by Erica Noboa
From the October 2015 IssueHayao Miyazaki is a seasoned veteran when it comes to creating visual masterpieces that explore the innocence and flourishing imagination that only children can posses. Those fortunate enough to grow up watching Studio Ghibli films, ranging from the light-hearted Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) to the war-ridden Princess Mononoke (1997), were encouraged to stimulate their young minds and developed a newfound appreciation for foreign cultures. Miyazaki never fails to transport his audience into unique fantasy worlds using his mastery of storytelling. Even though almost all of Miyazaki’s films are universally cherished, one in particular left active filmgoers awe-inspired and continues to remind them how precious a child’s imagination can be. With such stunning visual and sensory delights, compelling characters, and an artful balance between terror and joy, Spirited Away is a remarkable film that leaves its viewers intoxicated with wonder.
Our story follows a young girl named Chihiro, an utterly miserable child who is reluctant to move away from her old friends. While attempting to take a shortcut to their new home, Chihiro’s father leads his family to a seemingly abandoned theme park. While her parents indulge themselves at the local unattended eateries, Chihiro is becomes curious about her surroundings and wanders off on her own. She encounters a spirit who urges her to flee with her family before the sun sets, warning her of a mysterious looming danger. As she rushes back to her parents, she finds they’ve been turned into gluttonous pigs, hypnotized by the food in front of them. In a breathtakingly eerie sequence, Chihiro finds herself stranded in the spirit world, becoming a human fugitive in a divine bathhouse catering to gods. The head honcho of this establishment is revealed to be Yubaba, a cruel sorceress who stands to be the obstacle Chihiro must overcome in order to restore her parents to their original forms. Yubaba hires the child to work in the bathhouse where she is made to do grueling work and is ostracized by fellow workers. In all this, Chihiro receives help from her only friend, a boy named Haku, who is said to not be trusted.
This film is packed with subplots that are beautifully intertwined with one another, allowing for a tranquil balance instead of a feeling of suffocation, something not easily done. I was captivated from the get-go, following a young girl’s journey as she learns to gains confidence in herself and finds that their is a little bit of good in everyone, whether that be spirit or human. Miyazaki’s gorgeously animated world is aimed for children’s viewing pleasure, covering simple themes such as “good always triumphs over evil” and “love conquers all.” Despite this, it draws attention to aspects such as blood, pain and death, bringing the audience in on a sense of realism. This is something other animated films, especially those in America, wouldn’t dare trifle with. Studio Ghibli’s unique art style lends itself to generate and build the flow of the story. During an interview, Miyazaki explained that there never was a script for Spirited Away. He would simply start drawing storyboards not knowing where the plot was going, allowing the story to progress naturally. This film was created using an organic, non-computer generated animation, meaning that every scene was hand-drawn before being digitalized. This mind-boggling process adds to the dimension of hallucinatory fantasy, and each time I am astonished by how well the animators were able to pull it off.
Following Chihiro’s transformation from a sulky, fearful child into a loving and respectful individual is one of the best examples of character development I have ever witnessed. The moment that turned this movie on its heel comes when she embraces Haku’s immoral side. Instead of abandoning him, she aids him in finding his true identity. This is what makes this movie so remarkable. Spirited Away embraces the dark side in everyone and asks us to accept the faults, not fear them. I find this film to be a marriage between the dark and gritty Princess Mononoke and the carefree Kiki’s Delivery Service, where there are no real villains, just obstacles to overcome. It maintains a sense that the road to understanding lessons is very frightening and arduous, but that’s life. But through an element of love, humor and forgiveness, it is shown that these lessons are all the more worth experiencing.
4.5 out of 5 stars