Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Toon-arama: Spirited Away (2003)

Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away is a beautiful and enchanting fantasy film about a young, pre-teen girl's coming of age. This is a great movie for young children, especially girls who are around the title character's age, and for audiences in general who want an entertaining and gloriously made work of art that they will remember and return to for years to come.

Note: I’m reviewing the Disney dubbed release, not the Japanese release, which I have never seen.
The Plot
The movie is about Chihiro, a 12-year old girl who is unhappy that she is having to move to a new town. On the way they get lost and find themselves at an abandoned amusement park. But while they are there the sun sets, spirits awaken in the theme park, and her parents are transformed into hogs.
Panicked and afraid she flees and is saved by a mysterious boy who can change into a dragon named Haku. He helps her get a job at the place, which is revealed to be a spa of sorts for spirits/gods owned by Yuba, who has Haku under her control. There she hopes to work and keep her parents from being fed as hogs, with no idea if she will ever be free from Yuba.

This is about all I’m going to explain as I’ve pretty much set up the plot and the rest of the movie is Chihiro undergoing a series of fantastical events and trials involving such things as a spirit that feeds on greed, what appears to be a sludge spirit, and a mysterious train.
Why its Awesome
The first reason is Chihiro. At the beginning of the movie she is sullen over having the move and at times early on in the movie she can be rather whiny. And when the ghosts appear, she reacts much like a 12-year old girl would react: she panics. Then she spends much of the first half scared and bewildered. This is not the super-capable and super-amazing girl that many movies feel the need to show us. This is a normal, pre-teen girl.

But we like her because we see the good in her. Once she realizes she is in this strange world for the long haul she shows incredible perseverance and strength, even when she is scared to death. Which makes us like her even more. Thus we have a character who is realistic enough to relate to but likable enough to root for.
The second reason is the animation by Hayao Miyazaki. This stuff is simply gorgeous and brings to life a world that is utterly alien. The work here tops even the best of Disney Studios. The movie is filled with colors and the animation moves beautifully. This is animation at its best and proves that even animated movies made for children should be seen as works of art in and of themselves.
There is also the music composed by Joe Hisaishi. It ranges from tender piano pieces to sweeping, brass-accompanied works that perfectly convey the wide range of movie’s emotions from the sadness and isolation of Chihiro to the fear and excitement of the spirit world. Highlights are the soft “One Summer Day”, the somber piano melody “The Sixth Station”, the exciting “Procession of the Spirits”, and “Reprise”, which is often called “Waltz of Chihiro”.

The only flaw might be the voice acting behind Chihiro, as she can scream a lot and some might find her too whiny for the first part of the movie. But that is a minor beef.
This movie could be called a Wizard of Oz for our age. It takes a young girl and thrusts her into a land that is completely unfamiliar and forces her to grow and mature. The movie has some frightening images and so it might not be good for some kids, it's nothing worse than Snow White or nightmare-haunter Pinocchio, but its well-worth watching regardless. Its one of the best movies I have ever seen.

25 comments:

Kit said...

This really is a great movie. Its alien enough to be feel new to Western viewers and yet familiar enough to be accessible.

Kit said...

Ok, I made a typo:
"t soothing worse than Snow White or nightmare-haunter Pinocchio"

Should read "It is nothing worse than Snow White or nightmare-haunter Pinocchio"

Anthony said...

Can't really think of anything clever to say about this movie. Great film with a great message which sits very high on my list of favorite movies of all time.

Jason said...

I saw Spirited Away back when it came out. I think you’re right about many things. It’s not any scarier than the classic Disney films, though the scene of the dragon-Haku with bloody cuts across his body might be unsettling for the very young. The animation is also beautiful and well done.

However, it’s not my favorite of the Miyazaki films I’ve seen; that would be NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind. I think the movie came off as a bit slow in its second half. I haven’t seen it in years, so I might change my mind on another viewing.

A bit of trivia: Chihiro was voiced by the same actress who did Lilo in Lilo & Stitch. Also, this film was the most successful flick in Japanese history until, just recently, Frozen surpassed it!

Kit said...

Jason,

I knew it was the biggest hit in Japanese history when it was released. I did not know about Frozen surpassing it. Another great movie.

Kit said...

Anthony,

"Great film with a great message which sits very high on my list of favorite movies of all time."
Indeed it is.

Jason said...

Yep, Frozen definitely was big in Japan.

Here's the Japanese trailer for Frozen:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pRJv1K28quE

A different take from American marketing that emphasized the comedy. Japanese marketing usually makes their stuff seem more intense.

ScottDS said...

I watched a few of Miyazaki's movies when I was in film school. (I rented them, they were not part of the actual curriculum.) :-)

I liked them, and they're a good gateway for folks who aren't really into anime, but I don't remember anything about them, other than they were beautiful to look at.

Incidentally, every few years I meet some cute anime fan and Miyazaki always comes up... usually me saying, "Yeah, I've seen a few of his movies."

wulfscott said...

I need to see this one again. I watched it the first time in English, the second time will be with the Japanese soundtrack with subtitles. I think it was Siskel or Ebert, in their review, that suggested this way of watching Pricess Mononoke.
Like Mononoke, the film is filled with strange but wondrous animation, and a story that puts it at the top of any list of films. Definitely a must see.

Kit said...

Jason,

Wow.
That trailer looked awesome!

Also, in case you aren't quite sick of the addictive earworm, here is "Let it Go" in Japanese: LINK

Kit said...

Scott,

I agree, it is a great gateway. Alien enough to be foreign but universal enough to be watchable for those not fully initiated in the weirdness that is Japanime. And I say this as someone who is also not completely initiated into the weirdness that is Japanime.

Kit said...

Wulfscott,

I've seen Princess Mononoke and you are right, it is beautifully animated.

ScottDS said...

I've been told I need to see Paprika - apparently, it's similar to Inception.

Ever hear of it?

tryanmax said...

I still haven't sat down with any of Miyazaki's films, though they always come highly recommended.

Kit said...

Scott,

I've never seen Paprika, or had heard of it until you mentioned it.

Kit said...

Tyranmax,

I highly recommend Spirited Away. Mononoke is good too.

I also heard a lot of good things about his most recent movie, The Wind Rises, which is about the man who manufactured the Japanese Zero planes.
Trailer

Kevin Long said...

Yeah, this is a damn fine movie. One of my favorite things about it - and Miyazaki's films in general - is that he doesn't feel the need to explain every action of every character. So when she's on the train, for instance, there are various monsters acting strangely, and we never find out why. Much of hte supernatural creature's behavior is never explained, they're just doing what comes naturally to them. This makes these things feel more full to me, like they're all going about their own stories, and Chihiro's story happens to be the story we're following. But really it could just as easily be any of them, or so it feel.s

Kit said...

Kevin,

You make a good point. It also gives the movie more depth which makes it feel more real. That takes faith in the audience.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, Thanks for the review and thanks for telling about this film. I haven't seen it yet, but I am very interested in seeing it now.

Kit said...

Andrew,

Its highly worth watching.

Gideon7 said...

Spirited Away was the first Japanese film to win an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

The Pixar film director John Lasseter (Toy Story, Cars) pulled out all the stops to create a top-quality English dub of the film. He hired several notable voice actors including Suzanne Pleshette, David Ogden Stiers, John Ratzenberger, Daveigh Chase, and Jason Marsden (as Haku).

On the DVD you will see the Lasseter just rave and rave about Spirited Away and about Miyazaki's genius. He says Miyazaki is a big inspiration for a lot of the writers and artists at Pixar.

On another part of the DVD you see John Lasseter meet Miyazaki and just gush at the little Japanese man, who looked a bit bewildered about the whole thing.

I believe that Miyazaki has stated that The Wind Rises will be his last film.

Kit said...

Gideon7,

Lassiter did a good job with the movie and I think I did see the bonus feature.

I also heard the same about The Wind Rises.

Tohokari-Steel said...

Spirited Away always has a place in my heart. It was the first Studio Ghibli film I ever saw (and watching it, I realized it was one of the weirdest movies I had ever seen) and it's still my favorite.

Kit said...

Tohokari-Steel,

Same here, though I have a feeling my viewing was much more recent.

Its an excellent movie.

Kit said...

Scott,

Now I have heard of it. From what I know it is Inception on steroids.
Here are the opening credits: LINK

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