If this creepy interpretation has been spoiling the warm fuzzy sensation you used to get from watching what you once thought was a heart-warming film, you can breathe easy again, as none other than Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki has publicly put the rumor to rest. ...
“Everyone gets all stirred up about it on the Internet, don’t they?” he began. “They say things like, ‘They’re all dead at the end of the movie.’” Proponents of the theory often assert that 11-year-old Satsuki and four-year-old Mei don’t have shadows, which in turn marks them as spirits.
This depiction doesn’t entirely hold water, though, according to Takimoto. “I watched the movie, and up until the very end, Mei and Satsuki both have shadows, don’t they?”
“Yes, they do,” replied Suzuki.
“They don’t lose them part-way through, or anything?”
“No, they don’t.”
Still, some people who’ve watched Totoro with one hand on the pause button will probably tell you that in the very last scene, the sisters’ shadows aren’t so clearly visible. But if they’re not ghosts, why don’t their physical bodies block light like they should? ...
At the risk of destroying any more idyllic images, even Studio Ghibli sometimes has to put limits on the amount of time and effort it can pour into a scene. As explained on the Ghibli website:
Everyone, please put your minds at ease. The rumors of Totoro being a death god, Mei being dead, and others rumors of the like are absolutely not true…Someone made them up because they sounded interesting to him or her, and it seems to have spread around the Internet. In regards to comments that “Satsuki and Mei don’t have shadows in the final scene,” it was merely decided that is wasn’t necessary to draw when producing the animation. We hope that people will not believe the rumors, and the PR department would like to officially announce that here.
--Casey Baseel, Sora News 24, on less than meets the eye