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.