Once Upon a Totoro
Disclaimer: I do not own the movie My Neighbor Totoro or any of the characters in it. I am simply here to inform you about how the Totoros came to be.
Totoros. Why are there Totoros? Where did they come from? Why is there not only an Oh-Totoro, but also a Chuu-Totoro and a Chibi-Totoro? And where did the Catbus come from? And of course, let us not forget the Dustbunnies Mei found in the little crack on the attic wall.
Well, a long, long time ago, so long ago that Tokorozawa City was still a farming village, there were children. When these children weren't helping their parents and grandparents tend the vegetables and herd the animals, they would go to play. They would play with tako (kites, not octopuses, of course) and they would play with beigoma (tops), but their favorite game was shiritori, a Japanese game in which a word is said by one player, and the next player must follow up with a word that begins with the kana that the previous word ended with.
The children would gather around the huge camphor tree. "Ike [pond]!" one would scream. "Kegawa [fur, skin]! Another would holler. And so the game went on. "Wana [trap]!" "Natto [fermented soybeans rich in protein and probiotics; usually eaten for breakfast]!" "Totoro!" a little boy continued.
All the children laughed. "What's a 'Totoro'?" asked the girl sitting next to him.
"Well, you know, it's a furry woodland creature."
Silence. Then laughter again. "Wow, Takuya. You have more imagination than all the rest of us combined!" Takuya's best friend, Kazuya, exclaimed.
And so began the adventures of Totoro. Whenever the children congregated around the camphor tree, they would play "Find the Totoro" or "Tag! You're Totoro!" or even "Pin the Tail on the Totoro." They truly believed there were Totoros living among them, and even though their parents often exclaimed with huge grins "You children have such great creativity!" Totoros weren't just figments of their imagination—they were actually there. Humans and Totoros lived together in perfect harmony.
One day, however, the children noticed something wrong. Big Totoro didn't seem as jolly as he had been the day before. They asked him what the problem was. Oh-Totoro let out a somber moan, but the kids knew exactly what malady had overtaken their friend: loneliness.
Big Totoro loved the times when he could be with his human friends, but whenever the sun went down, they all said their good-byes and returned to their families. The problem was—Totoro had no family. He just sat on the branches of the great camphor tree and blew out a song on his ocarina.
And so, the children formulated an idea: Why don't we just imagine up a family for Oh-Totoro?
And that's exactly what they did. They conjured up two more Totoros—a ghostlike Chibi-Totoro and a navy blue Chuu-Totoro. But why stop at three? The kiddies also thought of a hundred tiny, sooty Dustbunnies and a helpful Nekobusu to not only act as a friend, but also as transportation. When Big Totoro saw all the friends he could play with day and night, he smiled that great, big, infectious smile, making the children, Dustbunnies, Chibi-Totoro, Chuu-Totoro, and Catbus all smile, too.
As the children grew older, they began seeing less and less of Totoro and Co. They became occupied with work, family and of course, taxes. (Yeah, Japan has taxes, too. Not my fault.). But life continued on. Everyone helped maintain the farms, and when the children's help wasn't necessary, they would scamper to the great camphor tree where their parents used to play. The kids would come home and recount their adventures over a steaming supper, and one day, they asked, "What's that humongous, fluffy rabbit-thing we always play with?" And the parents would answer, "Why, that's a Totoro," for even though they couldn't see him anymore, they knew he was there, and that was good enough for them.