Please listen to this soundtrack while reading my review.
Miyazaki is very politically and socially opinionated, and he injects every nook and cranny of his cinematic artwork with profound messages about the world we inhabit, something that I have come to adore. The ways in which Miyazaki accomplishes this are numerous. In some cases, his messages reach us through his characters, such as in Porco Rosso, where we are impelled to see through Porco's lenses as he battles his inner demons in a struggle to overcome his selfishness - a quality that was clearly under scrutiny in the film. At other times ideas are conveyed even in the subtleties of the stories being told. A well-known example of this can be found in Ghibli films where the female characters are the one's with unwavering courage, the most profound wisdom, or the greatest might and valor in combat; these narratives speak to Miyazaki's strong feminist beliefs. No matter how you slice it, the geniuses at Studio Ghibli always find a way to ensure that the picture unraveling before our eyes is meaningful, which I find very stylistically pleasing. In Spirited Away I am happy to report that the studio recreated this wonderful dynamic, and have crafted a masterpiece that, in my opinion, out-does the likes of not just all other Ghibli greats, but all other animated films in general. It is my personal favourite movie, and a must watch for anyone who has not yet seen it.
The film's protagonist is an initially, sullen, young girl named Chihiro. The exposition portrays her dreading a move away from home. During a cavalier drive to her new place of residence with her parents, Chihiro expresses the sentiment that she is distraught about leaving behind the things she once adored, such as her friends and former house. She articulates the tragedy in the fact that her first bouquet of flowers ever, is a farewell present from her friends. Her father rebuts, stating that she once received flowers from him as a birthday gift, and we are given the impression that she is a spoiled and ungrateful child, who is afraid of the uncertainty that comes with finding oneself in a new place.
Chihiro's parents get greedy, and as a result she finds herself in her worst nightmare: a bizarre new world that is filled with fanciful spirits and wielders of occult power. Spirited Away makes use of characters whose physical manifestations reflect some underlying quality of their being, and the first instance of this transpires when Chihiro's parents arrive at the deserted spirit world and begin stuffing their faces with food. They were gluttonous, and so they transformed into a couple of rapacious swines. Chihiro is shocked and frightened to find her parents in this state, and she is told by a young boy named Haku that if she wants to save herself and her family, she must be able to acquire a job in the spirit world's bathhouse, which is run by a maleficent, old witch named Yubaba.
Something that I really appreciated about the film is the level of depth and creativity that was poured into the development of the Spirit World. Others have compared the spirit world Chihiro finds herself in to Alice's wonderland. I completely agree with this take. There are bustling soot spirits that labor in the boiler room, lumbering radish spirits, water sprites that manifest as Mizuchian dragons, and an abundance of other imaginative creatures, each with their own unique appearances and mannerisms. The endless layers of whimsy and unearthly spaces inside of the Spirit World contribute to its strange yet enchanting character, that is truly worthy of comparison to the awe inspiring world depicted by the fantastic "Alice in Wonderland."
You can tell a lot of effort is put into every inch of the film's animation, which sets it apart from its American contemporaries. In American animation, the main characters and the center foreground are much larger and more detailed than what lies in the periphery or the background, which leaves the picture with a feeling of incompleteness to it. In contrast, Spirited Away offers a more intricate and holistic form of animation. When you watch the movie, you will effortlessly notice the fact that every inch of your screen is replete with detail. In a scene where Chihiro wanders the Spirit world in wonderment and trepidation, I couldn't help but notice how meticulously and uniquely every structure was animated. Each had their own idiosyncratic ornaments and protuberances, and every corner of the screen was filled with something of significance to appreciate. The depth of the animation confers liveliness onto the Spirit World, and lends credibility to Chihoro's reactions to it. Because it isn't just Chihiro who is stricken by awe as she stumbles upon new, odd creatures and quaint places in this landscape, I am as well.
Pervasive themes are meaningfully scattered throughout the entirety of the picture, each of them conveying their own unique messages. One clear example is the theme of identity. In the film you see that Yubaba controls people by stealing their names. Chihiro's name was taken from her, and she was given her new name: "Sen". Haku tells her never to forget her name, which encapsulates who she is. When you forget who you are you cannot escape the Spirit World any more, and you're left susceptible to being remodeled into what Yubaba wants you to become. Haku was actually the Kohaku river spirit, but he had forgotten who he was so Yubaba subjugated him and forced him to do her bidding. Only after Chihiro identifies herself, her parents, and Haku, are they all able to depart from the Spirit World as their former selves. It seems that the importance of identity in this film speaks to the notion that one should stay true to themselves to avoid becoming who other's want you to be.
Chihiro loses everything that is comfy and familiar, and at one point, almost herself. However, as she spends more time inhabiting this new space, her bravery and audaciousness develops enormously. At the beginning Chihiro needed to be coddled by others. We see her crying in Haku's arms, or clinging to her mother for protection from the ominous new place they were strolling into. But the end of the film paints quite a different picture, where Chihiro cultivates a doughty side to her personality, and becomes the savior of those who made the largest contributions to protecting her in the beginning.
What a lot of people don't know about the film is that the title is a play on words. The word "Spirited" is actually used as a verb here. It means "to transport from one place to another". Chihiro was "spirited" away from the real world into the realm of the "spirits". Only after conquering the fears plaguing her at the beginning of the film does she earn her families freedom, where they are spirited back into the human world. Chihiro comes to mature and learn things about herself on her bizarre voyage through the spirit world, but there are some treasures in this adventure for the audience to take away as well. It's the best animated film of all time. The movie is a 9.5/10.
MyReview: Princess Mononoke: MyReview: Princess Mononoke <- This was posted on my girlfriend's account due to issues uploading it on my own.