Spirited Away

Spirited Away (2001) movie poster

(2001) dir. Hayao Miyazaki
viewed: 10/25/02 at Kabuki Theater, SF

Having barely seen a theatrical film a month this year (while trying to stay on top of things for my few Film Diary readers), it may seem quite surprising that I chose to see Spirited Away for a second time on the big screen, while forsaking so many films and dooming them to DVD viewing, several months behind the times.

Though that’s hardly the sole issue, it’s a strong testament to how fantastic I think that Miyazaki’s film really is. A second viewing, six months later, only reinforces my awe of this movie.

The world of Spirited Away is one of both folk/fairy tale and childhood fantasy, a deluxe nightmare/daydream that is lush in detail and classical in its themes. The young protagonist, Chihiro, loses her family and almost her identity (literally her name) to an evil witch who operates a bathhouse for “the gods.” It has the effect, like the best children’s stories, of evoking that very recognizable ambiguity of real sensate fears and emotions placed within the utterly palpable believability of the other-worldly, the dream.

The fantasy world is painted so vividly that it can be accepted at its face value, a real place, an alternate reality that is still utterly real. At the same time, the world is also highly metaphorical, representative of concepts that live outside of childhood fancy.

While the narrative intentionally steeped in Japanese folkloric traditions (yet echoes, as perhaps much folklore does, of other cultures traditions as well), the design is focused very much on Japanese landscape and architecture. In Kiki’s Delivery Service (1998), the landscapes and characters were much more Western, a mixed period pan-European vision. The only character in Spirited Away that has a particularly Western look is the evil witch Yubaba (and her good witch twin, Zeniba). However, her character doesn’t necessarily seem to be a representation of Western culture.

This film has so much in it from an analytical standpoint that I don’t really know where to start…so I won’t really. What I will do is say that this is a totally fantastic film, one that should be seen by any and everyone. It’s better than almost 100% of everything else out there. And I mean it.

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