Spirited Away, 2001, Japan
Can you believe I hadn’t seen this film?! Talk about an oversight. I ended up seeing it in English, but you can also watch a subtitled version of it. And, it’s also my first film by Hayao Miyazaki, which I am just as shocked by, admittedly. I’m a huge fan of animation as a film medium, and he’s one of the biggest names in animation. And it’s no wonder, after I saw what he achieved with the remarkable Spirited Away.
Chiriro (Daveigh Chase) and her parents are on their way to their new house when they happen upon what her parents think is an abandoned amusement park. This area is actually a spirit world, and once the sun sets they’re trapped – her parents having been transformed into pigs. A boy named Haku (James Marsden) instructs her to get a job in the boiler room, because if she doesn’t have a job, Yubaba (Suzanne Pleshette), the owner of the bathhouse, will turn her into a pig as well. In signing an employment contract with Yubaba, she loses her name and is renamed Sen, and must work out a plan to rescue her parents and remember a name so they can escape the spirit world.
The film was remarkable. It’s very much a fairy tale, but it maintains the bleak underbelly of traditional fairy tales. In many respects it is a coming-of-age film set in a fantasy world. Chiriro grows up and learns self-sufficiency through the process of saving her parents. It’s frightening and moody and at times very tense. And, of course, it’s beautifully animated. I was blown away by the creativity of the various spirits featured in the film.
I appreciated the underlying themes of corruption, pollution, and greed. We’re shown that greed is an ugly thing, and that it leads to corruption and evil. Many of the bathhouse employees are looking to take more and more even if they have not earned it, whether it is gold, or food.
I think I need to see Miyazaki’s other films, because Spirited Away was just wonderful in every way.