Spirited Away is a film directed by Hizo Miyazaki that aired in 2001. This film is the most successful movie in Japanese history, has won multiple awards, and was even picked up by Disney themselves for distribution in the US. It follows the story of a young girl, Chihiro Ogino, as she is whisked away into the spirit world when her family wanders into an abandoned amusement park. Tasked with saving her parents and trying to survive in her new environment, Chihiro meets several interesting characters that aid her journey in this fascinating world.
This review will be done differently than my Last Exile review. The structure of the review will focus mainly on why I enjoyed it, with commentary on the complexity of Spirited Away that people may have missed in the film. If you have not seen this movie yet, let me make this easy for you, go watch it. I give it a 10/10 with a seal of excellence, a rating that only goes to the most top-notch shows and films that I have seen to date.
Discussion of Film
If you’ve decided to keep going and read onto this point you either don’t care if I spoil the movie, or you have seen it. For those of you that haven’t seen it, I really encourage you to go watch it. Spirited Away is only 2 hours and 5 minutes long. This isn’t going anywhere. Back? Ok, then let’s get going!
Story and Chihiro’s Character Developement
The story is profound in its ability to capture an audience. I have not met a single person who has said that the story didn’t keep them watching all the way through; both young and old. For many familiar with Studio Ghibli films, you likely know that this is one of the most popular (if not the most) and it’s not hard to see why. It manages to weave a tale of self discovery within a stunning world.
When the film first begins, Chihiro is afraid of moving and going to a new school. This is entirely relatable for most people and is a logical starting point for the film. At the arrival to the entrance to the abandoned amusement park, she is afraid to go in, and when she does, her worst fears are realized; when Chihiro’s parents are turned into pigs right in front of her.
This set-up does two things for the audience, it first allows for a captivating hook that keeps the viewer interested and invested in the outcome of the film. Secondly, it establishes the running theme of the film. Aside from this, the direct symbolism of the tunnel and how it relates to these themes is masterfully done. From the moment that Chihiro walks into the unknown that is the tunnel, to the moment where she heads back into the real world with the warning to not look back.
Initially, Chihiro is heavily reliant on the other characters as she learns to adapt, but slowly she begins to become more sure of herself and starts to become more assertive. An excellent scene that highlights this is when she begs Yubaba for a job. Chihiro is turned down almost immediately and threated by Yubaba. At the start of the film Chihiro would have never even tried to challenge Yubaba and ultimately fail in her mission to rescue her parents. Of course, this is not the outcome of the film, but it demonstrates real character development throughout the films runtime.
This development does not just stop there though, as she is forced to confront bigger and bigger challenges for the remainder of the film. These range from Kaonashi, aka No Face, to Yubaba’s final challenge. These strides in development for Chihiro’s character is something truly remarkable. Sadly, it is often something that some anime series fail to do in a full 26 episodes, let alone films. This by itself is commendable and worthy of praise, but Spirited Away manages to succeed in many other aspects as well. There is a lot more that could be said, and honestly I could probably write about this film all day. However, for me this progression in character matched with a captivating story centered around the themes of self-worth and self-discovery (among others) is what makes this truly fantastic for so many people.
The characters in Spirited Away are all unique and interesting. There are a multitude of spirits ranging from background characters to No Face, Yubaba and Zeniba as the twin witches, and Kamajii. Every single character in this show has a lot of detail and variance to them. The designs range from grotesque to childlike, and it’s just fascinating to consider the amount of effort that went into the production of this film.
Perhaps even more impressive, is the fact that most characters represent a theme or symbol in Spirited Away. For example, No Face clearly represents greed. This added layer of detail adds to not only their outward beauty in design, but at a deeper and more fundamental level. I was just blown away at the amount of depth packed into the characters for such a short run time.
Animation & Sound
Gorgeous, stunning, fantastic, etc… all of these words accurately depict just how good this film looks. Seriously take a look:
I truly believe the film speaks for itself in the animation department. It’s outright amazing, even 14 years later it holds up.
As for the sound, it’s great. The background music has a big sweeping feeling to it that just fits the tone of the show. It’s overall excellent. Spirited Away manages to use music to not only set the tone, but to make the world feel more alive, which is right in line with a Ghibli film.
As for the voice acting, I watched this one in English. I really enjoyed the cast, particularly Bob Bergen as No Face. His character always struck me as interesting and he just fit the role. Daveigh Chase as Chihiro is also a highlight for me, recognizing her voice work from other titles such as Lio and Stich.
At the end of the day Spirited Away truly is a timeless classic. It’s great for all ages and for many, including myself, is a film that entertains time and time again. This is a film that everybody should see at least once in their lives. You may find that the movie just doesn’t blow you away like it did for me, but I am confident that many people will walk away from this film with a feeling of satisfaction and enjoyment.
Score & Extra Info
Unsurprisingly, I give Spirited Away a 10/10 with a seal of excellence. A rating reserved for anime and films that are truly standout titles. You can buy the film right now for $29.96 on DVD and Blu-ray over at rightstuffanime.com.
As for any extra goodies, there is so much information out there that I wouldn’t even know where to start suggesting great content and discussions about Spirited Away. So instead, I will offer to you some other great films:
- Howl’s Moving Castle is another excellent Ghibli film. Info here
- Wolf Children is another one of my favorites. It’s a very relaxing film. Info here
Let me know what you thought of this in the comments below and how did you think this movie was? Great, good, or plain over-hyped?