Skip to comments.Japanese Enchantment [Spirted Away, Miyazaki Hayao]
Posted on 09/27/2002 11:41:18 PM PDT by Kaiwen
Spirited Away, the new film from Hayao Miyazaki, is an unusual film in many ways. An animated film, from the director of the critically acclaimed Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away has received a best-picture award (Golden Bear Prize at the Berlin Film Festival) and become the highest-grossing Japanese film of all time. It appeals equally to kids and adults. What most distinguishes the film is its lush and mesmerizing visual style. The standard Hollywood computer generated animation seems flat and lifeless by comparison to the crisp shapes and stunning colors of Miyazaki's images. Miyazaki spares no effort in constructing scenes; seemingly minute and unimportant details, such as the petals on flowers, repeatedly catch the eye. More than computer wizardry, the artistry here resembles the careful touch of the painter. This could have been distracting, arresting the attention of the viewer and diverting it from the story, were not the pacing so perfect and the presentation of a series of bizarre characters so entrancing.
The film begins in modern-day Japan with a family en route to its new home. On the way, the parents try to assure their despondent ten-year-old daughter, Chihiro, that the move will be an adventure. Then, they make a wrong turn and reach a dead-end at a tunnel at the entrance to which a statue of an ancient spirit stands guard. They pass through the tunnel and into what the parents suppose to be an abandoned theme park. They have unwittingly stumbled into another dimension and are now treading on the grounds of a bath-house resort for spirits. When her parents find no one about (it's still daylight and the spirits emerge only after dark), they satisfy their hunger on some delicious food with a snorting gusto that repels their daughter. As she urges them to leave, she discovers that they have been turned into pigs.
The remainder of the film involves the girl's attempts to find and release her parents from bondage. Along the way she encounters a host of bizarre characters, including Kamajii, whose multiple limbs make him a most productive worker, a Stink Spirit who moves like animated sludge, Haku, her confidante who transforms himself from human to serpentine shapes, an oversized baby, and the Queen Yubaba (voiced by Suzanne Pleshette), who nearly enslaves Chihiro, gives her a new name, and does her best to break the girl's spirit and will.
This is not to say that the logic of plot is all that lucid. The viewer might feel as if he's entered a kiddy version of the worlds of David Lynch (in the dream logic) or South Park (in the genial and pointless absurdity of some of the minor characters). But Spirited Away has a natural, not a contrived feel (contra Lynch) and is never cynical (contra South Park). Spirited Away is a film targeted directly at kids but one which parents will, if they can dispense with a demand for linear logic in the plot, find thoroughly captivating. By contrast, Miyazaki's most recent previous release, Princess Mononke, had more of an epic feel to it, but it also had a strain of violence unsuitable for younger children and a rather heavy-handed and tiresome ecological message.
The central lesson of Spirited Away, a lesson that surfaces only rarely in American movies aimed at children, is that endurance and hard work, courtesy and kindness toward others, can win out in the face of unfairness, cruelty, and arbitrary obstacles things all kids confront on their way to adulthood. The film establishes a nice balance between deference to others and retaining a sense of oneself, highlighted in Haku's insistence that Chihiro not forget her true name. The shape shifting of the spirit world seems also to reflect the way children play with causality, their whimsical sense that the world might be a series of comical non sequiturs. The shape shifting also allows for those characters who appear malevolent to reappear under different guises and ultimately to be transformed for the better.
One final word. There are two versions of Spirited Away in circulation in American theaters, one an original language version with subtitles and the other dubbed in English. For kids, the latter is clearly preferable and, I am happy to report, the pejorative term "dubbed" hardly does justice to a process, undertaken by Disney, that involved recreating new voices for each of the characters. The dubbing, which is woven seamlessly into the original film, is at the opposite pole from the dubbing of Japanese speakers in old war films (which, admittedly, provided its own unintentionally humorous form of entertainment).
If you can, see this movie. It's worth the price! My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service are also great for kids.
And who decides what is 'acceptable' on Fr plus who ensures Freepers 'get with the program?'
I'm actually thrilled to see something discussed other than Iraq. With the pleasure I received from "Princess Mononoke," I intend to see this new work at the earliest opportunity. Even the previews are stunning.
And i agree there are some Freepers who take things too far (a fave of mine is when any negative statement towards Israel is met with 'anti-semite' statements).
Anyways take care of yourself GreyBird.
If you liked Mononoke, try Nausicaa. I think its coming out on DVD in the US soon. It was his first movie, and still one of his best. Its based on the only graphic novel he's drawn, which is also quite good.
Already got it (the Japanese DVD; I don't need English subtitles or dubbing).
Go see this film, everybody! It's great!