Meet My Neighbor Totoro: Brie’s 1st Birthday



One thing that people often underestimate is the power of a well-chosen theme. You see, themes drive the whole aesthetic of the party, shaping the way it will turn out right from the start. Needless to say though, the stylist is also crucial to the execution of a theme!

Sometimes a theme idea comes from me, sometimes from the client, but I just love it when a client introduces me to a theme that I didn’t know, but grew to love.

This 2017, I am truly blessed to have my friends (clients) Gavin and Sherrill introduce me to the theme My Neighbor Totoro:

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Welcome to Brie’s enchanted forest, where Totoros roam carefree

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My design for the photo-op scene: the iconic bus stop sign (this was where Satsuki, Mei, and Totoro wait in the rain), mixed with forest elements and a wooden walkway bridge

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Want to visit Brie’s party? Enter the mouth of Totoro!


As any respectable stylist is wont to do, I put my nose in books and went into deep research.

What I found was truly surprising. Apparently, I already knew Totoro, I just didn’t know his name! Does this creature look familiar to you?


Totoro is that huge, part-owl, part-cat, part-raccoon creature that resides in a camphor tree. A mystical animal, Totoro decided to show himself to Mei, a little girl who just moved in with her family to be closer to the hospital her mom is recovering in. Together with Mei’s older sister, Satsuki, the two girls explore the forest and proceed to carry on with an amazing adventure.


Oh, to be young! Mei dozing blissfully on the belly of Totoro

My Neighbor Totoro is Gavin and Sherrill’s favorite animated movie, and in a sense it was the perfect theme for them as they saw their child Brie in the rambunctious and irrepressible Mei. This was the central concept that they tried to convey, especially thru the invitation design:

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After doing some research, I came to a realization that I didn’t expect: I love Totoro. And it isn’t just because of some shallow reason such as, “Totoro is so cute”.

It was mostly because I saw in the movie how correctly it understood children: their energy for life, their innocence, and most of all, their depth of imagination. I loved two scenes, specifically. One is where Totoro flies on a magical top and brings the kids on a journey through the skies:


The second – Totoro and the kids engage in a ceremonial dance and make multiple seeds grow into a huge tree:


Totoro also reminded me a bit of Winnie the Pooh, which also tells the story of a child (Christopher Robin), who travels to a forest (Hundred Acre Wood) to meet and play with his imaginary friends.

I love how both Totoro and Winnie the Pooh imbues the love of nature into its stories. I think in this digital age of iPads, it’s such a rare gift to give your children that sense of wonder that comes from exploring the natural world.


Wouldn’t it be swell if you found out that you were living next door to this cuddly mythical creature?

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For the centerpieces, I obtained a small Totoro to greet each guest as they sit on their tables!

One of the most important elements in a party is the ceiling works. For Brie’s party, I wanted to make sure that I evoked that feeling of being in an enchanted forest (not too “bushy” or “wild” though), with a little feminine touch:

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In the movie, there was this memorable cat-bus character, who was literally a bus-shaped cat! A Totoro party would be incomplete without it:

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The famous cat-bus character from Totoro

What I am most proud of though, is Party Magic‘s 3D life size creation of Totoro himself, which we made out of various fur fabrics. Take a look at him in the picture below (upper left, beside the cake):

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Isn’t it so cute!

Hats off to Sherrill, though, who procured these amazing Totoro giveaways for the guests:

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The cake is a work of art unto itself:

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For the dessert table, I tried to make the look “organic”, as if Mei and Totoro were enjoying the treats in the forest, or in a treehouse:

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Kudos to Bizu for these delightful dessert treats!

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The happiest of birthdays to our dear little Brie!

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With Love,


About the author

Michelle Lao

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By Michelle Lao

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