I’ve discussed a lot of Studio Ghibli films in the past, and I’ll probably touch on more in future. Surprisingly one of their best known films, Spirited Away, hasn’t come up yet. It was written and directed by Miyazaki Hayao with production beginning in 2000 and the eventual release in 2001 breaking box office records and winning various awards. Of course, something being popular doesn’t necessarily translate to it being good. Although it’s a Miyazaki Hayao film so the probability of it being ungood is exceedingly low. Either way, let’s take a look.
Our tale opens with a family driving to their new home. The father gets lost and goes down a side street, eventually coming across a worn down tunnel. They arrive at a strange deserted area and find large plates piled with food at an abandoned stall. Our heroine, the young Chihiro, encourages her parents not to eat it because whoever runs the stall is going to get mad at them, but her parents help themselves because she is the only one in the group with common sense. She wanders off and encounters a young boy who tells her that she can’t be there and to hurry and get across the river before night falls. She finds it strange but does as she’s told. Unfortunately, when she goes looking for her parents all she finds are a couple of massive pigs and by the time she reaches the river it’s stretched out far wider than it was before and she has no way to cross it. She finds herself in a strange land full of spirits with no way home. If she wants to avoid getting turned into an animal like her parents then she has to find work. The main conflict centres around Chihiro’s struggle to save her parents and return home.
As rare as it is for me, I have nothing about the story to criticise. The quiet atmospheric scenes are really effective at establishing information about the world, and helping build tension. It’s a good thing they didn’t do something stupid like throw in narration or chatter because that would have just destroyed the lovely atmosphere. The pacing is spectacular. The narrative itself is highly compelling with a lot of interesting moments. The spirit world is fascinating and the story structure is really good with a very natural progression. I suppose that I could say that the ending is kind of obvious if I wanted to nitpick but in all fairness I can’t really fault a children’s movie for that especially when everything that builds up to it works so well and the ending itself has a lot of really good aspects and works very well. It may be obvious, but it’s still a good ending.
Chihiro is a really interesting heroine with a good amount of complexity and she does develop quite a bit over the course of the film. It has strong coming of age elements and it handles them spectacularly. The secondary cast also has a lot of complex and interesting characters. Even the little soot ball creatures have some facets to them. I do like that the antagonist isn’t some stock villain cliché but is more just kind of greedy and self-centred while having some sympathetic traits as well.
Unsurprisingly, the artwork is spectacular. I’ve never seen a Studio Ghibli film that didn’t look gorgeous. The backgrounds are lovely. The various spirits are really well designed and have interesting looks. I particularly liked No Face and the dragon. The action sequences are really well done.
The cast is really good. Irino Miyu, yes the same gent who was in hoshi wo ou kodomo, Hiiragi Rumi, and Natsuki Mari are all really good. And Natsuki voices two different characters who deliberately sound kind of similar but she gives them both subtly different qualities that make them sound believably like different people. The music is really good as well.
No ho-yay in this one either.
Spirited Away is certainly a spectacular film. It’s easy to see why it made such an impact and has garnered so much praise. The story is amazing, the characters are complex, the artwork is beautiful and the acting and music are both superb. I wouldn’t call it better than Nausicca or Grave of the Fireflies but it’s certainly a masterpiece in its own right and easily on par with them. As such, my final rating is going to be a 10/10. Tomorrow I’ll finish up film festival week with a look at Miyamoto Musashi: Souken ni Haseru Yume.