Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi) (2001)

SA“Spirited Away” has had the unfortunate distinction of being blessed with being compared with “Alice in Wonderland”. I hated “Alice in Wonderland”. The book was confusing and too surreal for any child to endure, and the Disney movie was basically really obnoxious, but they are a like, I’ll agree. They bear similarities in themes, characters, oddities, and basic morals in story, but this movie is better when it comes down to it. “Spirited Away” took critics by storm in 2001 garnering rave reviews especially from Roger Ebert, one of my favorite movie critics, so I decided to feed my curiosity and take a look at this to see what the big deal was, and I’m glad I did.

Simply put, Miyazaki manages to dispense more imagination in this film than anything the people at Pixar could ever inflict on American audiences, and he does with hand-drawn animation, imagination, and no pop culture references. I know what you’re thinking, “The hell, you say!” But it’s true. Miyazaki provides us with one of the amazing animated epic with all the staples of his films ala flying and powerful female heroines and takes us into an incredible tale of creatures, landscapes and spooky villains, along with some truly heartfelt emotions added to the undertones of the characters. Miyazaki’s animation and storytelling bear an aspect sorely missing in American animated films. Heart, and true sincerity.

While Disney hacks dominate the market with their animated films, Miyazaki is there making these films that actually seem to want to reach down in to the souls of people and touch their inner-child, while Disney just screams money with their cartoons which lack imagination, complex emotions, character depth and just sheer emotional value in its structure. I’ve said this before in a past Miyazaki review, but, simply put: Miyazaki gets it. Miyazaki once again captures that wonder, that awe, that sheer sense of fantasy and utterly amazing beauty and innocence that’s only located in fantasies of young children. Miyazaki rips from the dreams and fantasy worlds of children and puts it on screen for everyone to explore and no corner is mundane, nor boring, and while some elements are very strange, we want to explore his worlds deeper and deeper to see how far the rabbit hole goes.

Chihiro and her parents are on the way to their new home, and while driving they stumble upon a weird tunnel. Curious, they enter the tunnel and end up in a magical field and begin journeying into a village, but when Chihiro discovers her parents have been turned into pigs, she finds that there may be no going back where came from. What we’re given by Miyazaki is an incredible world of creatures, demons, spirits, and figures that we’re never sure what to expect next. Daveigh Chase is great here as Chihiro one of Miyazaki’s trademark precocious heroines who is forced into this land from the beginning and is never sure what to do, and who to trust. Desperate to find a way out she comes across an array of great and surreal characters like the eight armed Kamajii the boiler man, lady yubaba, the sootball spider workers, the radish spirit, and many more from all corners of the land.

The creatures in this amazing land can tend to go from beautiful to very creepy, but not where it will terrify children. Miyazaki challenges the imagination while challenging his heroine by coming across the endless array of characters. But, we soon learn that not everything is as it seems. Who can she trust in a world with so many shifty characters? And who may be betraying her? Rin? Master Haku? Or the mysterious shrouded spirit that keeps following her around the town? Who or what is this shrouded spirit following her? And what threat does it pose to her, if any? Miyazaki has a knack for creating excellent precocious heroines like Kiki, Miss Fio, and, of course, Chihiro who stumbles upon this new world with a lot of courage, and then there’s Rin the independent and very courageous servant.

There are some amazing sequences to gaze at here as Miyazaki rivals Disney with some excellent very memorable scenes like the bath house scene with the sludge monster, and when Chihiro’s ally Haku realizes who he is. Ultimately, this is an excellent fantasy tale with amazing creatures, and you’ll be glad you checked this out in the end. I went nuts over this movie. Miyazaki is brilliant, and this is an amazing movie with a lot of originality and a glimpse in to a magical world of creatures and complex characters that takes anyone back to their childhood. This is a masterpiece.