"Spirited Away just goes to show that even the best filmmakers have their off-movies as it is what I consider to be Miyazaki's weakest movie."
- Gau Dog
Spirited Away (2001)
Literally: The Spiriting Away Of Sen And Chihiro
AKA: Sen And The Mysterious Disappearance Of Chihiro; Sen
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Producer: Toshio Suzuki
Cast: Rumi Hiiragi, Miyu Irino, Mari Natsuki, Takashi Naito, Yasuko Sawaguchi, Tatsuya Gashuin, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Yumi Tamai, Yo Oizumi, Koba Hayashi, Tsunehiko Kamijo, Takehiko Ono, Bunta Sugawara
Running Time: 124 mins.
Plot: On the other side of the tunnel there was a strange town. In a place that doesn't exist, something impossible happened. A 10 year old girl named Chihiro stumbled upon a world humans were forbidden to enter. In a town of mysteries and oddities, Chihiro comes to know much indifference, and a little bit of hope. "Can I work here?" The strength to live, long dormant within her, began to awaken.
Availability: This title is available at HKflix.com
GAU DOG'S REVIEW: Spirited Away is a film written and directed by the legendary Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. Having seen and appreciating pretty much all of his previous theatrical work, in my opinion, Miyazaki is probably one of the greatest commercial animation visionaries since the likes of Walt Disney. Miyazaki's latest film has already received awards and acclaim such as the Golden Bear, the Oscar, glowing reviews, the biggest money earner in Japan's box office history... shoot Di$ney even decided to give a decent 2 disc DVD release of this foreign movie!! So why did this movie like this seem to just confuse and disappoint me? Well, hopefully I'll figure it out by the time I finish this review; onto the synopsis: Spirited Away is about a girl named Chihiro aged at around ten, who finds herself mysteriously transported into a fantastic world full of strange spirits. To save her parents, she must work at a bathhouse where she develops affectionate relationships with the characters there.
Commenting briefly on the animation itself, it's pretty high quality stuff for Japanese anime; typical Studio Ghibli work. The background art is fantastic and the animation does its job. It isn't the same approach as Disney or DreamWork's approach to animation but it's still quite good. Miyazaki's direction is great; he's got a memorable scene or two. Joe Hisaishi's musical score is top notch.
The film has been compared with Alice in Wonderland, where things don't make really sense and the people are all strange. Where in Disney's Alice, the people act all kooky, Miyazaki's Spirited Away has people that act more sensible but still are full of Japanese weirdness. It's in it's own dream-like surreal world but the visuals never really gets into anything super abstract, just the plot does. For those of you who've seen Tsui Hark's animated Chinese Ghost Story, which also features someone transported into a spirit world, that world and plot made a lot more sense than Spirited Away's world. In comparison to Miyazaki's previous work involving spirits and such, his earlier movies featured spirit characters in a realistic human world. In Spirited Away, the opposite happens; a realistic human becomes featured in a fantasy spirit world.
Getting into further SPOILER START plot points, at the beginning, Chihiro seems kind of listless as she and her parents drive to their new home. They get lost along the way and stop at what appears to be an abandoned amusement park. Being hungry, the parents literally pig out on the food they find there so much that they become pigs themselves. Suddenly, Chihiro finds herself overdramatically trapped in this fantasy world, full of unusual characters like a little frog guy, a person with six arms, a big fat semi nude baby, a lady with an enormous head, a person with "no-face", body-less heads, a smelly poop monster, and even a boy with a girl's haircut. And that's not even what's freaky about them. It's their actions that are real weird outs. Stuff like the stink monster leaving behind what appears to be a ball of poop (you should see what happens when the characters eat this thing!), and other crazy character plot surprises that didn't make sense or came out of nowhere that I won't try to get into yet.
A lot of my confused feelings can be seen as nit picks so let's try to look at the overall character journey our protagonist undertakes. Let's see, since Chihiro's parents are turned into pigs that are now owned by Yubaba the owner of a large bathhouse for spirits. Chihiro immediately seeks work at the bathhouse to survive and somehow free her parents. Yubaba lets her work since Chihiro, renamed Sen, won't go away. Working there and with certain customers, she carries herself as a kind and hard worker in face of being discriminated as a human outsider. All her efforts pay off as she helps a handful of characters. Then there's the affectionate relationship subplot Sen has with Haku, the boy who Sen first encounters in the fantasy world. The problem with her parents as pigs kind of takes a backseat to Sen's concern over Haku when he gets injured by flying pieces of paper (more weirdness). (MASSIVE SPOILERS) The weirdness escalates when Sen takes a train to Yubaba's twin sister to ask a curse be lifted from Haku only to find out, it already has been lifted. So granny makes Sen a magic hair charm that "protects" her (from what isn't clear) and everything is nice. Soon Haku arrives to whisk Sen away in a really memorable and touching flying scene that's played up to maximum dramatic effect. But the touching part comes from a result of a fact revealed to Haku by Sen that really comes out of left fieldÉ so more weirdness!! Arriving back at the bathhouse, Yubaba agrees to let Sen and her parents go back to the real world after a pointless test. Chihiro leaves the bathhouse and finds her parents who seem to be unaware of anything that happened. END SPOILERS
Whew! What a confusing experience. After watching it more times than I can count, I'm still puzzled over the weird events and characters in Spirited Away (and it's acclaim). So what exactly did Chihiro gain from the experience? More confidence? Friends? Frankly, I didn't think it was very explicit. I think her personality generally remained constant throughout the movie from beginning to end. Certainly there are moments where we can relate to feelings of love, friendship, and struggle. However, too much of these experiences in Spirited Away feel arbitrary or too weird to fully enjoy. Great artwork and animation can't save a strange so-so story and neither can the legendary reputation of Miyazaki can save this movie. Spirited Away just goes to show that even the best filmmakers have their off-movies as it is what I consider to be Miyazaki's weakest movie.
GAU DOG'S RATING: 6.5/10