telling the truth, or is My Neighbor Totoro in fact based off the Sayama Incident?

So many people have different opinions on the matter, and I’m all ears! So if you want to let us know your side of the story, please do. It’s a very debatable topic if I do say so myself.

Regardless of the two stories being nearly identical, My Neighbor Totoro is a fantastic film that really inspired me as a child, and I know a lot of people feel the same way! So don’t let one perspective change your entire feelings on the film.

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Amber Karpaty
Amber Karpaty 215 posts

You may or may not have seen me dancing around on our YouTube channel. I really love psychology and dissecting shows/film. Also your token anime nerd.

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