“I’m Totoro, and this is my self-acceptance journey,” by Kara Panzer

Jan 17th, 2024 | By | Category: Fake Nonfiction, Prose

You may know me from the 1988 Japanese animated fantasy film of which I was the title star, but what you don’t know is what came after my rise to fame. It’s not easy being a beloved hero of a cult classic children’s movie. While you look at that movie and see a cute and fluffy forest spirit, I see someone who was struggling deeply inside.

On set at the film, the DP pressured me to drop two tons, so that I could “fit into frames.” They made me wear faux fur Spanx to give my belly a rounder shape, rather than its natural, lumpy profile. You thought Anne Hathaway’s hair was bad in the pre-makeover portion of the Princess Diaries? Not a single person on the production crew was ever able to brush out my fur without getting their tool of choice snagged on the small twigs and brush accumulated from the woodland grounds I slept on. The cast tried to make me sleep inside, a place where I never felt comfortable, being as I am, a woodland spirit.

In awards season, not a single designer offered to dress me for the red carpet.

“Aren’t you always naked?” The brand rep for a major atelier said.

Maybe, but it would still be nice to get asked.

And where were my endorsement deals? Karl Lagerfeld said my potent musk wasn’t right for Chanel. Dior didn’t even respond to my messenger envoy of soot sprites.

The pressures to fit into a human-centric standard of beauty left me empty and hollow, and with a serious cocaine and amphetamine addiction. At the time the still for that iconic movie poster was taken, I was at my lowest weight. Look at my pupils in that shot—I was, to put it politely, cracked TF out.

My career faltered after that role as I struggled to make my way in Hollywood. I’d been typecast as a forest guardian, which I was, but also I felt capable of more.  Of course that didn’t stop the profit machine from trying to mold me to the industry’s needs. At one point a manager suggested we dye my fur and put me up for a Pink Panther remake.

I went to the salon, where I couldn’t fit inside. So, I slumped on a sidewalk outside while a team of five junior stylists went to work. They pulled needles and detritus from the streets of LA out of my fluff. I’d been sleeping on a sidewalk next to a very sad tree, one that had never known the joy of the woods in its whole tree life.

Above the street where they combed out my fur, an illuminated billboard of my former castmate, Satsuki, shone down. We hadn’t spoken since she beat me out for a bit part in a teen drama.

“Totoro, you’re immortal and genderless,” the casting director had told me. “You’re just not right for this role.”

Of course, Satsuki’s career had long ago outshone mine. After a BBL, some strategic Juvéderm and buccal fat removal, she made a graceful pivot from child star to sex icon in a way I never could. I sucked in my cheeks, imagining what I’d look like as a furry blue skeleton, with a large and very round butt. Maybe then Karl would want me.

With my cheeks still sucked in like a fish, the catbus pulled up. It purred to a stop on the street before me. The door opened and out spilled my friends: the soot sprites, Mei and Satsuki, even Hayao Miyazaki was there.

“Satsuki?” I said. “You look like your old self.”

She turned her face to the billboard.

“Oh, that’s all photoshop,” she said. “Didn’t you know?”

“No,” I said. “I didn’t know.”

“You never take my calls,” she said.

“Yeah, well…”

I roared and the team of stylists scattered, leaving some tools still stuck in my fur.

“What are you all doing here?” I asked my former castmates.

“Totoro,” Mr. Miyazaki said. “This is an intervention.”

He removed a piece of paper from his pocket and began to read.

“When I created you, I envisioned a serene and carefree forest caretaker, living in a wooded utopia. Yet here you are in one of the worst places known to man, chasing something that doesn’t exist.”

“Fine,” I said. “I’ll go to rehab. Is it Betty Ford?”

“No, Totoro,” Mei spoke. “You need to go back to the forest.”

“I can’t just leave. Rehab could be good for my career—but not the forest.”

“Totoro,” Mei said, gently, “what career?”

At that moment, I realized they were right—LA wasn’t for me. I followed them into the catbus, and we set off together for my magical home.

“Do you think I’m too late to return?” I asked Satsuki.

“It’s never too late,” she told me.

Aboard, the soot sprites chirped and bounced. Outside the windows, farmland drenched in sunlight spilled into view. My forest neared.

“One more thing, Satsuki.”

She nodded.

“Should I be waxing my genitals?”

“Do you even have any?”

“No,” I remembered, happily.

Now, I tend to my wooded utopia in peace. Sometimes a hiker might tell me I look familiar, and I shrug it off. Being forgotten is just like being free.

The collab with Loewe, that came later. And soon after, Mr. Miyazaki visited my grove to say the fans were ready for Totoro 2.

“Are you?” He asked me.

Even eternal beings get wiser with age.

“Yes,” I said. “Now, I’m ready.”


Kara Panzer is a writer based in New York. She writes about things like her obsession with her dog, marathon non-training plans, and the time a stranger threw up on her jacket at her favorite bar. Find more on karapanzer.com.

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