Spirited Away is the third film in our ‘Miyazaki Month’. Released in 2001, it went on to win the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, and also the 2002 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. It remains Japan’s most successful film, taking in over US$274 million worldwide. The film currently sits at number 45 on the IMDB Top 250, and is rated 97% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.
Check out Ruth’s guest review of Spirited Away/千と千尋の神隠し after the jump!
The first Miyazaki film I ever saw is also my favourite. Winner of the Best Animated Feature Oscar in 2003, Spirited Away is a wonderful, fantastical story to captivate all audiences.
Chihiro is not a happy little girl. She has just left her old school and her friends to move with her parents to a new town. Taking a wrong turn, her father drives them through a lush green forest to the opening of a mysterious tunnel. Despite the protests of their daughter, they walk through for a closer look, and discover what they believe to be an abandoned amusement park. They begin devouring food in a restaurant they find, and to Chihiro’s horror, her parents turn into giant pigs. Unable to flee, Chihiro is rescued by a mysterious boy called Haku. He seems to already know her, and takes her to a bathhouse for the spirits, run by the witch Yubaba. In order to find a way to save her parents, and herself, Chihiro must work for Yubaba, and encounters many strange and wonderful characters along the way.
Originally released in 2001, more than ten years ago now, there is a timelessness to this film that, like many of Miyazaki’s works, makes it feel as if this film could have been made yesterday. Even without taking into account the incredible animation, there is a lot of beauty to be found here. Whether it’s Joe Hisaishi’s wonderful score, or one of the many touching moments to be had, the audience is quite spirited away along with Chihiro into this strange but marvelous world.
Chihiro herself is one of the most well-developed characters Miyazaki has ever written. She begins this film as a spoilt, petulant child. Angry and upset (perhaps understandably) at being uprooted from the comfort of her home, she is quickly thrust into a scarier situation than she could have ever anticipated, and she reacts like any ten-year old would. In a scene that brought me to tears, Haku comforts her as she silently sobs while the reality of what has happened fully sinks in. She grows up very quickly however, and it’s satisfying to see a girl who was once almost too scared to walk down a set of steep stairs, practically scale a wall and confront dangerous spirits to help the friends she has grown to love.
Of course, the magic wouldn’t be there without the cast of characters created to fill this world. The mysterious Haku is a great character, and the deep connection he and Chihiro share is one of the most heartwarming things I’ve seen on-screen. The multitude of characters Chihiro meets at the bathhouse are able to bring the perfect touch of humour to this tale. Whether it be sharp-tongued bathhouse worker Lin, Kamaji the boiler man, or the hungry spirit No-Face (who takes a shine to Chihiro after she shows him some kindness), there is always someone to make us smile. Another thing to admire about Miyazaki is that whether a person is good or evil is never as easily definable as placing them in a specific category. Even Yubaba, the closest thing to the films antagonist, isn’t pure evil, and she has her own motivations and quirks. It’s part of what makes the world so rich.
Spirited Away is not without a message (one that could not be more clear in a scene involving a particular spirit at the bathhouse) but it never feels forced or out-of-place. The theme of respect for nature, and respecting the natural order of the world, is one that Miyazaki consistently returns to in many of his films. Here, it is incorporated so seamlessly into the story, that the message resonates in a way it never could if it was just blatantly stated.
A more perfect fantasy I could never imagine, and one that literally takes my breath away every time I see it. Spirited Away is possibly the highest achievement of Miyazaki’s career.
By Ruth Richards.
Thanks Ruth for your review! Make sure to check out more of Ruth’s writing on her blog.