Spirited Away

spirited away

My first experience of Hayao Miyazaki did not leave the best of impressions. Clicking through the English-language television channels as a kid in Hong Kong, I happened to switch onto My Neighbour Totoro (1988) at the exact moment when Totoro lets out a massive howl that echoes through the surrounding forest. I was baffled to say the least. And then I was confronted with something even more horrifying: the dubbed dialogue. Deciding that I had seen more than enough, it was not until around twenty years later that I voraciously consumed as many Miyazaki films as I could get my hands on. Choosing just one to write on is difficult (I would recommend almost his entire body of work); however, there is something about Spirited Away (2001) that I find consistently appealing.

Logic is using the front part of the brain, that’s all. But you can’t make a film with logic. Or if you look at it differently, everybody can make a film with logic. But my way is to not use logic. I try to dig deep into the well of my subconscious. At a certain moment in that process, the lid is opened and very different ideas and visions are liberated. With those I can start making a film.

– Hayao Miyazaki

Following the adventures of a young girl, Chihiro, who is unwittingly drawn into a parallel spirit world, Spirited Away is exemplary of the themes and motifs that run through all of Miyazaki’s films, especially the filtering of perception through a childlike perspective. However, this perspective is not only aimed at drawing in young audiences, but also adult viewers. Unlike the Disney animation films that I grew up watching, Miyazaki truly taps into the child’s psyche without relying on clichés or masking harsher aspects of life. Indeed, there are moments in Spirited Away – such as when Chihiro’s parents are transformed into pigs and the presence of a “stink spirit” in the palatial bathhouse – that would be unnerving for some younger viewers.

The beauty within Spirited Away – as in all of Miyazaki’s films – is not only found within the narrative, but the very structure and aesthetics of the animation. In contrast to conventional animation, Miyazaki’s work adopts a flowing, painterly style that appears like a moving watercolour and particularly provides the representation of the spirit world in Spirited Away with a gorgeously vaporous quality. On another level, it also visually signals the fantasy space that Miyazaki creates in the film that serves as a counterpoint to the seemingly banal realities of the everyday life that Chihiro takes for granted.

The serious coming-of-age narrative that stems from Chihiro’s encounters in the film’s fantasy space intriguingly runs alongside environmental and moral concerns that are manifest in the sub-themes of pollution, power and greed. Thankfully, these ideas do not overwhelm the viewer or result in didactic overtones, but enhance the nostalgic thread that is woven into the film. If you haven’t seen Spirited Away, I definitely suggest that you do. Just be wary of any hideous dubbing.


12 Comments Spirited Away

  1. Fern April 14, 2011 at 10:51 AM

    This is my favorite Miyazaki film. I remember it making such a huge impression on me during the first viewing. I felt so transported, it was unlike any other animated movie I had ever seen. Thanks for posting!

  2. Elias April 14, 2011 at 11:12 AM

    I completely agree Danica. The aesthetics of the animation are one of a kind and they complement the stories so well. The mood in all his films is magical. I love spirited away but my favourite is Howl’s Moving Castle.

  3. GEOFF April 14, 2011 at 2:42 PM

    This is the best Miyazaki film made for me. It is filled with great emotion and a fantastic storyline.

  4. Veronica April 14, 2011 at 7:49 PM

    I have the entire Studio Ghibli collection, and am watching them slowly :) — must have gone through 15 of them by now. Spirited Away remains one of my favorites, but others like Princess Mononoke, Porco Rosso, Kiki’s Delivery Service are equally good :)

  5. D April 15, 2011 at 2:12 AM

    SBS (a channel here in Australia) has played this film on Christmas eve each year for I don’t know how long. It’s become my Christmas tradition to watch it each year before drifting off to bed.

  6. Shinya April 16, 2011 at 5:44 AM

    Geez. Miyazaki’s films are amazing and I’ve grown up watching every single one of them. I can’t express the waves of emotions I get every time I watch any of them. I can guarantee though, that if you could understand Japanese at a satisfactory level, it’d positively triple your experience.. I could offend some audience here, but I find it quite dry with the English dubbing. I guess a form of emotion and cultural understanding gets lost in translation. I wish there was some way of sharing that extra experience.. Thanks for the post!

  7. halo April 23, 2011 at 3:08 PM

    hey i was wondering were would you buy the movie now a days i really wont it if someone could please tell me where to buy the movie near tujunga thanks

  8. halo April 23, 2011 at 3:09 PM

    oh and thanks for the post it is amazing to see how many people enjoy the films myazaki makes:)

  9. halo April 23, 2011 at 3:13 PM

    Eveytime i watch spirited away its a emotion you cant express i mean its wonderful to see how myazaki makes his movies my second favorite movie is Howls Moving Castle and then my third favorite is My Neighbors Takoro

  10. boogie April 25, 2011 at 6:31 PM

    there is something genuinely beautiful in the way miyazaki tells his stories. spirited away definitely has a special place in my heart. just curious though, has anyone seen Grave of the Fireflies? something worth watching too. (just prepare some kleenex)

  11. g cho June 4, 2011 at 5:36 PM

    I have been watching Miyazaki-san’s films for over 20 years. I agree that Spirited Away is an amazing film that exemplifies the best qualities of this amazing artist. All of Miyazaki-sans films incorporate multiple levels of meaning, artistry, metaphor, and symbolism that separately help frame the story unfolding onscreen, but together creates an extra level of profound artistry that always manages to touch audiences on a much deeper level.

    However, I would be remiss not to mention of his all time classics – the incredibly moving, emotionally satisfying Nausicaa. Its one of his earliest films and the first film from Studio Ghibli that I was lucky enough to see as a young college student hanging out at my friend’s house who happened to have a laserdisc of the japanese version, who also translated the film as we watched.

    For those who love the work of this amazing film maker, I cannot stress enough the beauty and moving power of this fiilm in the Miyazaki catalogue.

    For googler’s, this film is also known as “nausicaa of the valley of the wind”

    HIghly recommend viewing the japanese dub with english subtitles. The japanese inflections are not to be overlooked or missed.

  12. Micah June 20, 2011 at 1:28 PM

    This is one of my children’s favorite ghibli films, next to Kiki’s Delivery Service and The Cat Returns….They are 8 and 9 yet love these movies. It really is comforting to see them enjoying such avid tales…

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