In the 1988 animated movie My Neighbor Totoro, two young girls with an ill mother befriend a large, cuddly animal known as Totoro, who's a cartoonish mix between Snorlax and a pointy-eared rabbit. Between Totoro and the giant, furry Catbus—which is, as it sounds, a bus that is also a comically sized cat—the girls find a world outside the stresses of family life. In times like these, if only we could all have a Totoro of our own to guide us through meadows and forests as we look for respite from basically everything around us.
Exactly when we need it in these anxiety-inducing times, the Studio Ghibli film collection, which includes Totoro, is finally available on streaming. With the launch of HBO Max today, American viewers can now stream all of the studio's films; though the movies hit Netflix earlier this year, until now, the collection was available in every country but the United States. Those of us who need a break from the reality of pandemic life can luckily now retreat into the fantasy of the Ghibli universe.
We can skip into the woods with Totoro; fly through the air on a broomstick with Kiki of Kiki's Delivery Service; join a pack of wolves in Princess Mononoke; befriend spirits in the haunted bathhouse of Spirited Away; and get swept into the wings of the dreamy, Christian Bale-voiced Howl in Howl's Moving Castle. We can do all of the above, and according to the website Bingeclock.com, streaming the entire Studio Ghibli collection will afford anyone with an HBO Max membership over 21 blessed hours of magical escapism.
Headed by the beloved director Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli's worlds are full of imaginary creatures, witches, giant babies, and all sorts of other fantastical characters and settings. There are more serious animated films like The Wind Rises, which follows the life of an aviation engineer, and lighter ones like Ponyo, which explores the friendship between a magical goldfish and a boy on dry land. (Perhaps for the sake of our already-at-wits'-end emotions, we should all agree to hold off on Grave of the Fireflies, which has been called one of the saddest animated movies ever—since, really, can any of us handle that right now?)
Those all sound better than giving into the cycle of "doomscrolling," as the journalist Karen K. Ho uses to refer to the inability to separate ourselves from stressful news. While all of Studio Ghibli's movies carry deeper undercurrents that you could dig into if you really wanted to— Princess Mononoke, for example, can be read as a prediction of the injustices in our modern world—you can also watch them at face value: Totoro can be nothing more than a giant, fluffy creature that wants to be friends, if that's what you need him to be.
As we immerse ourselves in a world of weird-looking creatures and unfamiliar mythology, we can carve out a little distance for ourselves from all that harsh reality. There should be space in our lives for serious thought, but there should also be space to just daydream about being swept away from our problems on a giant Catbus.