Movie Poster Analysis

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This is a movie poster for the Japanese film, “My Neighbor Totoro”. I chose this poster because this is my one-year-old daughter’s favorite movie and because it is a very, very cute movie with an incredibly creative plot. This movie was originally written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki in 1988. It was re-released in English by Disney in 2007.

The lighting in this poster is very interesting. There appears to be a hard spotlight coming in from the left, leaving the top half of Totoro in the dark. It was done this way because they are standing at the bus stop and the light is meant to be coming from the bus (which, by the way, is a big furry cat with like 16 legs). The spot light creates a very fast falloff with dense cast and attached shadows. The light is shinning directly on the girl, Satsuki, which really brightens up the color of her outfit and umbrella, really the only color found in the whole poster (besides the title). This makes her the focal point. The spot light also accentuates how big Totoro is because he is so large that he only fits into a small portion of the light. It looks like there is also some background lighting. This draws some attention to the surroundings (which play a huge role in the story-line) and it provides a sense of depth.

The composition and framing of this picture are nice. The sign acts as a graphic vector, pointing to the sky, leading your eye to the title. I think it could be argued that the spots on Totoro’s chest and his ears could be graphic vertical vectors as well. These vertical vectors along with the large amount of headroom draw attention to the towering trees and the weather (rain). There is an equal amount of room left in the framing on both sides as well as the bottom which makes a nice, balanced composition. The lighting, composition, and framing of this picture all contribute to the creation of meaning in this poster. This movie is about becoming more in tune with nature and your surroundings. It is also a film that is meant to encourage you to use your imagination and become more aware of your child-like self. I think these are things that can be seen in this poster.

Some of the other meaningful things in this poster may not be quite as evident unless you are a big Totoro nerd like me. Both Satsuki and Totoro’s facial expressions suggest that they are surprised or shocked by something we cannot see. Their expressions are the signifier and the light, which is the cat bus is the signified. If you have not seen the movie, you would not know what the signified aspect of this sign is but, it may encourage you to see the movie so you can find out? I think it is funny that both characters are looking directly at the viewer rather than to the left or at each other because this emphasizes the mystery of the signified aspect of this sign. Most of the signs in this picture have paradigmatic relations because they create meaning through each other. For example, Totoro is a forest spirit (a symbolic part of nature) and he blends into the background whereas Satsuki, stands out. She has an umbrella to “protect” her from the rain while he has a small leaf that drips the rain onto his nose. There is also a very symbolic sign that I never noticed in this picture until now and that is, that Satsuki’s sister, Mei is not in the photo but she is still seen if you look closely. In the movie, Mei is sleeping on Satsuki’s back. Satsuki has short hair and Mei has longer hair worn in pigtails. If you look closely, you can see that Mei is not there and that Satsuki has Mei’s pigtails. This is a symbolic sign because the original 1988 movie was directed with only one girl. The story was later re-written with two and Mei was added into the film. There is some metonymy in this poster as well. It seems obvious that they are at a bus stop because of the sign that they are standing next to. We can determine this without even knowing what the sign says (unless you speak Japanese). It is possible that there is some connotation that I am not picking up on because this is a film from a different culture. But, a great movie!

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