Hayao Miyazaki, Japan’s own Walt Disney, is at it again! Traps, tricks, curses, sorcery, copious amounts of imagination — if you’ve ever seen a Miyazaki film, you know to expect these and much more. Miyazaki’s reputation is built on the eye-poppingly odd and cuddly cute, which often come to a head in the very same scene. Spirited Away is widely renown as one of the man’s best, but with all this hype behind it, is the flick really all it’s cracked up to be?
Chihiro (voice of Rumi Hiragi) is in the midst of moving to another city with her parents. Though the big move is against her volition, Chihiro’s folks insist that it’ll be a chance to start life anew and meet new people. But during their journey, one wrong turn down a rough road leads the family to a strange world in which Chihiro’s parents are turned into pigs after feasting on a meal. The little one’s only way of getting them back is by working for the witch Yubaba (voice of Mari Natsuki), though, of course, being in her employee turns out to be far more difficult than first imagined.
If fantasy is your forte, you don’t need to finish reading this review. Just rent Spirited Away, should you be one of the unfortunate to have yet to do so. This has something for everyone, let alone the kiddies. Children can sit back and appreciate Miyazaki’s visual scope at work, while adults will find themselves more interested in the plot than family movies usually allow them to be. It’s easy to see why Spirited Away is considered Miyazaki’s finest feature, as the way viewers are beckoned into its universe is flat-out enchanting.
The story, while fun and serviceable, isn’t airtight. Tearing one’s eyes from the screen for a simple night’s sleep is a chore all its own, though the plot doesn’t make itself too complicated. The bathhouse Chihiro comes to work at has but one concern: making money. The cast of characters that bring said cash in are the real stars of the show; it’s as if an anime runway was put up, and for once, I was enthralled. Some of the creatures are noticeably recycled from other Miyazaki flicks (e.g. No-Face and Princess Mononoke’s forest spirits), but your eyes enjoy the show regardless. Still, once the visual assault is removed from the picture, you notice that much of the conflict is resolved by the all-too-convenient solution scheme. It’s sad that Miyazaki resorts to this when there’s no way out otherwise, but while these moments feel like little cheats, the picture isn’t riddled with too many of them.
Spirited Away is a film that grows up as it goes on. The themes and ideas it puts forth are surprisingly deep, especially the discomfort of being misplaced, as Chihiro feels throughout. Everything evolves into a battle incited by the outsiders. Miyazaki has certainly stirred a beast with this, and I can see why it’s one of his most heralded features. Lest I go against the grain, I don’t think it’s his best, but it’s most certainly a great piece of work from an even more amazing director.
Check out the trailer for Spirited Away here.