Spirited Away – Review

She has puffy cheeks and downcast expression and can be seen as having an awkward personality – angry and miserable, and unwilling to do anything out of the ordinary. However in the course of the film, she matures and finds the things she truly values – though not in the usual obvious manner of similar stories. As with all of Miyazaki’s films, Spirited Away is an experience in which along with Chihiro, we discover the weird and magnificent world in which she finds herself: a wonderland of bizarre and fantastic creatures, which are so real you can almost reach out and touch them.
The movie begins with a downhearted 10-year-old Chihiro sitting in the back seat of her parents’ car when soon enough, a shortcut down a forgotten woodland road, leads Chihiro and her family to a decrepit old temple with a strangely beckoning tunnel entrance. Chihiro, partly out of intuition and partly out of fear, suspects danger ahead. Against her bidding, the parents walk on investigating, discovering what they take to be a theme park. Along the empty streets, they are strangely drawn towards a delicious scent of food at an unattended kiosk and Chihiro’s parental units begin to help themselves to the abundant food. Chihiro rejects the feast, wanders off and a boy of about her age appears mysteriously and angrily bids her to leave at once. The sky suddenly falls dark and rushing back to her parents, Chihiro is horrified to discover that the indignant spirits that inhabit the place transformed her parents, leaving her on her own, trapped in a bizarre world of spirits.
All around her ghosts begin to appear. Chihiro initially thinks she in a nightmare but shortly the spirits notice her and her life is in danger. She gets some help while running for her life – namely, from the young boy named Haku who seems to know her from another time and place. It is Haku who tells Chihiro what she must do in order to rescue her imprisoned parents and return to her normal life: she must find work at the bathhouse that overlooks the landscape. Amazing imaginative creatures inhabit the bathhouse: gods and spirits, leisurely spending their time there, and a busy staff of servants who attend them.

Gaining employment at the bathhouse forces Chihiro to sign a binding contract with Yu-baaba and relinquish her original name. Named “Sen” by the malicious witch, her servitude life is exhausting and unappreciated, but if she would like to save her parents, it’s her only option and she has got to change – she’ll have to face her deepest fears and attempt to remember her own identity and find a way to break her parents’ spell, which is the only escape from the firm control of the spirits. Sen discovers an inner strength she never suspected she had which enables her to carry on in the realm of the spirits. What follows is a fantastic journey into a wondrously imagined world and lucky for us, we get the opportunity to follow her through her struggle to the other side and hopefully back.
Not knowing how the story will turn out means that you go on the same journey as Chihiro, and all the wonders of the realm she walks into will be new and surprising. This course is what can distinguish between the film being good to the film being great. But Sen’s adventures are just beginning! The film is filled with characters that are absolutely new to our expectations – no wicked characters like we’re used to see, but instead: flying Yu-baaba with an overgrown head and her gigantic baby locked away in a room stuffed with toys. There are spirits that drift in and out, gigantic figures and tiny soot-balls – there are boys who transform themselves into flying wolf-faced serpents, and tiny pieces of paper that fly around and hurt people.
Visually, the film is a feast for the eyes. The animation quality is excellent. The colours are richer than anything found in any American animated film. The magnificent animation is cleanly simple yet loaded with a level of detail truly astounding, intricately rendered in Studio Ghibli. There is a limited use of CG animation, but they are never prominent. While it provides a breathtaking illusion of Chihiro pushing through a blossoming flower garden, the electronic imagery blends skilfully with the beautiful hand-drawn characters and backgrounds in a vibrant manner. In many cases, characters convey emotions with subtle changes of expression rather than dialogue. Everything is perfectly calculated to the mood of the scene, even scenes that have no music at all add to the effect. The music is as good as any Studio Ghibli film — that is to say, excellent.
Likewise, the voice acting fits the characters perfectly. A superb job is done by the English-language cast in reinterpreting Miyazaki’s original dialogue where individual lines are contended with to synchronize with the existing animation. In the Japanese version, Rumi Hiiragi voices Chihiro, and Daveigh Chase being her English counterpart, both skilfully communicate Chihiro’s determination and bright outlook.
Spirited Away draws loosely on Japanese mythology and a never-ending imagination to create a small yet elaborate universe inhabited by all types of creatures. It’s a fantastic fable like that of Alice in Wonderland. In fact, in Alice in Wonderland there are several references to characters eating things that transform them. Also, the movie shares all the peculiar characters of the fable, as well as featuring the journey of a character into a strange world. Spirited Away is absolutely more cheerful and entertaining which only adds to the fascination of the film.
When Spirited Away won the 2002 Academy Award Winner for Best Animated Feature, the film continued to enjoy an impressive collection of honours, including best animated film success from the New York Film Critics Circle, Los Angeles Film Critics Awards, and the National Board Of Review, not to mention the Golden Bear Best Picture Award from the Berlin Film Festival and the Best Film prize from the Japanese Academy Awards. To date, Hayao Miyazaki’s distinctive fairy tale Spirited Away has acquired more than twenty awards at film festivals around the globe, made the Japanese box office and resolutely secured its place in the chronicles of film history.
Spirited Away will appeal to older children as well as adults. While both parents and children can enjoy the absolutely breathtaking animation, the adults will appreciate the story while their kids will most likely be left a little confused. It’s not that the plot is complex, but it is the film’s characters and world that are complicated. The film is elaborate on an emotional level, something that probably most of its audience will not be expecting. But for all its layered aspects, the film is driven by a wonderful innocence that makes it quite appealing and ultimately very satisfying. There is nothing overly frightening in the film (maybe the masked-face monster may be intense for very young children, but it’s nothing too frightening for kids six and up), so parents should not have a problem taking their kids to see this. Viewers in search of an excellent story will not be disappointed.
What distinguishes Miyazaki’s work from his sources of inspiration is a lighter mood and a true understanding of childish wonder. “I would like to make it a film in which 10 year old girls can find their true wishes”, Hayao Miyasaki declares. This remarkable drama about a girl who continuously challenges herself and matures significantly over the course of a few days makes Chihiro a heroine. She is a heroine, because she fulfils and builds around her a na�ve world due to her matchless heart. She gets trained, learns about friendship and loyalty, and survives by using her wisdom because she gained the power to live. It is the main theme of this film to describe such a world clearly in the form of a fantasy.
Hayao Miyazaki is one of the greatest animators and directors in Japan. The amusing plots, believable characters and astounding animation in his films have earned him international recognition from critics as well as public gratitude within Japan. Miyazaki has outdone himself as this film has all the wonder and brilliance of the other Miyazaki films and is in some ways one of his most compelling. Since it is better than Totoro, it may also be the greatest family film of all time. Both the artwork and animation quality are absolutely magnificent and actually surpass the heights seen in Princess Mononoke. Like some of Miyazaki’s previous work, there are no definite ‘good’ or ‘evil’ characters. This is a rare thing to find in most animated films.
The characters are out for their own self-interests. Yu-baaba is not a villain, she is a profiteer. She wants to get the money from the spirits who come to the bathhouse to relax. The masked-face monster is a lonely soul, who, when over stimulated becomes an fanatical eater of anything or anyone that gets in it’s way. I found this to be a revitalizing use of character; especially considering how many films we see where the typical villain is nothing more than being bad for the sake of being bad.
Now this masterpiece from acclaimed director Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli is available on DVD edition distributed by Walt Disney Studios. The two-disc set combines attractive presentation with a remarkable collection of bonus features. The film is presented in wide screen format with very sharp colours. Gladly, both English and the original Japanese soundtracks are available in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound.
Spirited Away is an unquestionable masterpiece, a work of breathtaking beauty and strong emotional quality. Chihiro’s journey into the unknown will undoubtedly entertain you as much now as it will ten years from today. With Chihiro, the audience too journeys along, awed and grateful for the chance to be part in an imagination so rich. This movie must be seen as an allegory of how devotion, friendship, and love can conquer greed and liberate one’s spirit. From the way the film looks to the way the story develops, even to the way it sounds – Spirited Away is the best and most exceptionally rewarding film so far.
This review was intended for a magazine because:
o Magazines usually tend to go deeper and wider than a newspaper feature, since generally there is more space available. Because of this, the various topics could be expanded more.
o In a magazine familiar words are preferred over the unfamiliar, therefore the style could easily be combined with the magazine style.
The Title:
o The title chosen reminds us immediately in the fable of Alice in Wonderland. In fact only the girl’s name is changed in the title.
o Both Alice in Wonderland and Spirited Away have parallels between them. These parallels are also referred to later in the body.
o To make clear the use of the word ‘Wonderland’ in the title, the reason for its usage is given straight away in the introduction: “a wonderland of bizarre and fantastic creatures”
The Introduction (Lead):
o Its purpose is to continue the work of the title by holding the readers’ attention.
o It teases the readers to guess what is coming so as to awaken their curiosity and persuade them to continue reading.
o The first line starts off with a description of the movie’s main character so that the readers are made familiar her instantly. It also arouses curiosity as ‘She’ is still mysterious and her name is not yet revealed. This urges further reading.
o A contrast between words is used to imply and describe the realm of the spirits: “weird and magnificent”; “bizarre and fantastic”. The reader might be perplexed and so reads on to answer the question aroused in his / her mind.
The body:
o Unity – the main theme is threaded through the article and has a flow throughout.
o Coherence – all material used is shown to be related to the theme, especially by linking techniques and orderly arrangement. The narration of the story has continual interest so as to sweep the readers along.
o Emphasis – the main purpose of the article is identifiable throughout.
o Order – straightforwardly chronological; the descriptive parts are used to heighten the drama.
o As a review it is short and concise, objective and impartial. It was kept in mind so as not to give the ending of the movie away!
The Ending:
o It tries to be fulfilling and satisfying to the reader in some way.
o It is a summing up of the review and ends with an emotional atmosphere.
Narration technique:
o Suspense was used a lot, especially in the narration of the story of the film so as to make the reader constantly ask of what will happen to the protagonist. This was achieved through a lot of link words (e.g.: and, which, what fallows, this is, while, in fact, likewise), which are useful in helping to keep the thread of narration running.
o There is often a fair amount of description mingled in, so that the reader can clearly understand what is happening and become interested in the protagonist.
o The style makes readers feel at ease in the writer’s company, makes them listen attentively. Most words used are very flowing, objective with a sufficient pace to keep the reader hooked.

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