The Royal Shakespeare Company Is Adapting My Neighbor Totoro For The Stage

Though not their first film, "My Neighbor Totoro" is considered by many to be the first masterpiece by Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. The film, which tells the story of two young sisters who befriend wood spirits in rural Japan, is endearing and delightful while exploring some complex themes.

It is also following in the footsteps of "Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind" and "Spirited Away" as the latest Miyazaki movie to be adapted for the stage. The Royal Shakespeare Company has announced that they'll be making the first stage adaptation of "My Neighbor Totoro," and it is coming sooner than you'd think. 

Before you get your pitchfork and torch ready, rest assured there is no pillaging at the sacred altar of Ghibli going on here. On the contrary, not only did Hayao Miyasaki give his blessing to the project, but the project counts legendary composer Joe Hisaishi himself as a collaborator, executive producing the show with the RSC in partnership with Studio Ghibli.

A magical adventure

While we wait for the Ghibli park to finally open its doors, the "My Neighbor Totoro" stage play will open at the Barbican Centre theater in London on October 8, 2022 with the show running for 15 weeks until January 21, 2023. "Oppenheimer" (the play, not the Nolan movie) writer Tom Morton-Smith is adapting the story while Phelim McDermott ("Akhnaten") will direct.

Speaking to Deadline, McDermott said the show will have a large ensemble cast (though the movie features very few characters) of "Japanese, East and South-East Asian heritage." The two young siblings at the center of the story, Satsuki and Mei, will likely not be played by actual children. According to McDermott, "we have to use performers who can do many things ... puppetry, physical stuff, so there are choices to be made."

Still, the girls and their relationship will remain central to the story. According to writer Morton-Smith, what Miyazaki asked after they met was if Morton-Smith was a feminist. "I said 'yes' and that was very important to him and that the girls are central," the writer explained. "All of his films are fantastical and magical and there's so much in them that chime with childhood. It's all about exploring the natural world and running around and having this really involved fantasy life."

That is not the only difference between the stage play and the film, though McDermott points out there will be a band onstage performing live music, it is not strictly a musical play. "It may be that during certain scenes you'll hear a beautiful voice, like you do in the film."

Likewise, expect some original scenes not found in the film. According to Morton-Smith, everything you see in the 1988 film "is going to find its way on stage but if you look at the screenplay in isolation, it's very sparse in terms of dialogue so I've been able, and had the permission, to expand on the beats that are already there and show some scenes that aren't in the film."

But what about the titular neighbor, Totoro? The play will rely on puppetry, created by puppeteer Basil Twist, who worked on "The Addams Family" Broadway musical.

"My Neighbor Totoro" opens at London's Barbican Centre on October 8, 2022. Tickets go on sale May 19, 2022 right here. Now, the real question is, will this be paired with a stage adaptation of "Grave of the Fireflies?"