Spirited Away
Anime
Genre:
Fantasy
Grade
A-

As the highest grossing film in Japanese box-office history, Miyazaki's Spirited Away promises to draw viewers into an alternate reality, not unlike Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz, where events and characters all have a strange purpose that takes time to fully grasp. While most anime has never been truly "normal" in a Western sense when it comes to story telling, Spirited Away really seems to go a step further in creating an odd world that works in its own way.

The story begins as the main character, Chihiro (voiced by Daveigh Chase), and her family drive towards their new home. A wrong turn and some curiosity draws her and her parents into what appears to be a deserted amusement park. During a series of events, Chihiro's parents are turned into pigs and nightfall reveals a land of spirits. A magical young man, Haku (voiced by Jason Marsden), rescues Chihiro and sets her to find employment in the local bath house to save her from the wrath of the owner, Yubaba, an oddly magical old lady with a quick temper and a strange skew on this offbeat world that the young girl has found herself in.

Once she finds herself working for Yubaba, she manages to keep herself from falling into the corrupt ways that deteriorate her fellow workers and even visitors of the bath house. Through the events of the story, she tries her best to rescue and free not only herself and her family, but Haku, who was kind enough to help her but can't free himself from Yubaba's hold on him (which she does by "stealing" her employee's names).

Chihiro evolves from a fairly whiny and apathetic child to a more driven and motivated character that's willing to do things out of the fact that they need to be done. This evolution, along with the strange aspect of this spirit world really define the strength of the story. Like many other classic fantasy, the heart of the story is not so much in the conflict, but in the process towards the resolution.

Illustrative-wise, Spirited Away is a finely crafted piece that shows a lot of charm and visual quality. You can't help but watch in awe as a lot of the scenes unfold in a very surrealistic world. Created with a colorful palette, the world and characters are nicely done and carry themselves well. The quality of this film is hinged largely on the style rather than overdone ornateness or excessive detail. Both the music and voice acting is sharply done and fit (for the most part) quite nicely. My only complaint about the voice acting is that the main character's voice, especially while yelling, can grate on your nerves very quickly.

With such a revered piece of work from an obviously caring creator, I feel almost blasphemous for having a few things I wish were done differently. First and foremost, a number of scenes, especially early on, seem to drag on way too long. This may be to set tension, but it ends up just feeling tedious at points. Also, the last 30-45 minutes of the movie (after Chihiro gets on the train) seems to lose steam and tries to wrap up the lose ends with a fairly Disney-esque feel-good ending, which ultimately cheapens the experience.

With that said, Spirited Away is a fine film that people who love works of imagination should relish and enjoy. If you're looking for the next Wizard of Oz, Spirited Away just might be right up your alley.

- - Vane

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