Friday, January 8, 2016

Spirited Away Film Review

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Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Cast: Rumi Hiiragi, Miyu Irino, Mari Natsuki, Takeshi Naito, Yasuko Sawaguchi, Tsunehiko Kamij┼Ź, Takehiko Ono, Bunta Sugawara
MPAA Rating: PG
Length: 124 minutes

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Sen and Chichiro are Spiriting Away


Spirited Away is another masterpiece in the long line of films made by Studio Ghibli and director Hayao Miyazaki. Chichiro a young girl works at a spirit bathhouse in order to free her parents who were turned into pigs.  Strange, yes … but run with it and you’ll find a beautiful coming of age story with some of the most engaging characters in any animated film.

This is the movie you show to people who dismiss anime as nothing more than a childish fascination with animated sex and violence.  It’s a movie that can be easily appreciated by people of all ages, cultures, and values. So if you’re looking for a great animated story not made by Pixar then check out Spirited Away, it is one of the best animated films ever made.

Chichiro and her parents are driving to their new home when her father takes a wrong turn.  Arriving unknowingly in a magical world, Chichiro’s parents find some delicious food and begin to gorge themselves while Chichiro discovers a mysterious bathhouse and a young boy named Haku who tells her she must escape or she will become trapped here forever.

As Chichiro tries to escape she discovers her parents have been turned into pigs, and the river surrounding the spirit world has flooded, trapping her inside.  Chichiro must now work at the bathhouse while finding a way to free herself and her parents.

Spirited Away is kind of like the Japanese take on Alice in Wonderland.  Once Chichiro gets trapped in the spirit world, all sorts of oddities and eccentricities begin to occur.  Whether it’s the goofy talking frog, or the eight handed spider man Kamajii, or the giant baby – there is no shortage of crazy things you will see.  Some of these characters only make brief appearances, but all of them make lasting impressions.

Another character that makes a big impression is Yubaba – the elderly sorceress that runs the spirit bathhouse.  As the prime antagonist she can be menacing, but her attention to customer service (she’s running a bathhouse) and to her giant baby can make her hard to hate at times – and certainly not your ordinary villain.  No-Face is another great character who comes to the bathhouse and has the ability to make gold.  He’s a great character to show all the faults of greed as he creates a stampede like you would expect to see on Wall Street.

No character makes a greater impression than Chichiro, who also goes by the name Sen.  This young girl is the heart of the story and she undergoes the traditional monomyth/hero’s journey.  The transition happens rather quickly as Chichiro is forced to become an adult literally the second her parents are turned into pigs.  Watching someone who’s forced to rise to the occasion, to lose their innocence, especially someone so young is really a heart-tearing moment.  Nevertheless you have to greatly admire Chichiro’s courage – she would be an excellent role model for young girls.

The animation is brilliant.  It makes use of mostly 2D drawings, but includes some computer animated flourishes.  A scene early in the film where Chichiro’s father is driving faster and faster in their car really exemplifies how beautiful and exciting 2D animation can still be in a 3D dominated movie world.

Joe Hisaishi’s musical score combines a lot of pentatonic influenced melodies – giving the music an oriental flavor – while largely writing in a classical style with classical instruments.  Folkish sounding themes seem to frequently be incorporated into the film.  They never get cliched and have a way of subtly incorporating Japan’s musical heritage into the film – which is something that ties in nicely with story’s sense of nostalgia.

Spirited Away is a beautiful film.  Even anime and animated film detractors will have a hard time not falling in love with Chichiro’s story.  This is simply recommended to everybody.

Score: 9.8


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