Joe Hisaishi, a well-known Japanese composer, has collaborated with the United Kingdom to create a stage version of the 1988 hand-drawn classic from Japan, a beloved film that follows the adventures of two young sisters who migrate from Tokyo to the countryside.
The film, set in Japan, introduces Satsuki and Mei who move with their father to their new house, near a forest, to discover spirits and magical creatures. Two furious ones are of particular interest, including a huge fluffy creature known as the Totoro, and a massive cat bus that takes on passengers and then launches into the sky.
In collaboration with Studio Ghibli, where Miyazaki develops his films, Hisaishi will direct the production with the RSC. In partnership with Improbable and Nippon TV, a UK theater company.
At the 2003 Academy Awards, Miyazaki's Spirited Away won the Oscar for his best animated feature film. The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures opened last year with an exhibition of his work. His full collection of feature films has become increasingly popular on Netflix.
Hisaishi's contribution from the film My Neighbour Totoro will be used in the stage production, alongside orchestral pieces and melodies that were not included in the film.
Phelim McDermott, the director of Improbable, will direct the production with Tom Pye, a long-time collaborator, who has been signed on as production designer, who has developed the film for the stage.
McDermott told Deadline that he's thrilled that Kimie Nakano (costumes) and Jessica Hung Han Yun (lighting) and You-ri Yamanaka have joined the creative team. Im not from that culture (Japanese) and there are things in the piece I do not understand. It's absolutely essential to have those voices in the room, he said.
Besides, the large ensemble will be of Japanese, East, and South-East Asian heritage. The show's two young siblings are unlikely to be played by children. "We must employ performers who can do many things...puppetry, physical stuff, so there are choices to be made," McDermott said.
However, he is very clear that the production of My Neighbour Totoro, which will premiere at London's Barbican Centre for a 15-week season from October 8, 2022 until January 21 2023, will not be a musical in the strictest sense of the word.
There will be a live-streaming audience. It's going to have music very present, said McDermott. And it may be that during certain scenes you'll hear a beautiful voice, as you do in the film, he said.
He argued that "if we turn it into a musical, it says something different from what the original source material has."
McDermott's production will feature a vocabulary of puppetry (to be created by acclaimed puppeteer Basil Twist) and visuals. "You see images and hear a voice singing rather than a character burst into song, which would not be appropriate," he said.
McDermott said the show will have an environmental awareness about it. Not only as part of the narrative, but also how puppets will be made using environmentally friendly materials. "There will be tiny details of nature in this crazy tale about spirits in the wood," McDermott said, chuckling.
Five years ago, McDermott said his long-time collaborator, composer Phillip Glass, introduced him to Hisaishi in London. This was the same time that Pippa Hill, the RSC's literary director, invited writer Morton-Smith to discuss a family show.
Studio Ghibli came up with My Neighbour Totoro. Serendipitously, they approached the RSC, stating, they wanted to collaborate on stage adaptations of their work. They said how much they liked (Ton winning musical ) Matilda. Everything came together at one time, Morton-Smith told Deadline.
Morton-Smith was invited to a meeting with Miyazaki and asked him if he was a feminist. 'I said'yes and that the girls are important to him,' said the filmmaker. 'I've found all of his films 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,' said Morton-Smith.
The filmmaker said that pretty much everything that's seen in the film "is going to find its way on stage," but if you look at the screenplay in isolation, it's quite 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 there."
My Neighbour Totoro will be one of the most significant projects in the RSC's history. Erica Whyman, RSC acting artistic director, has taken a close interest in its development and has participated in several pre-production sessions for puppetry, music, and casting. Full rehearsals begin in July.