Japanese Title: Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi
Similar: Howl’s Moving Castle
Watched in: Japanese & English
Length: 2 hr. 5 min.
- Imaginative world.
- So much to see.
- Quirky characters abound.
- Superb animation.
- Subtle depth to the story.
I have never liked Alice in Wonderland, any version of it. Even as a child, watching Disney’s version, I grew bored. I find the ‘lol random’ nature of its world to be a dull smokescreen for mediocrity. Concluding Spirited Away, I realised I had finished an Alice in Wonderland type story and loved it. A miracle.
Spirited Away is the liminal story of Chihiro into a world of spirits and wonder. During her move to a new home, Chihiro and her parents stumble upon an abandoned amusement park, though it seems one restaurant is open for business. While her parents pig out, Chihiro sees a bathhouse across the way, meeting a boy called Haku, who warns her to leave before sunset. However, upon her return to bring her parents the warning, she finds them transformed into literal pigs and her way back blocked by water. And as night falls, the spirits come out to visit the bathhouse for a refreshing soak. Alone in this strange world, Chihiro must work at the bathhouse to find a way out, lest she forget her own name and become trapped in the spirit world forever.
Spirited Away’s initial appeal is in its art. There is so much to see in its world. The amusement park alone is packed with detail in its various stalls and attraction; however, once we enter the bathhouse, it feels like an entire kingdom crammed into a single building. Dozens and dozens of different creatures grace the bathhouse from little balls of sentient soot to a walking fat turnip. No expense was spared in filling the bathhouse top to bottom, each fantastical creature with individual quirks and mannerisms. Chihiro, the outsider human, is considered weird among such oddities for being the only normal character. A miserly old woman with a giant head runs the bathhouse, for magic’s sake! But wait until you see her baby.
Most memorable of the creatures is No-Face, a spirit who reflects the personalities and actions of those around him. When he discovers the workers’ love of gold (he has an endlessly spawning supply), so too does he turn into a persona of greed in a fascinating sequence. He is the creepy-hilarious sort, as he just stands there staring at you, but learning from you in an innocent way at the same time.
No-Face’s reflection of character is but one of many symbols in Spirited Away. Each trial Chihiro faces represents a stage of growth towards adulthood, maintaining the theme of liminality. The journey shows her all the temptations – curiosity, gluttony, greed, corruption, etc. – that everyone will face in life and must overcome. As with most people, Chihiro is resistant to change, at first, for she urges her parents to turn away from the amusement park, away from the food. Growth, however, cannot be stopped. She cannot retreat into childhood, hide in the corner pretending the world holds no evil, but must look forward and grow if she means to survive.
Spirited Away is a special film. It shows unparalleled animation in a detailed world where all fits together, makes sense, wrapped in an intriguing narrative. I pondered for an age to see if I had a negative for the bullet points above, but I couldn’t find anything noteworthy. Sure, one could ask for more – who wouldn’t among such creativity? The bathhouse has places left unexplored and Haku’s story could tell us more, but that is just being fastidious.
Art – Very High
Absolutely gorgeous. The detail, the imagination, the number of assets to animate boggles the mind. So much thought went into the world design – they have enough here to place another dozen stories.
Sound – Very High
Spirited Away uses music to great effect in assisting the action, which is always a pleasure to experience. The great script is equally good in either language
Story – Very High
A young girl stumbles into a bathhouse for spirits and must find a way back to the human world. Imaginative, engaging, and magnificent.
Overall Quality – Very High
Recommendation: A must watch for anyone, whether anime fan or not. Spirited Away will convey a different meaning and experience based on the age of the viewer, so it’s even worth watching again at later stages in life.
Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)