Animation Wednesday: Spirited Away
This post is part of the Animation Wednesday series, a weekly column which looks at animated TV series and movies of the past, present and future.
Hayao Miyazaki is an auteur. His name, and that of his production company, Studio Ghibli, is synonymous with beautiful, imaginative anime films. I could devote an entire series, even an entire blog, to a discussion of his work and its influence. For this week’s Animation Wednesday, though, we’ll settle with my favorite of his films, Spirited Away.
Spirited Away, released in 2001, is an Alice in Wonderland-style tale about 10 year old Chihiro, a quiet girl unhappily moving to a new town with her parents. The family discovers a deserted amusement park, and despite her objections, Chihiro’s parents eat a bunch of food and are promptly transformed into pigs. Chihiro must then work at a bathhouse run by the witch Yubaba in order to earn enough to buy, and thus save, her parents. Along the way, she meets Haku, a boy who is also a dragon, and No Face, a mysterious, silent spirit.
It sounds really weird, and the plot feels unmistakably Japanese. But the story is very easy to follow, and it’s funny and engaging for both kids and adults without stooping to use bathroom humor or innuendo. Watching Chihiro genuinely grow as a character is great, and the supporting cast and background characters are fantastic, both visually and storywise. Spirited Away moves through a number of interesting set pieces seamlessly, my favorite of which involves the whole staff of the bathhouse giving a stinky mud monster a bath.
Everything in the movie looks and sounds great. The food looks delicious. The architecture is beautiful. The character design, as I mentioned before, is top-notch. It’s also a story which centers around a female protagonist, which while more common in anime (especially Miyazaki’s work), is still a breath of fresh air in the children’s movie genre. It also deals with a lot of the recurring themes in Miyazaki’s films, like growing up, moving away, and parents. A friend of mine once described Spirited Away as the anime he would show to people who don’t like anime, and I think there’s a lot of merit in that. It’s one of those rare movies that transcends genre to provide a film which works on a number of levels.
Spirited Away is a great movie for fans of Miyazaki, children’s movies, animation, art, and great movies. It’s available on DVD and BluRay, I highly recommend picking it up.