On the original poster for Studio Ghibli’s My Neighbor Totoro, as well as on the DVD and Blu-ray cover, there is a mysterious girl standing next to Totoro. She isn’t Satsuki or Mei, and this girl does not appear in the movie. Yet, there she is.
Below is the scene that appears in My Neighbor Totoro, with both sisters standing next to the furry giant.
Below is the official art, which is still used. The girl does look like a combination of Satsuki and Mei, so maybe she’s neither Satsuki nor Mei, but both. But as noted on website Poster Pagoda, there might be a better reason.
In an interview (via Spoon & Tamago), Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki explained that My Neighbor Totoro was originally going to be a children’s picture book. During the mid-1970s, Hayao Miyazaki began coming up with concept art for what would become the movie we know today. The early art featured Totoro and a seven-year-old girl.
However, when it went into development as an animated movie—as part of a double-feature to be shown with Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies—Miyazaki apparently learned that his Ghibli cohort was making a longer film than him. So, the friendly rivals that they were, Miyazaki decided to make the mysterious girl into two sisters. The result was two girls: four-year-old Mei and 11-year-old Satsuki. The decision, however, sounds like it ultimately improved the story.
“If she was a little girl who plays around in the yard, she wouldn’t be meeting her father at a bus stop, so we had to come up with two girls instead,” Miyazaki said in The Art of My Neighbor Totoro. “And that was difficult. Her first encounter [with Totoro] at the bus stop seemed so perfect.”
However, when it was time to create the movie’s official poster, Miyazaki couldn’t come up with anything that satisfactory, so he reverted to the original picture book art. The reason why the mysterious art remained, according to former Studio Ghibli animator Hirokatsu Kihara, was that the movie wasn’t a hit when originally released, and no one really asked about the discrepancy, so there was no reason to change it. Thus, the art just stuck, even to this day when the movie is now a classic.
The “rainy day encounter” in its original form must have resonated with Miyazaki so strongly that he felt it was the best way to promote the movie.
This article was originally published on August 14, 2020. It has since been updated.