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Movie Reviews

Spirited Away



Released: 27th July 2001

Directed By: Hayao Miyazaki

Starring: Rumi Hiiragi, Miyu Irino, Mari Natsuki, Bunta Sugawara

Certificate: PG

Reviewed By: Angharad Jones

Being the only hand-drawn animation ever to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature should be incentive enough to make you watch Hayao Miyazaki’s 2003 fantasy-adventure Spirited Away, but when you learn that it beat Ice Age, Lilo and Stitch, Treasure Planet and Spirit : Stallion of the Cimarron to claim the title, there shouldn’t be anything holding you back from doing just that.

Spirited Away is the twelfth feature film by Japanese animation powerhouse Studio Ghibli and is the seventh film directed by its co-founder, Hayao Miyazaki. When released it became the most successful film in Japanese history, grossing over £168 million worldwide, and receiving almost universal critical acclaim. It also remains the only animated film not made in the English language to have won an Oscar.

Now you’ve been given all the hard-hitting statistics, here’s the breakdown of the film in my humble opinion.

Told with animation that’s visually striking from the outset, Spirited Away is the story of Chihiro, a ten-year-old girl who, from the opening scenes, we can see is very unhappy with her parent’s decision to change residence. To Chihiro this is an upsetting decision, as it means leaving behind her best friend, Lily. It’s an idea that’s seems all the more painful as she clutches the pretty pink bouquet Lily gave her as a parting gift, realising with dismay its wilting. Here we first experience Chihiro’s feeling of loneliness, being an only child seeming to have intensified her relationship with her friend and her feelings of misery as she’s parted from her.

As she laments her loss during the car journey to their new home, Chihiro’s dad takes a wrong turn through a secluded woodland area and the family stumble across what appears to be an abandoned theme park. Here’s where the real upheaval of Chihiro’s life begins. Little do the family realise they have actually strayed into another world; The Land of the Spirits. Much to Chihiro’s displeasure, her parents are intent on exploring the site’s many unusual buildings, resulting in them being taken captive by the sorceress Yubaba, the owner of the Spirit Bathhouse; and it’s clear she has no intention of ever releasing them. From this point on Chihiro must work for Yubaba, cleaning the Bathhouse and welcoming guests, until she can devise and execute a plan to free her parents. Her only help in this endeavour comes from Haku, Yubaba’s slightly mysterious ‘errand boy, who seems to have a special interest in aiding her in her fight to regain her parents.

The film draws on the feeling of being alone, which we see from the start as an underlying theme in Chihiro’s character, as she is (in her opinion cruelly parted from her friend. She learns what it really means to be alone however when her parents are taken from her and she struggles in her efforts to get them back. The audience becomes involved as they watch Chihiro learn to fend for herself and work hard to try and achieve what she wants. As she grows throughout the film, her childhood fears are dispelled and she becomes determined to remain strong in the face of adversity for the sake of the people she cares about.
With so many extraordinary events, characters and imaginative details there’s simply too much involved in the plot to sum up, but rest assured this is what makes Spirited Away the truly magical work of art it is. Each and every scene is expertly woven to create a rich, colourful and captivating series of images. Western viewers will devour with relish the Asian design of the costumes and architecture and will find the exaggerated eastern customs intriguing. As in studio’s other features, there is present in all the wondrous objects and contraptions a hybrid look of old and new, traditional and futuristic, which makes their appearances distinctly recognisable and memorable solely as Studio Ghibli creations. The sheer volume of innovative ideas packed into this movie will keep you involved from the very beginning to the very satisfying end. Viewers young and old can enjoy it, as it has something to attract and hold the attention of everyone. With its flawless animation, flowing screenplay and excellent soundtrack it has the ability to be in one moment light-hearted and curious and in the next to be dark and thrilling (and sometimes a little frightening). Spirited Away definitely has it all.

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