The Amazing Art of the Totoro Forest Project

Alison Morris - September 8, 2008

Where did you spend your Saturday night? Lucky you if you got to spend it at Pixar’s studios, as that’s where I’d like to have been! Last Saturday evening the place was home to the Totoro Forest Project, a fundraising exhibit and art auction to benefit the Totoro Forest Foundation, a non-profit has been greatly supported by filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki over the years.

 The motivation for last weekend’s fun is explained this way on the Project’s official website:

"Hayao Miyazaki has been actively supporting the preservation effort of Sayama Forest for more than ten years. This 8750 acre park in the outskirts of Tokyo is also known as Totoro Forest. It’s in these woods in fact that the concept for the film My Neighbor Totoro was born.

In the past few decades, the forest has been subject to urban development. Only continued support to the Totoro Trust Fund can help preserve this much needed island of green in the midst of Tokyo’s urban sprawl. We intend to donate the entire proceeds of the project to this worthy cause."

I found out about this event last Friday, thanks to an e-mail from Catia Chen, illustrator of The Sea Serpent and Me, one of my favorite picture books of the year. Catia contributed one of the 200 pieces of original art "especially created by internationally acclaimed artists in the fields of animation, comic books, illustration, and fine arts" that appeared in the auction.

I should say that I’m not using the term "art" loosely here. Looking through the gallery on the Totoro Project’s Website, I was slack-jawed. This grouping of pieces positively oozes talent, some of it from illustrators already working in children’s books and graphic novels, like Catia. For example, I was drooling over the piece by Jillian Tamaki, who illustrated the recent graphic novel Skim (Groundwood Books) and also loved the playful contribution by Greg Couch (illustrator of Nothing but Trouble: The Story of Althea Gibson by Sue Stauffacher, to name one). The majority of the contributions to the gallery, though, were made by artists and illustrators whose names have not yet graced the cover of illustrated books, but what I saw suggests that maybe they could. It seems to me that there is quite a pool of potential book illustration talent to be mined here. Art directors, grab your picks and shovels.

And speaking of talent… You don’t have to be a fan of Hayao Miyazaki’s films and/or have never seen My Neighbor Totoro to appreciate the art in The Totoro Forest Project, but you’re missing out if you don’t devote some time to both. Just like these things we call "children’s books," Miyazaki’s films are for "kids" of all ages, including yours!

Were any of you at the auction last weekend? Have any good stories to report or art to share? If so, PLEASE go ahead make the rest of us jealous by sharing all the glitzy details!

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