Spirited Away

Spirited Away (2001) movie poster

(2001) dir. Hayao Miyazaki
viewed: 04/21/02 at Castro Theater, SF

Hayao Miyazaki’s film, Spirited Away, is both his newest and very possibly his most-brilliant.

Miyazaki, for those that do not know it, is a Japanese feature filmanimator who could finally perhaps be the filmmaker that rescues feature-length animated films from the gigantic rut that Disney has dug for them.

Miyazaki creates wonderful fantastic images, that are truly unlike those of any other filmmaker. And Spirited Away is replete with such wonderful invention.

The story is about a girl, Chihiro, who relocating with her family to a different part of Japan, moving away from her friends to a new place. The family takes a wrong turn and ends up exploring and falling into a spirit realm that is ruled by an evil witch, who turns Chihiro’s parents into pigs. Chihiro has to work for the witch at her business, a bathhouse for the many native gods of the country.

It is a story, while original, echoes of traditional Japanese culture, like a classic fairy tale. Miyazaki was said to have been inspired by the “lethargy” of a young girl that he met, by her lack of understanding and interest in traditional Japanese culture, and it seems a significant aspect of the source and style of the narrative.

The landscape in this film is also very Japanese, supposedly based on an older region of Japan, one not far from his Studio Ghibli. Environment is always a significant theme for Miyazaki, and settings are always rendered in loving detail.

The spirit world of Spirited Away is populated by an utter menagerie of fantastic characters. There are too many to begin to enumerate.

This is a brilliant film, fantastic, surprising, beautifully rendered, sweet, scary, tremendous.

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