Friday, May 25, 2012

Spirited Away Anime Movie Review

Spirited Away
Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi
Buena Vista Home Entertainment (Disney)
Movie - 125 mins. - 2 discs
$29.99 (2003)
ISBN 786936213843
Japanese/English Audio - English Subtitles
Director - Hayao Miyazaki
Studio - Studio Ghibli

Synopsis: Chihiro is moving to a new town with her family because of her father's work.  She had to leave all of her friends behind and feels sad.  Her father gets lost on the way to the new house and ends up on a deserted road.  Chihiro follows both her parents into a spooky passageway leading to a deserted train station. The station appears abandoned and they continue outside across a field of grass to what appears to be a deserted shopping district.  All of the shops look empty, but food is ready at the restaurants and her parents sit down to eat.  They stuff themselves greedily with no one around and her father makes an excuse to pay the shop owners later.
Chihiro drives with her parents to find their new home.  They don't
seem to care that she has just left all of her friends behind.
It becomes dusk and lanterns begin to glow all along the streets.  Strange shadowy figures coalesce in the streets and Chihiro's apprehension advances to growing dread.  She knows something is wrong, but her parents are oblivious.  Pleading with them to leave she is horrified to find they are transforming into hogs even as they shovel more food into their lengthening snouts.  Panicking she rushes to cross the grassy field and escape, but it has filled with water to become a river with the deserted train station now lit up on the other shore.
Chihiro frantically runs through the previously deserted streets
as the disturbing shadow blobs proliferate and solidify
Chihiro is frightened and alone with the shadowy figures solidifying into bizarre creatures all around her until an authoritative boy tells her to leave before nightfall.  Unable to leave and losing cohesion as surely as the shadows come into form she wanders hopelessly toward the entrance of a grand bathhouse.  The boy, Haku, pulls her aside and bids her eat something lest she evaporate from being.  He saves her and she is led into the bathhouse in order to obtain a job, which is the only way to remain there rightfully.
Haku helps Sen by bringing her to visit her transformed parents,
giving her food, and telling her to always remember her name
Yubaba is the owner of the bathhouse and a powerful witch (with a giant head).  Chihiro signs a contract for a job, but the condition is her name is changed to Sen.  If Chihiro forgets her real name she will be a trapped as a servant forever.  Her parents remain hogs in the bathhouse's pens among the other swine.  Sen vows to rescue them and return to the real world.
Yubaba is very scary and has a really big head!
Sen begins her menial work at the bathhouse by scrubbing floors and cleaning tubs.  She is befriended by another worker named Lin who is gruff, but kindhearted.  The two are given an incredibly odious job to clean out an especially dirty tub and help a disgustingly smelly stink spirit.  The bathhouse patrons are largely from the spirit world and not always what they seem.
Lin and Sen work to clean a particularly dirty bath before
getting assigned an especially smelly customer
Remaining true to herself and drawing on her own inner strength in order to deal with the impossible situation, Sen manages to hang in there and keep a level head.  She is very kind and her good intentions cause a terrible situation which endangers the bathhouse (involving a creature named No Face).  Haku is a powerful spirit himself and trapped in a contract with Yubaba.  Can Sen possibly return to the real world and save her parents from being eaten?
No Face offers Sen some bath tokens.  Initially gentle and
unassuming, the creature later becomes a serious problem
Pros: Wonderful story - just like a fairy tale, beautiful animation with hand drawn scenes meshed flawlessly to computer-aided effects, imaginative character designs - particularly the spirits, highest grossing film in Japanese history (at the time), won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, immerses viewers into a bizarrely magical world, good dub especially Suzanne Pleshette as Yubaba/Zeniba, nice soundtrack, decent subtitles
Chihiro works alongside the soot sprites in the
boiler room to feed the boiler for the bathhouse
Cons: Might be a little scary for some younger kids (particularly sensitive viewers) at some points (especially No Face), I didn't like the one cartoony part where Sen crashes into a wall and goes flat like a pancake (this isn't Looney Tunes), not a Western cartoon and some folks just may not get it (or they'll consider it really weird), plot can jump around too quickly with all of the strange happenings at the bathhouse, things wrap up too neatly and characters can be too nice
Chihiro rides the elevator with a big yet kind radish spirit
Mike Tells It Straight: Spirited Away is easily one of my all-time favorite films and especially among those from Hayao Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli (together with Laputa: Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, and Princess Mononoke).  It's a wonderfully imaginative coming-of-age story which continues to delight me to this day.  This film is another masterpiece by Miyazaki and garnered international acclaim while breaking serious new ground in America after winning an Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2002.

Some Yokai patrons of the bathhouse
The film is not perfect and although I'm highly biased toward giving it an unabashedly favorable review it may not be equally received by other viewers.  My two-year-old loves it, but she hasn't developed a strong sense of fear yet.  Slightly older children may get scared in a few parts (like when No Face eats one of the bathhouse workers).  The plot can be called too whimsical (mostly near the end with the visit to Zeniba's house) and lacking in structure.  Things happen without explanations - some people will dislike when this happens.
Chihiro/Sen on the train with No Face to see Zeniba
On the whole Spirited Away is a creative triumph in animated storytelling.  Chihiro's tale is a great metaphor for being an outsider in a new place and drawing on inner strength/conviction/belief to overcome those feelings of isolation.  She makes mistakes and learns from them.  The characters are not all black and white, good and bad.  Each one has their positive and negative sides, much like real people.
The soot sprites at feeding time - party! party! party!
Spirited Away is long overdue for a Blu-Ray release (or just another release period).  This one I would say is safe to buy before watching - it's that good.  How does Chihiro find her parents among all the other swine?

TO BUY and Recommendations: