Reviews: Spirited Away
When you're a 14 year-old anime fan, and you hear that an Anime movie has won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, followed by an insane amount of hype, you can't help but feel a little excited. You watch the trailer, and think: "Wow, this must be amazing! I can't wait to see it!" A few years later, you finally get to watch it. It... doesn't hold up. ...This was supposed to be an awesome movie, right? Then why do you feel like you've been cheated? You rent it, and watch it again - twice. Maybe you just didn't "get it" the first time around. ...But no. You don't get anything from the experience but an empty void. There was something there, but it was so vague and lost within itself it just evaporated before you could grasp it. The story is thin, most characters are either pointless or plot devices, and, to top it off, the ending (before the credits, I mean) is a downer. It is with my deepest sorrow, thus, that I state: I hate Spirited Away with a passion. Okay, granted, part of my hatred for this movie might come from all the hype thrown at it. I just don't think it lives up to it, outside of its artistic value, but people seem intent on simply not finding any flaws in it, just endlessly praising it to the ends of the Earth. It probably doesn't help that I found out it was up against Disney's Lilo And Stitch and Treasure Planet for the Oscar. Pixar wasn't in the competition that year, so it was the one chance Disney had at the Best Animated Feature award. One chance, two movies, both good, and both movies lost. To this. Don't get me wrong, I do understand some of the praise it gets. The animation is brillliant, the setting is interesting to look at (like I said, artistic value), and some of the characters are fun to watch, and, heck, if you don't feel at least a little for Chihiro, you have no freaking heart. And yes, it does have some good parts, and a good underlying, basic karma-centric message: be good to people, endure through harsh times, and you'll eventually be rewarded at the end. That's all good, but it takes too long to get there, and most of it feels like void padding. I really wanted to like this movie, but I can't - it's just not for me, I guess. Nothing's perfect, including this movie. I just wish not as many people pretended it was.
While Kiki's Delivery Service may be the first of my forays into the realm of Miyazaki, this will always be the one I remember most fondly. Not only is Spirited Away my favorite Miyazaki movie ever, it's my favorite movie ever, of any kind. Period. Firstly, the world on which the movie is built. The portrayal of the spirit world has a surprising amount of solidity to it- a lot of thought went in to the intricacies of the spirits' dealings and interactions with one another, even as relegated to the tiny corner of the bathhouse where most of the story takes place. At the same time, there is always an undercurrent of unease to the world- it's inherently disturbing to the viewer in many ways, even subtly. Justified, as it's a world for spirits, not the lowly mortals who are observing this scenario. This, ironically, is one of the best parts of the world- it makes what is unreal and even disturbing seem so much more believable. Secondly, the plot. While Chihiro's growth as a person makes for an interesting tale, it's the effect she has on the rest of the bathhouse's workers and members that really sells the movie. Chihiro is just as strange and unusual to the spirits as they are to her, and it shows. Her interactions and tendency to act (to them) irrationally forces them to change and adapt just as she does. By the end, it's clear that Chihiro is no longer the only one who's been forced out of her ways for the better, especially in the climax. And finally, the coup de grace of the entire experience, the animation. While I expect a Miyazaki movie to look beautiful, this one truly takes the cake. Everything from the flying scenes to the spirits' appearances to even the more disgusting moments are all made with such effort and care that it's hard to not be inspired by them. There is not a corner cut anywhere in this film when it came to bringing the world and its many inhabitants to life. It is the very movie that inspired me to become an animator, in the hopes that I can make something half as beautiful as this movie is. If you have any interest in animation at all, I beg and implore you to see this movie. If you enjoy a good Fish out of Water story, see this movie. If you are looking for something ultimately heartwarming, inspiring, and a touch surreal, see this movie. I promise, you will not be disappointed.
Miyazaki's answer to Alice in Wonderland
Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away is, first and foremost, an animated film of superb quality. Every frame is a work of art; the animation is so smooth it is like watching a fluid painting. Spirited Away is THE yardstick against which other animation is measured. With that out of the way, on to what makes Spirited Away come to life. The score is mostly simple, classically beautiful piano pieces. The heavy focus on piano, and the inherent, uncluttered simplicity of that sole instrument, is able to surge to the foreground with the voice acting, without actually crowding out the other sounds. The score swells right where it's needed, and is silent when the viewer's attention should be elsewhere. While not quite as show-stealing as the animation, it is also very well done. Miyazaki also doesn't disappoint when it comes to the story. If nothing else, the film is fascinating to watch, with all the intricacies of the spirit world culture and mannerisms, and how the heroine navigates this strange, strange world. The world has the feeling of teeming activity, and a complexity and realism that the viewer barely scratches the surface of. In this regard, the incoherent world of Alice in Wonderland doesn't hold a candle to Spirited Away. The pacing of the plot has a certain duality. On one hand, it is a whirlwind of events, and on the other, it has breather periods of subtle focus- such as the scenes in the boiler room and on the train. When it comes to characters, Chihiro overcomes hardships in a believable, age-appropriate manner. She is very well balanced, and you can't ask for much more out of 10-ish character. Haku is mysterious, and straddles the line between trustworthiness and untrustworthiness throughout much of the film, which is very difficult to pull off well, but he did. Yubaba the witch is a captivating character who immediately steals the attention in whatever scene she finds herself in, and is not knee-jerk evil, more domineering and alien than anything. The only places in the film that I think could use some improvement was the rather downplayed relationship between Yubaba and Haku, and the ambiguous, bittersweet ending. Overall, my rating: 10/10. A must-see for any fan of animated film, or just film, period.
A truly beautiful film with a bland ending.
Spirited Away's story in and of itself is rather simplistic. That is because the movie chooses to communicate with the audience through imagery. The reason many people consider Spirited Away to be one of the greatest animated films ever made is because it takes advantage of animation to the fullest extent possible. This is one of those movies that simply wouldn't work as anything else. Every single frame is lovingly crafted with gorgeous scenery and character designs more imaginative than their personalities. Wait... that's a good thing, right? Spirited Away preaches of reconstruction and growing up throughout its various sequences. In one scene, the bathhouse is visited by a "stink spirit" that ruins everything in its path. The bathhouse workers try to turn it away, but to no avail, so it's up to Chihiro to serve it. In the process of giving it a bath, Chihiro finds something sticking out the side of it and becomes determined to pull it out. Ultimately, everyone in the bathhouse ends up pulling what turns out to be a giant heap of trash out of the spirit. It is scenes like this that prove just how powerful animation is. Chihiro comes out of her various trials as a better person; someone who acknowledges she must work to achieve her goals rather than rely on others for everything. The movie plays out in sequences, each showcasing a different trial for Chihiro. While they move along the plot well enough, they don't build up toward an ending. When it does end, the conclusion feels disappointing and underwhelming because the movie didn't know how to put all the characters that it had established to good use. For example, look at No-Face. His obsession with pleasing Chihiro turns him into a monster. While he's supposedly "fixed" in the end, his actions throughout the film only lead to a shallow conclusion that doesn't really solve anything. Nothing works in the ending's favor. Not even the plot. In a scene near the credits, Chihiro solves an important puzzle without anything supporting her answer. It is never explained how she knew the answer. The film needed to take the time to build up to scenes like this. Spirited Away is a beautiful film about moving forward that thrives on the power of filmmaking. However, its story falls flat, as Miyazaki obviously wasn't anticipating an ending.
Best movie ever
This movie has been my favorite movie ever since it came out, and it's not being replaced anytime soon. Just like all of Miyazaki's movies, the animation is beautiful and the story is very engaging. The music is composed by Joe Hisaishi, and it tugs on your heartstrings and never lets go through the movie's entire 2-hour runtime. The ending makes this troper cry every time she watches. Anyone who has never seen this movie needs to see it immediately!