Anime Reporter takes a look at one of anime’s most beautiful films, both in terms of its vivid animation and its wondrous story. Though this description may fit many films, there may be none more deserving than Hayao Miyazaki’s directorial masterpiece, Spirited Away.
Some astute readers have perhaps already gathered that this is going to be a positive review and indeed, if all anyone wants is an indication of whether this film is worth watching then the answer must be a resounding ‘Yes!’, but I shall nevertheless take advantage of this opportunity to press on and tell anyone who considers it worth sticking around exactly why this movie is such a triumph.
Reason 01: The Plot
Spirited Away is, simply put, a fairy tale. A ten year old girl becomes separated from her parents in a magical world full of spirits and gods with a wicked witch named Yubaba to defeat if she ever wants to save herself and her family and return home.
The simple and relatable desire for this girl, Chihiro, to return home safe and sound is something quickly established and so easy to relate to. Spirited Away tells us a story which is instantly charming, endearing and layered with enough emotion that it’s near impossible not to take Chihiro’s struggle on board as your own. With a big bad witch to overthrow, strange friends to make and a world with rules we can’t begin to understand (hold your breath and they won’t see you!), Spirited Away is a magnificent fairy tale in every sense.
Reason 02: The Characters
In order to survive in Yubaba’s world, Chihiro has to take on a job in her bath house, populated with employees and customers who are far from human, varying from the long-limbed four-armed boiler man Kajambi to all sorts of frogs, gods, spirits and a great deal of creatures which are far less easy to categorise. Even the soot in Spirited Away is whimsical and full of personality and it’s hard not to fall in love with the humour and imagination put into each creature’s design. This magical nature is inherent in Miyazaki’s work for Ghibli such as Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle. There’s something about Miyazaki which makes each of his films as recognisable as anything from Disney, yet at the same time, wholly original from his other works.
While we never learn much about the main character Chihiro, who seems to be tossed about by the strange new world around her and guided by those who take pity on her, it’s nonetheless moving whenever she cries, endearing whenever she trips or stumbles and moving when she makes friends and finds hope. There is a simplicity to the tale and its cast of characters that makes it utterly relatable and beautifully stirring.
Reason 03: The World
While it needn’t be a factor in determining whether a tale is well told or not, animation undoubtedly plays a part in making us believe in a bath house catering to spirits and deities. The animation in Spirited Away is nothing short of sublime. Characters and backgrounds are not only stunning, but so easy to believe in that the imagination can let itself be carried away in a moment.
From the fluttering movement of a charmed piece of paper to a cloaked woman turning herself into an obscure bird, the entire thing feels completely organic. The scene painted in Spirited Away is one that you need never doubt for a second. Miyazaki and his team create a world so full of character that you won’t just want to believe in it, you’ll have a hard time doing anything else.
Spirited Away is, with no exaggeration, a masterpiece of animation, a triumph of cinema, a treasure of fairy tales. It is the world whose shadows became stories like The Three Little Pigs and Hanzel and Gretel. A living, breathing, endlessly charming bedtime story with enough heart and humour to convert many an anime-newbie.
Spirited Away was first released in 2002 and is currently available on DVD and Blu-ray. You don’t have an anime collection if you don’t have Spirited Away!
99% “This is it!”– Spirited Away is the most incredible piece of animation I have witnessed and puts a great deal of Disney’s best works to shame. For years it has been, and continues to be, the standard to which I hold anime and indeed, all pieces of animation, cinema or storytelling at all. This beautiful tale not only moves and amuses, it has the gift of immediately becoming an old friend, something to cherish.