After Mei (the youger sister) tells Satsuki (the older) and their father that she'd met Totoro in the forest, the father asks "Totoro? Like from the book?", implying that they recognize him from some children's books or folklore tale.

My question is: was Totoro an original character created specifically for the 1988 movie, "My Neighbour Totoro"? Or does he come from some earlier source? Folklore, children's book or even Miyazaki's own earlier work (just as Nausicaa was a manga before he'd made the 1984 movie)?

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    I know that "totoro" is Mei's mispronunciation of "tororu", which means "troll", but otherwise I'm not sure whether or not Totoro the character is a creation of Miyazaki's. – Pleiades Feb 5 at 15:16
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    There has been some talk that Totoros are loosely based on Koropokkuru legends, but they look nothing like the Totoros of the film, and I've never seen any actual mention/confirmation from anyone at Ghibli. – phantom42 Feb 5 at 15:26
up vote 9 down vote accepted

Yes

While the character design is Miyazaki's own, the name comes from Mei's mispronunciation of troll, from the story 3 Billy Goats Gruff. This is a fairly well known fact for Japanese moviegoers, as the evidence is in the movie itself. One of the shots in the closing credits show Satsuki, Mei and the mother reading a copy of this book, so we know where the name comes from:

Kusakabe children reading 3 Billy Goats Gruff

The Japanese wikipedia article states that in earlier drafts, Totoro's name was Miminzuku, and is 1302 years old. Here's an early sketch, from back when Satsuki was not yet a character (and Mei was 5):

Early sketch of Father, Mei, Totoro, Middle Totoro and Small Totoro

There is a good blog post about this stuff at a Japanese blog, but you kinda need to know Japanese to read it.

Edit: The plot thickens! Recalling something from somewhere, I remember how someone remarked that Totoro was based on an owl. Well, that would be pretty wild speculation if it weren't for a breed of owl to be known as Mimizuku (ミミズク) in Japanese. It's pure speculation that this is the main influence for the design, but y'know, he does sit in trees and hoot...

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    "And then he flew at the troll, and poked his eyes out with his horns, and crushed him to bits, body and bones, and tossed him out into the cascade" Dear me, the Blly Goats Gruff were hardcore! – mzywiol Feb 6 at 11:16
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    @mzywiol That's nothing. There is a theory Totoro is a god of death, though it is easily disproven (like how Studio Ghibli says he isn't a god a death). – n_b Feb 6 at 13:29
  • yeah, that I'm aware of. And agree with Ghibli in disagreeing with this theory :) – mzywiol Feb 6 at 14:01

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