Spirited Away * * * * 1/2

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Director: Hayao Miyazaki.
Screenplay: Hayao Miyazaki.
Voices of: Daveigh Chase, Jason Marsden, Suzanne Pleshette, Michael Chiklis, Lauren Holly, John Ratzenberger, Tara Strong.

Having co-founded Studio Ghibli in 1985 and directed 11 films himself, the highly unique animator Hayao Miyazaki has unfortunately announced his retirement. The forthcoming “The Wind Rises” will be his last venture, so it now seems like a good time to look back at arguably his best film.

Chihiro is a 10 year old girl who is moving to a new neighbourhood when her father decides to take a short cut and gets the family lost in an abandoned theme park. Helping themselves to food that’s on display, Chihiro’s parents are transformed into pigs and it soon becomes clear that they have stumbled into an alternate reality. Chihiro is then forced to find a way to free herself and her parents and find a way back to the human world.

Quite simply, Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” is a triumphant, fantastical, masterclass. Not only is his hand drawn animation as gorgeously refined and refreshing as ever, but his storytelling incorporates everything from the mythical to the magical, taking us on a truly breathtaking visual and intelligent journey. As his later film “Ponyo” would channel the likes of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid“, here, Miyazaki has undoubtedly crafted his version of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice In Wonderland” and it’s in this similar realm of imagination that he is able to flourish. We are introduced to a myriad of fantastical figures from Gods, Spirits and Witches to a Sea Dragon, an enormous baby and strange little coal miners, known as “Sootballs”. Despite the rich hand drawn animation, though, it’s not all played for fun. It’s a rights-of-passage tale about the progression of a child to adulthood while finding the time to comment on the economic downturn of Japan and the increasing loss of it’s culture to the western world. It’s this very complexity that makes this Miyazaki’s near masterpiece. The only issue with the film is that it’s overlong, resulting in periodic disengagement – especially for younger viewers. It’s runs just over the two hour mark and this is with several parts of the story cut out- the original version of Miyazaki’s story would have run over the three hour mark. That being said, this is still one of animation’s true classics and thoroughly deserving of it’s Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2002.

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A breathtaking tour de force from one of the finest and most imaginative storytellers that animation has ever seen. Sadly, there will only be one more outing from Miyazaki but thankfully we’ve had to the pleasure to enter into his creative genius at all. Such accomplished cinematic experiences will be sadly missed.

Mark Walker

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38 Responses to “Spirited Away * * * * 1/2”

  1. Nice review. Too bad about Miyazaki retiring. I agree that the length hurts the film and I was a bit unsatisfied with the ending, but the animation is really stunning.

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    • Yeah, it’s sad news about Miyazaki. He has announced his retirement before and went back on it but his age would have you believe that this is it for him now. Such a shame as his films are absolute treats. I didn’t mind the ending so much but the length did go on a bit. Cheers man!

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  2. Brilliant review that sways me closer to checking this out. I really don’t care for the anime art style so these films tend to turn me off. It sounds as if the story is absolutely fabulous so maybe that’s enough to get me past my visual hangups.

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    • Cheers bro! Look beyond your visual hang ups! Despite, not being a massive anime fan either, I always find Miyazaki’s films absolutely wonderful. The animation is superb but its the sheer imagination and creativity that cements this film as one of the finest of animated films. You really should check it out.

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      • I’d agree that that you don’t need to be an anime fan to enjoy Studio Ghibli’s output. They’re kind of like anime for people who don’t like anime. But people who like anime, like them too!!

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      • I couldn’t have put it better myself, Monkey. I often urge people to give Miyazaki’s films a chance but the anime side to things tend to put them off. It’s understandable but in the end, they are missing out on some very creative and imaginative cinema.

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  3. I watched one of these Ghibli films for a blogathon and – well – I didn’t love it. Nice work!

    Boat Drinks!

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  4. What a wonderful film. Lovely write-up buddy.

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  5. Fantastic review Mark! This is actually the only Miyazaki’s film I’ve seen so far but I definitely enjoyed it. It got pretty bizarre at times but I sort of expected it. Interestingly enough, even though I’m Asian and I used to read an anime comic as a kid, I’m actually not into anime in general. I much prefer Western animations from Disney and Pixar, it’s odd but I guess I grew up watching Disney flicks πŸ˜€

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    • Thanks Ruth. I’m not all that into Anime myself. I used to be when I was younger and loved the likes of Akira but as I got older I fell away from them. Miyazaki always brings me back, though. I love his work. Even though it wasn’t him that directed it, I want to see Grave of the Fireflies as well. I own it but I just need to find the time.

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      • So which film you think is his best aside from this one Mark? I meant to check out a few of his other works in the future.

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      • This is my favourite but “Howl’s Moving Castle”, “My Neighbour Totoro”, “Kiki’s Delivery Service” and “Ponyo” are all worth a look. It’s refreshing to see someone with such imagination that’s outside western animation.

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      • Great, thanks Mark! I will try to check those out. Yeah, Miyazaki certainly never run out of imagination. I also like the music in Spirited Away, it’s subtle but definitely adds the mood.

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      • Damn! I meant to mention the music in my review. 😦 Oh, we’ll… You’re spot on though, it does play a big part. Just wonderful stuff all round.

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      • Oh your review already captured a lot of the great stuff. I just remember in the quieter moments, the music really spoke to me.

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      • Yeah, it’s just an all round example of a healthy imagination and allows you to totally escape.

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  6. I saw this in my inbox and thought, “oh boy, Mark better love this movie” and I’m glad you do. I also like that you mentioned the length, as most people think it’s far too long for kids. But in the end, is it really even a kids’ movie? I mean, No-Face alone has moments that are downright creepy, and the overall themes of the movie I don’t find too compelling for a younger audience. I guess that’s what makes his films great, they resonate to all ages and audiences. Also, I just have to plug my own review for the film, as it’s one of my most favorite things I have ever written. Thus, I expect to see some love returned πŸ˜‰

    http://cinekatz.com/exploring-the-bathhouse-spirited-away-review/

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    • I do love it. Very much. πŸ™‚ I suppose you could say that the themes are slightly more catered for adults but kids can enjoy it too. It’s just the running time that sags a little for them. Personally, I didn’t find it too much of a problem.
      I’ll definitely swing by on your take of it. Recently I’ve been finding it hard to comment on your posts, though. Don’t know if because I’m using my phone but it never sends. Hence the reason for some likes without comments backing them up. I’ll try it again, though.

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    • What this Disqus thing? I can’t seem to sign to comment on your page.

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  7. Good review, I need to see this again πŸ˜€

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  8. I love this film so much. I got to see it at the Museum of the Moving Image a month before the Academy Awards 10 years ago. Once I saw it I knew it would win Best Animated Feature.

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  9. You know its not my type of film, but always love your writing and passion dude πŸ™‚

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  10. Nicely done sir. I’m still a bit of a newcomer to Ghibli to be honest but I’ve got this lined up to watch on my week off work in a couple of weeks and I’m very much looking forward to it!

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  11. jackdeth72 Says:

    Hi, Mark:

    Excellent choice!

    Come for the anime. Stay for the story!

    Like

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