Spirited Away Reviews
Chihiro is a 10 year old girl who is moving to a new neighbourhood when her father decides to take a short cut and gets the family lost in an abandoned theme park. Helping themselves to food that's on display, Chihiro's parents are transformed into pigs and it soon becomes clear that they have stumbled into an alternate reality. Chihiro is then forced to find a way to free herself and her parents and find a way back to the human world.
Quite simply, Miyazaki's "Spirited Away" is a triumphant, fantastical, masterclass. Not only is his hand drawn animation as gorgeously refined and refreshing as ever, but his storytelling incorporates everything from the mythical to the magical, taking us on a truly breathtaking visual and intelligent journey. As his later film "Ponyo" would channel the likes of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid", here, Miyazaki has undoubtedly crafted his version of Lewis Carroll's "Alice In Wonderland" and it's in this similar realm of imagination that he is able to flourish. We are introduced to a myriad of fantastical figures from Gods, Spirits and Witches to a Sea Dragon, an enormous baby and strange little coal miners, known as "Sootballs". Despite the rich hand drawn animation, though, it's not all played for fun. It's a rights-of-passage tale about the progression of a child to adulthood while finding the time to comment on the economic downturn of Japan and the increasing loss of it's culture to the western world. It's this very complexity that makes this Miyazaki's near masterpiece. The only issue with the film is that it's overlong, resulting in periodic disengagement - especially for younger viewers. It's runs just over the two hour mark and this is with several parts of the story cut out- the original version of Miyazaki's story would have run over the three hour mark. That being said, this is still one of animation's true classics and thoroughly deserving of it's Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2002.
A breathtaking tour de force from one of the finest and most imaginative storytellers that animation has ever seen. Sadly, there will be only one more outing from Miyazaki but thankfully we've had to the pleasure to enter into his creative genius at all. Such accomplished cinematic experiences will be sadly missed.
When brooding 10-year-old Chihiro and her parents take a wrong turn in an attempt to find their new home, they accidentally happen upon an abandoned amusement park. Yet, as one would expect, this is no regular amusement park. But rather a gateway to an alternate reality where Chihiro must fend for herself after her parents come down with a bad case of ‚swine‚? flu.
The film predominantly deals with Chihiro‚(TM)s transition into adulthood and the paralyzing fear of being on her own one day. Most of the adults in this separate reality are cold and cruel to her, and Chihiro‚(TM)s only instruction in this new world is to find a job. In doing so, she has to sign her name away. Her name, her identity, now belongs to her employer. It now belongs to the past. Chihiro‚(TM)s only source of solace, Haku, is another child who laments that he cannot remember his own name. The film shows that there is no easy conversion into adulthood and in doing so, you inevitably lose a precious part of your character.
In keeping with themes that he explores in his other films, Miyazaki shows that losing your childhood is something to mourn. In fact, he goes to great lengths to illustrate the depraved nature of adults. Within the first 10 minutes, he displays that unlike Chihiro, who is lead by her intuition and her gut, her parents are driven primarily by their desires. As her dad exclaims before his transformation, you can have whatever you want if you have money and credit cards. As the film progresses, the majority of the adults are entirely consumed with the idea of obtaining gold. Even innocent souls such as the mysterious ‚No-Face‚? turn into gluttonous monsters once being invited into the main bathhouse.
As per usual, the colors are rich and vibrant. How the animators captured motion in such a compelling way is stunning. I actually found myself pausing several scenes in an attempt to understand how exactly they plotted out the motion. Also, having John Lasseter supervise the English-language translation was a smart choice as I normally loathe anything dubbed, but was not distracted here at all.
My Neighbor Totoro was such a sweet film and I am glad that I got to see Miyazaki tackle some tougher issues. While on the whole I think My Neighbor Totoro is a better film, Spirited Away reminded me of how regardless of age, we all have our own fears and struggles. With countless films tackling ‚adult problems‚?, it was interesting to see a filmmaker take seriously the plight of the young and the terror that comes with having to navigate your own way in this world.
One thing I hate is when this movie gets compared to "Alice in Wonderland" I absolutley HATED Alice in Wonderland. It was stupid, pointless, plotless and had no conflict. Spirited Away, on the other hand, had a very emotional and suspensful plot, major conflict and is pretty much the farthest thing from stupid.
The main thing that makes Spirited Away so amazing is the characters. Chihiro is a very brave despite being in situations that would probably make her own parents, and almost any adult, scream in fear. She also manages to maintain her bravery despite being very compassionate.
My favorite character has got to be Haku, because he seems to be the most complex. He starts out as an outcast, Yubaba's henchman who cannot be trusted. However, by the end of the movie, he seems less like a villain, and more like a hero, or at least an antihero.
The voice acting was also VERY good, especially Jason Marsden and Mari Natsuki. Deveigh Chase was VERY good, especially for a child actor. She obviously has a great career ahead of her.
Add some stunning animation, a very creative ending, and you have one of the best animated movies ever. Miyazaki at his finest!
Spirited Away is the culmination of Hayao Miyazaki's extraordinary career, only just edging out over its predecessor, Princess Mononoke. It is a stunningly animated, beautifully told story which reinvents Alice in Wonderland for the 21st century while offering profound insight into Japanese culture and the psychology of growing up. While Princess Mononoke has more ambition in terms of its story, Spirited Away wins out through the sheer power of its emotional appeal.
On its simplest level, Spirited Away sees Miyazaki returning to the story and themes of Alice of Wonderland, whose influence can be seen throughout the work of Studio Ghibli. But whereas something like The Cat Returns bore only fleeting similarities, the early sections of Spirited Away are like a direct retuning of Lewis Carroll. Instead of sitting on the river bank being bored at her lesson, Chihiro is sullen in the back of the car, cross with her parents for moving house and taking away all her friends. And instead of falling down a rabbit hole, she wanders through a long tunnel which, in a further fairy tale connection, is found in the middle of a deep, dark wood.
As with Alice, Chihiro drifts into the company of many unusual characters, all of whom in some way misinterpret her purpose in this world (assuming of course that she has one). And many individual scenes or characters play out like Miyazaki's own wry take on Carroll's bizarre fantasy. The sequence of the baby being turned into a fat little mouse is like Alice shrinking after sipping the bottle marked 'Drink Me', while No-Face is a spookier version of The Cheshire Cat, and Yubaba and her twin sister Zeniba fill in for the red and white queens from Through The Looking-Glass.
But there is so much more to Spirited Away than a join-the-dots parallel with Alice in Wonderland. For starters, Chihiro is not a conventional protagonist, either in her narrative arc or in the extent to which we empathise with her. Instead of immediately bonding with her, like we would with Nausicaa or Kiki, we initially find her an irritating brat; she is cowardly, prone to sulking and stamps her feet when she doesn't get her way.
When her parents are turned into pigs by gorging themselves on the ghostly food, we bond with Chihiro since she is the only human character remaining in this ever-creepier world (at least, until Haku turns up some minutes later). Much like Pan's Labyrinth a few years later, we adopt the viewpoint of the central character so closely that when the fantasy elements are introduced we accept them with open arms and wide eyes. No matter how bizarre, surreal or downright strange Miyazaki's designs become over the next two hours, we remain totally absorbed in Chihiro as a character.
Although her overall goal may be to save her parents, Chihiro's arc through Spirited Away is not to be a hero, but to survive. Lost in a world which she has no hope of understanding, she relies on her own judgment in choosing who to trust and when to trust them. She does not enter the world of the gods with the intention of destroying a great villain, with most of her major acts being accidental or having consequences which are unintentional. Sometimes this works out in her favour, in the case of the River God; other times, in the case of No-Face, it almost claims her life.
Chihiro's search for her parents is both a literal and a metaphorical one, being bound up with the search for her own identity. When Yubaba allows her to work in the bathhouse, she steals Chihiro's name and begins calling her Sen; Haku warns Sen that unless she remembers her own name, she will be trapped here forever. Chihiro came into the ghost world at a crossroads of her own identity, having been forced to part from her old self with the move. The theft of her name represents the death of her childhood self; she must decide what must be erected in its place, and what role her parents must play in her life after she returns to reality.
Just as in Princess Mononoke, the characters in Spirited Away walk a tightrope between good and evil in which our definitions of either do not carry much weight. This is a world in which loyalties are if not constantly shifting then very difficult to pin down; as before, we have to trust our heroine's judgment because her perspective is all we have to go on. The film tricks us beautifully into believing that the friendly can be threatening or vice versa, making something as simple as a paper man be really scary or an eight-armed, spidery mechanic be deeply endearing.
This richness and ambiguity make Chihiro's process of self-realisation more compelling, as Miyazaki avoids the painting-by-numbers character development of recent Disney efforts. Her relationship with No-Face in particular is a learning curve in which she learns to adjust her impetuous naivety to something more mature, while retaining her belief in everyone's capacity to do good. Even when No-Face is chasing her while regurgitating black sludge, Sen is motivated less by out-and-out fear than a desire to help him overcome himself even at the cost of her own life. It is this form of sheer selflessness which endears her and which eventually saves her.
Just as Mulholland Drive used its characters to examine the nature of filmmaking past and present, so the spirit world of Spirited Away reflects modern-day Japan, looking to its imperial past as it drifts ever more away from it. When Chihiro's parents find the town, they remark it must be an old theme park, saying that many were built before the economic downturn in the early-1990s. The gluttony of her parents reflects the consequences of this downturn and the difference between generations, while the scenes with the River God tap into issues of pollution previously explored in Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.
The design of Spirited Away is staggeringly beautiful, incorporating elements of both hand-drawn animation and CG techniques to reinterpret themes from Miyazaki's previous works. There is the same use of rapid background movement in frames, so that whole cities seem to rush by while Chihiro and Haku rush through the streets in perfect clarity. The film is deeply dreamlike in places, particularly the scenes which take place in or around water and which are complimented by the beautiful score by Joe Hasaishi. But Miyazaki is not just a genius where light is concerned; his darker tones are extraordinary too, from the thick sludge spewed forth by No-Face to the fire that spews from Yubaba's mouth.
On top of everything else, Spirited Away is a proper children's film in its accessible and intelligent treatment of themes and characters. Its blend of darkness and light is note-perfect, so although there are many scenes which are creepy or strange, there is more than enough in the way of humour to compensate. In fact, it's surprisingly laugh-out-loud, with the bouncing heads, the balls of soot or the baby-turned-mouse being so adorable that they threaten to steal the show.
Spirited Away is a truly astonishing animation which marks the high point in a career of already dizzying heights. Its thematic richness and subtle storytelling are matched only by its impeccable level of craft, with Miyazaki at the top of his game in every respect. Even after a dozen viewings it never fails to work its magic, bringing out the childlike spirit in even the most cold-hearted viewer. It is the Pan's Labyrinth of animation, and nothing more needs to be said.