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 , 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.
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, mainly from Pixar, 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. It’s no Toy Story (1995).
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.