director Hayao Miyazaki
After watching Coraline (2009) with Clara a couple of weeks ago, I realized that yet another of my favorite films, Spirited Away, was something that the kids didn’t seem to have recalled watching. I was strangely struck by this because it is indeed one of my favorite films and the thought of how I could have missed watching this with them was strange to absorb. But I guess that when it came out it was probably too scary for them for a while and as time rolled on, I had kind of forgotten that they hadn’t actually seen it.
What was an oversight on my part became a grand opportunity to share with them this fantastic film from Hayao Miyazaki. I think from its very initial release that many of us recognized it as a true masterpiece. Time is usually the true judge of quality, and I can honestly say that this amazing, remarkable fantasy film is as strange and vivid as ever, deeper and more interesting, and thoroughly and utterly enjoyable.
Spirited Away is the adventure of Chihiro, a ten year old girl, moving to a new city with her family, winds up in another world, a spirit world, where her parents are turned into pigs and she winds up working for a witch at a bathhouse for spirits. The spirits are of traditional Japanese beliefs, beings embodied in all things: rivers, rocks, trees, animals. They come to the bathhouse to wash away the filth of pollution and abuse, but they also deal with having fallen out of memory and knowledge of people. Haku, a boy that Chihiro meets at the bathhouse, is really a river dragon whose name has been forgotten. The spirits and traditions are not only physically destroyed by human expansion but are becoming spiritually disconnected (as are humans).
Chihiro’s journey is a classic type of fantastic adventure, growing to appreciate this hidden world, to become respectful, kind, and heroic. The plethora of strange beings in the spirit world are endlessly visual treats.
Miyazaki may have several films that could be considered masterpieces. My Neighbor Totoro (1988) has a simplicity yet such sublime magic to it, playing with similar themes of nature inhabited by spiritual creatures, a less complex and quieter narrative, no less moving and fantastic in contrast. But Spirited Away is something much grander, much more strange, and so utterly original, it’s a tremendous and still utterly fun adventure.
The kids really enjoyed the film. Rather unsurprisingly, I suppose. Neither of them recalled seeing it at all before and were able to enjoy it completely fresh and without expectations or foreknowledge. I am curious to query them on it a little further down the way to see how sustained their feelings are for the film. For me, a decade on since my first viewing of it, I am even more enamored of it than before. It is indeed among my favorite films.