Mei & Kittenbus

On a windy day, Mei was eating some caramel. A whirlwind appeared and started to chase her.

The identity of the whirlwind was a Kittenbus! Mei gave a caramel to the Kittenbus and they became friends.

On that night, the Catbus came by with Kittenbus.

"You'll let me ride in you?" Hahaha!

Catbuses that have never been seen before gathered at the forest.

There were a lot of ghosts in the forest. As Mei looked around, Totoro was there!

Totoro!

Good evening! I am Mei. I am friends with Kittenbus.

Mei gave Grandma Cat a caramel. Grandma Cat carried all the ghosts. Mei rode on Kittenbus and went home.

Kazuko Kitahara, Principal of “Inaho Nursery” in Saitama, Okegawa City.

From the very start, children will be filled with joy and anticipation, right? The screen bursts with lizards, butterflies, and other creatures children adore. At “Inaho Nursery,” kids know exactly where to spot lizards, especially during early summer. They observe and catch hundreds, play with them in buckets and pots, and when playtime ends, they lovingly release them back. The joy they’ll feel seeing these familiar “friends” on screen is undeniable.

Then comes a fierce whirlwind, reminiscent of storms and typhoons that children seem to be fascinated by. A big typhoon flood? They’d be the first to dive in and swim. I admit, typhoons excite me too; they always get my heart pumping (laughs).

In Mei’s wooden home, nestled amongst foliage, the familiar sound of a “rattle” as she opens the door resonates with “Inaho Nursery” kids. They, too, are familiar with such traditional Japanese homes. But the highlight? The entrance of the Kittenbus, which will surely captivate them. It had the same effect on me (laughs).

When Mei offers a caramel to the somewhat intimidating Granny Cat, it’s a gesture many kids are familiar with, stemming from their innate desire to share emotions and treasures.

The unique, centipede-like motion of the Catbus might fuel their imaginations, making them yearn for such a magical conveyance in real life. After all, where would we be without the dreams of children? These dreams lay the foundation for countless possibilities.

Take the Catbus at the Ghibli Museum, for instance. While kids play there, they’re also crafting their narratives, imagining a Catbus that’s not just a static plush toy, but a living entity in their minds. This way, their horizons continue to broaden.

Every day, in their unique ways, children embark on adventures as grand as Mei’s. To us adults, standing on the ground might seem mundane, but for children, their world knows no bounds, even extending to the skies. Their artwork often mirrors this vastness, capturing the skies, the earth, themselves, and underground creatures. Their adventures, joyfully represented in these drawings, reveal the depth of their experiences. After viewing this masterpiece, they’ll undoubtedly continue to dream, relishing and expanding their worlds with characters like Mei.

Regrettably, not every child has experiences akin to those at “Inaho.” For some, this film might be their first realization of the wind’s dance, the movement of plants, or the many realms just beyond their doorstep. While firsthand experiences are irreplaceable, today’s reality is that not every child has access to such environments. But remember, every child has an innate sense of wonder, dreaming, and playfulness. The key is cultivating an environment that nurtures these traits. Children grow through experiences, so it’s paramount they have diverse encounters. (Discussion)

A Work Made for Children

This creation aims for children to leave thinking, “Wow, that was fun!” It’s crafted specifically with them in mind, much like the Ghibli Museum overseen by director Hayao Miyazaki. Consider the distinct sound of caramel being eaten in that uniquely childlike manner. From the onset, when a whirlwind sweeps Mei off her feet, causing her to spin, to her subsequent playful run, every scene is designed to captivate young viewers. They’re invited to see themselves in Mei’s adventures, losing themselves in the film’s magic, laughing, and rejoicing. All these elements seamlessly come together to offer such a delightful experience.

Simple Yet Complex, Hummable and Interesting Music

Since “Nausica√§ of the Valley of the Wind,” Joe Hisaishi has been the musical force behind all of Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpieces. In this new work, 8 tracks grace the score, with 2 being completely new melodies. One notable track is introduced when Mei shares a caramel moment with the Kittenbus. Hisaishi shared, “I crafted this melody as Mei’s signature tune, echoing her name softly as ‘Me-ei, Me-ei, Tararirara~’. Even though it’s deceptively simple, it’s built on a richly complex rhythm.”

Adding layers to the uncomplicated melody was a challenge, but Hisaishi was determined to make it captivating. With the completion of this track, he believed it perfectly encapsulated the shared joy of Mei and the Kittenbus and would resonate throughout the film.

The other fresh melody by Hisaishi sets the ambiance when a fleet of Catbuses venture into the forest. “This scene is pivotal in the narrative, and I wanted the music to be as memorable as the moment,” he noted. To add a unique twist, Hisaishi introduced the sounds of the crumhorn, an instrument reminiscent of an oboe but with an eccentric umbrella-handle shape. He remarked, “Its ethnic undertone is quite fascinating.” These musical additions to “My Neighbor Totoro” are not just accompaniments but integral elements that intensify the cinematic experience.

 

Chiaki Sakamoto Takes on the Role of Mei-chan

In the sequel to the 1988 classic “My Neighbor Totoro,” the younger sister, Mei, takes center stage. The talented Chiaki Sakamoto, who originally voiced Mei, returns to bring life to the character. Upon revisiting Mei’s character, Sakamoto noticed, “This time, Mei isn’t as teary-eyed.” She observed that, while Mei occasionally appears on the verge of tears, she quickly recovers, indicating a newfound resilience. Sakamoto noted, “She now exudes more maturity. Rather than always seeking her elder sister Satsuki’s protection, she independently takes charge. I was mindful of portraying this evolution, especially when interacting with the Kittenbus, where she assumes a protective, older sibling role.”

One of Sakamoto’s favorite scenes from the film is the heartwarming moment when Mei shares caramels with the Kittenbus and the immense Grandma Cat. “The gesture of sharing caramels as an initiation of friendship is so endearing. She fearlessly connects with others. That’s the magic of Mei,” she mused.

Aware of Mei’s cherished place in the hearts of fans, Sakamoto was intent on preserving her essence. Although she felt a twinge of nervousness reprising Mei after a 14-year hiatus, she joyfully remarked, “I truly relished embodying the character again.”

Director Miyazaki Takes on the Challenge of ADR for Totoro and Grandma Cat Roles

During the final stages of producing “Mei and the Kittenbus”, there was uncertainty about who would lend their voices to Totoro and Grandma Cat. Ultimately, Director Hayao Miyazaki stepped in to voice both characters. Hiroyuki Watanabe, a production manager present during the ADR (automated dialogue replacement) session, shared, “Miyazaki approached the microphone with poise and confidence.” Recording Totoro’s voice was seemingly straightforward for Miyazaki. However, Grandma Cat’s portrayal presented some challenges. Watanabe mentioned, “Miyazaki, having a vivid image in mind, revisited and refined her voice several times. He was especially detail-oriented when it came to the scene where Grandma Cat has difficulty eating caramel.”

Additionally, other characters like the Kittenbus and the ghost were brought to life by voices from Studio Ghibli staff and the Bungakuza theatre troupe members. The recording sessions were marked by their collective enthusiasm and spirited energy.

Approximately 150,000 Drawings for This Work

This project entailed the creation of approximately 150,000 illustrations, an impressive tally for a short feature that runs just 13 minutes and 43 seconds. This vast collection embodies the fervor of Director Miyazaki and Makiko Futaki, the animation director personally chosen by Miyazaki. He believed, “No one can capture the charm of animals in drawings like she can.” The dedication and ambition of the entire team aimed to produce a captivating and high-quality piece. Standout moments, like the opening sequence where the Kittenbus frantically pursues Mei, the breathtaking flight scene with Mei aboard the Kittenbus, and the depiction of countless spirits bustling in the forest, were meticulously planned and executed. Every movement was designed with precision, ensuring that each character radiated life and emotion.

The Appearance of Kittenbus and Cat Train

In this piece, alongside the familiar Catbus from “My Neighbor Totoro,” viewers encounter novel versions of these enchanting feline vehicles. This becomes clear when the Kittenbus, with Mei aboard, ventures into the forest. One is a cat-formed train, dashing at astonishing speeds. Then there’s the Grandma Cat that Mei stumbles upon in the woods. While the three-tailed cat train captures one’s curiosity, it’s the Grandma Cat that truly captivates. In its airborne form, it transforms into a grand cruise liner, its tail spiraling like a ship’s propeller, leaving even Mei in awe. Bringing these imaginative movements to life necessitated numerous deliberations between Director Miyazaki and animation director Futaki. They tirelessly experimented to bestow each character with distinct animations.

Owing to their dedication, the realm of the Catbus feels more vast and immersive. It hints at the possibility of yet undiscovered Totoros and Catbus variants lurking in some corner of the world.

 

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