Cert: PG Runtime: 125 mins Director: Hayao Miyazaki Cast: Daveigh Chase, Suzanne Pleshette, Jason Marsden, Susan Egan, David Ogden Stiers, Lauren Holly and Michael Chiklis
Once you do something, you never forget. Even if you can’t remember
I have never really delved into the world of Ghibli or the work of Hayao Miyazaki. Spirited Away has always grabbed my attention but never watched it and gave it my full attention. What is Spirited Away about then? Chihiro (Daveigh Chase) and her parents are moving to a small Japanese town in the countryside, much to Chihiro’s dismay. On the way to their new home, Chihiro’s father (Michael Chiklis) makes a wrong turn and drives down a lonely one-lane road which dead-ends in front of a tunnel. Her parents decide to stop the car and explore the area. They go through the tunnel and find an abandoned amusement park on the other side, with its own little town. When her parents see a restaurant with great-smelling food but no staff, they decide to eat and pay later. However, Chihiro refuses to eat and decides to explore the theme park a bit more. She meets a boy named Haku (Jason Marsden) who tells her that Chihiro and her parents are in danger, and they must leave immediately she runs to the restaurant and finds that her parents have turned into pigs. In addition, the theme park turns out to be a town inhabited by demons, spirits, and evil gods. At the center of the town is a bathhouse where these creatures go to relax. The owner of the bathhouse is the evil witch Yubaba (Suzanne Pleshette), who is intent on keeping all trespassers as captive workers, including Chihiro. Chihiro must rely on Haku to save her parents in hopes of returning to their world.
Besides the fantastic story and characters, the thing that makes this a masterpiece is that it’s a tremendous labor of love that is. Not that it was difficult to make, considering the fact that Miyazaki is animated gold, but that there are hundreds of unnecessary little details that cement the movies beauty. The way water moves and reflects, for example. It is so realistic that we became totally engrossed in the story. Or look in the windows of the bathhouse. You will find whole stories that have no connection to the central one, but they give such a feeling of busyness and movement that I couldn’t imagine the movie without them. Most backgrounds in animated movies are very still, they can’t distract from the story. The story is a basic coming of age type deal. But most of us take a long time to make the progress that that Chihiro makes of the course of the movie. Sometimes we wish there was an event like this one that would inspire us to take action. But usually a single event that causes maturity is a tragic or traumatic one, where as Chihiro’s is one of spectacular adventure. I mentioned fantastic creatures, and this movie delivers them, I think more than any other movie. They are powerful creatures of few words, who let their very existence be their power. Consider the title. Nobody ever says that in the movie, in fact Chihiro takes her entry into this fantastic world very rationally. But the title is directed to us, the audience. We are spirited away to a place beyond the imagining of mere mortals. Miyazaki lets us in on his mad dreams, and we couldn’t care less.