Rich (Webmaster)

Based on: Full Anime

UK Distributor:  Optimum Asia (DVD & VHS)

The most recent and probably most unusual of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, Spirited Away seems an strange choice to be a big release by Disney but there you go.

The story revolves around Chihiro, a young girl who gets trapped in a strange land when travelling to her new home.  Unable to escape and with her parents turned into pigs Chihiro is forced to find a job at the bath house run by Yubaba, a sorceress who renames her ‘Sen’, until she can find a way out of the mess she is in.

The drawing and animation are as excellent as you would expect from Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki, making more use of the computer animation techniques used to such good effect in Princess Mononoke, and the fantastical setting is well realised.  Chihiro is a superb character – completely believable and easy to like, and the story is very good.  Again special note must be given to Joe Hisaishi’s excellent score, which includes one of the best orchestral pieces I have ever heard (track 19 on the soundtrack, called ‘Reprise’) and is distinctly Japanese, a fact that adds to the otherworldly sense of the film.

However, there is something that I find strange.  Spirited Away is an excellent film but it is not Miyazaki’s most accessible.  To start with it is heavily rooted in Japanese mythology and various elements, such as the bath house itself, are very Japanese.  Yet the film was Disney’s first major Ghibli release.  I find this unusual as films like Kiki’s Delivery Service and Laputa, Castle In The Sky are far more obvious choices and have more Western, and immediate, appeal.  Spirited Away is a film I found I had to watch several times before I really appreciated it.

However, Disney must know what they are doing and it is good to see an anime getting a cinema release, even if it has been limited to art house cinemas in the UK, despite it's Oscar win.

Anyway, back to the review.  Spirited Away is a very good film.  The animation, music, story and characterisation are exemplary, but some people may find the sheer Japanese-ness of it a bit alienating.  I don’t think it is Miyazaki’s best film, but it is certainly one of his most interesting.  Chihiro visibly changes during the film, becoming more responsible as the film wears on and solving problems in her own way.  The superb fantasy element and focus on the young girl’s struggle will make it especially popular with children, but it has appeal to adults too.  There is action, drama, comedy and some moving moments in it and some scenes, such as a dragon being chased by paper dolls, Yubaba using magic to pull Chihiro to her office and Chihiro’s encounter with the Stink God are amazing.

Whilst not as moving as Grave of the Fireflies (well, what is?), as action packed as Princess Mononoke or as accessible as Laputa, Spirited Away is an excellent fantasy film which delivers on many levels.  It is a definite grower and repeated viewings are extremely rewarding, Spirited Away could be likened to Alice in Wonderland and it easily matches Lewis Carroll's classic for escapism and fantasy.

Best Bit: Chihiro's journey to her first meeting with Yubaba.

Worst Bit: The big baby wanting to play with Chihiro.

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