Multi-award-wining composer Joe Hisaishi and the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) are readying a stage adaptation of Miyazaki Hayao’s beloved 1988 Studio Ghibli film “My Neighbor Totoro.” It will open at London’s Barbican arts complex this fall in collaboration with Improbable and Nippon TV.
Hisaishi was the original composer of the film.
Written by playwright Tom Morton-Smith (“Oppenheimer”) and directed by Phelim McDermott with production design by Tom Pye, costumes by Nakano Kimie, lighting by Jessica Hung Han Yun, and movement by Yamanaka You-Ri, the production will feature puppetry created by Basil Twist and music from Hisaishi’s score in a new orchestration by Will Stuart, performed live with sound design by Tony Gayle. Artwork for the adaptation includes a hand drawn title by Toshio Suzuki, producer for Studio Ghibli, who was involved in the planning and production of the original animated film. Casting for the stage production will be announced soon.
The coming-of-age story follows one summer in the lives of sisters Satsuki and Mei. In order to be closer to their mother while she recovers from an illness in a rural convalescent hospital, their father moves the family to the countryside. Mei encounters magical creatures and the ancient protector of the forest she calls Totoro and the sisters are soon both swept up in adventures.
Hisaishi said: “In Japan, many people are passionate about theatre and musicals, but there are no original Japanese shows or musicals performed in the world. ‘Totoro’ is a Japanese work famous throughout the world, and so this stage adaptation could have the potential to reach global audiences. That’s what I thought, and I told Mr. Miyazaki ‘I want to see such a show’ and he said ‘yes, only if you are going to do it.’ “
“This responsibility is a huge task, but we chose to work with the Royal Shakespeare Company, a globally prestigious company, and with their support we can make it happen. I am delighted that the RSC have become our partner because I feel much in common between the quality of the RSC and Mr. Miyazaki’s aesthetic,” Hisaishi added. “I was involved with the original animation film, and so I feel strongly about not harming the film. If the story is universal – as I believe it is – it will have a global reach even if it is performed by people from different cultural backgrounds speaking different languages. I was sure of this – and so we have chosen to open outside Japan. To me this was important. It’s vital to keep distance with the film but it’s also important to have new encounters.”
Erica Whyman, RSC acting artistic director, said: “Adapting this deeply loved magical story for the stage is the next chapter in our longstanding commitment to making spectacular and accessible productions that see the world through the eyes of children, most recently, ‘The Magician’s Elephant,’ ‘Wendy & Peter Pan’ and of course ‘Matilda The Musical.’ We know that this major new commission will attract a wide range of theatre audiences as well as loyal fans of the original film.”
Toni Racklin, head of theater and dance at the Barbican, added: “This ambitious cross-cultural production marks 10 successful years of collaboration between the Barbican and the RSC, and we’re immensely proud to be the RSC’s home away from home.”
“My Neighbor Totoro” will play a 15-week season from Oct. 8, 2022–Jan. 21, 2023.