This one’s a Must-see!

Surreally enchanting; beautifully magical

Spirited Away is just one of those films. Before you die, you must witness it, experience its creaivity and admire its brilliance, as I recently did. Because everyone deserves to see both anime and Japanese filmmaking at its most superb, especially those who, y’know, can only think of Pokémon when hearing the word anime.

Chihiro approaches Yubaba.

Hayao Miyazaki is quite possibly the finest anime creator the world has ever known and his masterpiece Spirited Away, which feels greatly like a Japanese Alice in Wonderland and brings us to a surreal spirit realm where fascinatingly strange magical characters reside. It is beautiful, surreal and enchanting.

We follow a little girl named Chihiro (voiced by Rumi Hiiragi in the Japanese dub and Daveigh Chase in the English), who stumbles upon a magical, spiritual realm when her parents get lost in a forest while they’re out driving. The first strange thing they find is a deserted town, where the parents (voiced by Takashi Naito and Yasuko Sawaguchi in Japanese and Michael Chiklis and Lauren Holly in English) eat some sort of forbidden food, which transforms them into pigs.

A terrified Chihiro is warned by a young boy named Haku (Miyu Irino/Jason Marsden) to escape before “they” come out. She runs through the streets, trying to believe it’s all a nightmare, as spirits emerge from the buildings. Haku later reappers, telling her that her family is trapped in the spirit world.

She ends up in the boiler room of a bathhouse, where a six-armed, spider-like man named Kamaja (Bunta Sugawara/David Ogden Stiers) works. Kamaji makes sure, through a kind bathhouse worker named Lin (Yumi Tamai/Susan Egan) that Chihiro gets somewhere to work, namely at the bathouse, which is run by the hideous witch Yubaba (Mari Natsuki/Suzanne Pleshette) who works very hard and has to regularly look after her humoungous infant on top of being the boss at the bathouse. She gives Chihiro a new name, Sen. According to Haku, she will be trapped in this world for good should she forget her actual name. Perhaps this is what happened to poor Haku? Who is Haku? What is he? Most importantly, is Chihiro/Sen falling for him?

In a silent yet powerful scene, Chihiro boards a train with No-Face.

Each guest, as well as employee, at the bathhouse is more bizarre than the last. The most fascinating is probably No-Face (Akio Nakamura/Bob Bergen), a lonely spirit who can create gold and feeds on the emotions of other creatures. The kindness and sympathy of Chihiro makes him greatly fascinated by her. There are also dragons, filth spirits, animal spirits; some spirits are even rivers (I dare not attempt to explain). The large gallery of fantasy creatures is one of the film’s finest traits.

References to Miyazaki’s previous works are scattered throughout Spirited Away. The pig spell reminded me of Porco Rosso and a statue resembling the eponymous friendly monster from My Neighbour Totoro can be seen early in the film.

It is no oddity that Spirited Away is considered Hayao Miyazaki’s strongest film. To yours truly, this film represents everything that modern children’s films lack. Miyazaki treats his audience with respect and takes young viewers seriously, noever resorting to stupid comedy just because a child may be watching. He understands that even though children may prefer that sort of thing, it is a film of great atmosphere and a tremendous amount of heart and creativity that they will remember when they grow older.

The creative ways in which Miyazaki shows how things function in the spirit world reminded me of the works of Jean-Pierre Jeunet who, such as in his City of Lost Children, has equally inventive and wonderful ways of exposing us to his bizarre, dreamlike world.

The characters, naturally, are another strongpoint. Chihiro carries the film great, Yubaba is an ejoyable antagonist, young Haku is greatly charming and No-Face, as most fans of the film agree, is an interesting being in spite of being very silent. The voice acting in both versions I saw was splendid, even if the English dub seemed to add certain extra lines in an attempt to make the film a little less confusing and surreal at times. Maybe it was just me. The animation is lovely too, which, due to my unfortunately long experience with tediously stiff-looking Eastern animations like Pokémon and Yu Gi Oh, was a delight to witness.

But what truly sets Spirited Away apart from typical kids films, at least the modern kind, is how mature and understanding it is towards the young ones. It doesn’t hesitate to scare its viewers with strange imagery, nor is it afriad to tone down the noise and attempt to enthrall the children using a magical atmosphere with wonderful music and spectacular visuals.

People often say “they don’t make ém like that anymore”. I am highly confident that Hayao Miyazaki, who is till creating films, still makes the most wonderful of animated film. He may be proof that not the entire world of animation has succumb to the Dreamworks formuls of constant obnoxious pop culture jokes and groin gags. Spirited Away is nothing less than a masterpiece; atmospheric, enthralling, beautiful to look at and just completely magnificent. If you haven’t seen it, do. It will stay with you forever.

5/5 whatever.