you're reading...
-[Film Reviews]-, East Asian Cinema, Japanese Cinema

‘Spirited Away’ (2001): That One Anime Movie Everyone Knows


Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki || Produced by: Toshio Suzuki

Written by: Hayao Miyazaki || Starring: Rumi Hiiragi, Miyu Irino, Mari Natsuki, Takeshi Naito, Yasuko Sawaguchi, Tsunehiko Kamijo, Takehiko Ono, Bunta Sugawara

Music by: Joe Hisaishi || Cinematography by: Atsushi Okui || Editing by: Takeshi Seyama || Country: Japan || Language: Japanese

Running Time: 124 minutes

Every film-fan has heard of the works of Hayao Miyazaki, because everybody’s got at least one friend who’s a super-annoying manga/Anime/Japanese animation-fanboy or girl. You know what type of people I’m talking about. Therefore, most of us cinephiles are also familiar with his best film, Spirited Away (or perhaps Princess Mononoke [1999], whatever). Rabid anime-fandom — one of the most vicious, irritating, and potent pop culture phenomenons this side of Alien-Predator fans — is what forced me to watch this movie, and maybe one or two other films from Miyazaki’s fabled Studio Ghibli. Without all this immense hype, scrutiny, and fanboy-love, I probably would never have checked it out in the first place.

And I probably wouldn’t have cared too much either way, as a matter of fact. In case you haven’t figured it out yet from my half-hearted enthusiasm or sarcastic tone, I’m not much of an anime-fan. I don’t care for the animation-style, the types of over-the-top fantasy or action tales popular within the subgenre, and I care least of all for the fans themselves. I find most of them insufferable the way most people can’t stand hardcore MMA-fans, snobbish live-action film-junkies, and Bernie-bros (all groups with which I identify).

That being said, Spirited Away is a good movie. I may not care much for the animation style or subculture as a whole, and either way I’m not too enthralled with the film itself or most of Studio Ghibli’s works, but I have to give credit where credit is due. Spirited Away is a solid film, all things considered, from its visuals to its protagonist’s development to its general surrealist tone. I wasn’t enthralled by the movie, but I can see why anime-fans love it so much, even if I don’t myself. The film’s biggest strength is its visual charm. All the characters, from the human protagonist to the bizarrely shaped spirit-creatures to the grotesque antagonist, Yubaba, as well as the environments themselves, are gorgeously drawn and rich in color. No other animated feature looks quite like Miyazaki’s.

Left: Chihiro goes through the classic arc of all child characters: Maturation. Right: The artistic-design and animations are beautifully drawn.

As for the protagonist, Chihiro, her personality is relatable, though not likable at first, and her arc is both sympathetic and heartfelt. Her personal journey is believable despite the fantastical scenery around her. On the other hand, none of the film’s supporting cast are anything to write home about, and the narrative itself isn’t impressive beyond its basic fulfillment of the hero’s journey. That’s not a huge slight against the film, if a slight at all, but given the stiff animated competition out there, Spirited Away does not stand out from the pack. I can understand Japanese animation = fans’ avid praise of Miyazaki’s work, because he’s a good filmmaker and his films showcase the unique look and style of Japanese art in a way that does them justice, but again, what I have seen so far is nothing legendary. This could be one I just don’t “get.”

On the other hand, Spirited Away is a perfectly enjoyable film, and I recommend it to anyone who has an interest in animation and great art-design. It doesn’t do anything revolutionary with its characters or in the story department, but it does enough, and it’s nice to see a movie that pays attention to the basics of “Screenwriting 101.” I still can’t stand the fans, though.


SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: As is commonplace for Studio Ghibli films, Spirited Away features impressive animation from its first frame to its last. Chihiro has a strong arc that is easy to appreciate and relate to. Even better, her character is believable for her age, and her development feels natural.

However… Spirited Away’s narrative remains standard fare, and I find the villains tiresome.


? Why does all Japanese animation draw people with HUGE eyes and tiny noses? Evidently, this doesn’t bother anyone else.

About The Celtic Predator

I love movies, music, video games, and big, scary creatures.


5 thoughts on “‘Spirited Away’ (2001): That One Anime Movie Everyone Knows

  1. I would say that his best films are Totoro and Howls Moving Castle. Though Totoro doesn’t have any battles or anything like that, the movie lets people remember what it was like to have a vivid imagination like the children in the movie. This movie did not strike me as a great film the first time I saw it, though I did enjoy it, but after seeing it, the characters and story really grew on me. As for spirited away, I believe that it is only popular in the US because it was the best advertised film here out of his entire collection. Miyazaki based many of his characters on japanese lore, like the black blob creature with the white mask, and I would have to assume that is why most the the witches he drew are grotesque. I forgot that if you didn’t like the witch in this one, the one in Howl’s moving castle is even more disgusting. I don’t think you have to consider him a god among movie makers, I think you just have to respect that he makes the types of movies that he does, well. I would recommend watching the two that I mentioned at least to get a clearer understanding of his works. I personally enjoy the personal developent that the characters go through. And not to be a snob or anything, but I personally think that they are much better in Japanese. If the voice actors aren’t better(I think they are) then you can’t tell as well since it is in a different language. Nice review.

    Posted by Scott | April 17, 2013, 4:55 am
    • Yeah, this was my introduction to Miyazaki, as I mentioned, and I still haven’t seen any others since. I’ll probably try out Princess Mononoke, since that’s the other one of his titles that I hear thrown around the most. I heard that Christian Bale was one of the English voice actors for Howl’s Moving Castle, btw.

      Posted by The Celtic Predator | April 23, 2013, 11:34 pm
  2. Enjoy my typos too.

    Posted by Scott | April 17, 2013, 4:56 am


  1. Pingback: My Neighbor Totoro (Tonari no Totoro) & Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi) #Reviewpakaibahasa – Dhita Review & Story $$$$ - March 11, 2021

  2. Pingback: An Overview of Marvel’s ‘Infinity Saga’ (2008-2019) | Express Elevator to Hell - July 20, 2021

Am I spot on? Am I full of it? Let me know!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: