Tuesday, 31 January 2017

World Cinema - "Spirited Away" (2001) - A Review.

Image result for spirited away poster
Fig 1.
One of the most well received - and until very recently, highest grossing Japanese anime feature film - "Spirited Away" (2001) dir. Hayao Miyazaki and created by Studio Ghibli is a coming of age tale concerning Chihiro, an 11 year old girl who is currently moving with her parents to a new home. In transit her father takes a wrong turn and they come upon a seemingly deserted fairground. Leaving her parents at a food stall and exploring the area further Chihiro meets Sen, who tells her to leave immediately before it gets dark. The ominous request sends Chihiro back to find her parents, who have now turned into pigs from eating the food left in front of them.

There is a certain amount of pedigree to consider when talking about the films of Studio Ghibli, and it is worth noting at their inherent and often inferred quality. Of "Spirited Away" in particular, Miyazaki confers that each frame was hand drawn, but what is perhaps most staggering is the attention to detail within those frames. Roger Ebert mentions that at times in the background of the bathhouse scenes he noticed that "watching from the windows and balconies of the bathhouse are many of its occupants. It would be easier to suggest them as vaguely moving presences, but Miyazaki takes care to include many figures we recognize. All of them are in motion. And it isn't the repetitive motion of much animation, in which the only idea is simply to show a figure moving. It is realistic, changing, detailed motion." (Ebert, 2012) and this generosity is only compounded further when considering the way in which Miyazaki effectively wrote the story, preferring at first to start with the storyboarding process first of all, and allowing the script writing process to erupt from that. 
Fig 2.
In terms of characterisation, this is where the film really shines, for it doesn't follow the traditional route of "apathetic child learns how to be good" as is so often the case in coming of age tales, instead the characterisation is much more grounded in reality, allowing Chihiro to come to terms with things in her own time. Critics have posited that Chihiro comes across as rather sullen, which is a disservice to her character and errs too closely to presuming that at the start of the film she's merely a typical spoilt child that needs to learn a lesson over the course of the film. The inspiration behind her character is perhaps most telling as to the aim a - then retired - Miyazaki had when setting out on this project. "Miyazaki said he'd decided to make it based on the ten-year-old daughter of friend, associate producer Seiji Okuda, who came to stay with him every summer. With this in mind, he made the movie for ten-year-old girls. This is exactly why it resonates so well with people of all ages and why Chihiro feels so real. How often can you say a film has been made for young girls, rather than money or mainstream audiences?" (Ewens, 2016) coupling this with the natural growth of the story out of the storyboarding process leads to an extremely naturalised feel over the film. Miyazaki cementing this viewpoint when asked in a Midnight Eye interview about that process. "It's not me who makes the film. The film makes itself, and I have no choice but to follow" (Miyazaki, 2002). 

Fig 3.
In terms of sheer ambition, "Spirited Away" can only be commended, for it not only allows itself to pose as an atypical example of a coming of age narrative, but also in the way that it distances itself from American animation. A scene that perhaps typifies this is when Chihiro's "parents eat so much they double or triple in size. They eat like pigs, and they become pigs. These aren't the parents of American animation, but parents who can do things that frighten a child." (Ebert, 2012) and it is in this way that the true flavor of this particular type of animation can be felt. Things are a bit more complex, a touch more naturalistic and grounded that say, something from Disney, which while entertaining, has a tendency to play it safe with it's characters. In fact, the very notion of Chihiro choosing to push to survive despite all the odds stacked against her and ultimately save her parents - who had spent most of the opening brushing off Chihiro's fears, and in general, not hearing her - is complex and mature, and in general the film doesn't patronise its audience. 

"There's a quote on Tumblr somewhere that says "Disney movies touch the heart, but Studio Ghibli films touch the soul." (Ewens, 2016)


Ebert, R. (2012). At: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-spirited-away-2002 (Accessed on 31 January 2017)
Ewens, H. (2016) Why ’spirited away’ is the best animated film of all time. At: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/spirited-away-ghibli-miyazaki-15th-15-year-anniversary-best-animation-hannah-ewens (Accessed on 31 January 2017)
Midnight eye interview: Hayao Miyazaki. (2001). At: http://www.midnighteye.com/interviews/hayao-miyazaki/ (Accessed on 31 January 2017)

Fig 1. Spirited Away Poster. [image] At: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/4f/d0/0f/4fd00fcfc910fbf3a2f6f083cea103a1.jpg (Accessed on 31/01/2017)
Fig 2. Chihiro & Sen. [image] At: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/_jGXcSBcvQQ/maxresdefault.jpg (Accessed on 31/01/2017)
Fig 3. Chihiro watches her parents eat. [image] At: https://vice-images.vice.com/images/content-images-crops/2016/07/19/spirited-away-ghibli-miyazaki-15th-15-year-anniversary-best-animation-hannah-ewens-body-image-1468944720-size_1000.jpg?output-quality=75 (Accessed on 31/01/2017)

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