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Chihiro and her parents are moving to a small Japanese town in the countryside, much to Chihiro's dismay. On the way to their new home, Chihiro's father makes a wrong turn and drives down a lonely one-lane road which dead-ends in front of a tunnel. Her parents decide to stop the car and explore the area. They go through the tunnel and find an abandoned amusement park on the other side, with its own little town. When her parents see a restaurant with great-smelling food but no staff, they decide to eat and pay later. However, Chihiro refuses to eat and decides to explore the theme park a bit more. She meets a boy named Haku who tells her that Chihiro and her parents are in danger, and they must leave immediately. She runs to the restaurant and finds that her parents have turned into pigs. In addition, the theme park turns out to be a town inhabited by demons, spirits, and evil gods. At the center of the town is a bathhouse where these creatures go to relax. The owner of the bathhouse is the evil witch Yubaba, who is intent on keeping all trespassers as captive workers, including Chihiro. Chihiro must rely on Haku to save her parents in hopes of returning to their world.

Title: Spirited Away Date: 2001 Time: 125 min Category: Animation, Adventure, Family
Price: free Country: Japan Rating: 8.6 Type: Movie
 
Awards: Won 1 Oscar. Another 56 wins & 27 nominations.
Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Actors: Rumi Hiiragi, Miyu Irino, Mari Natsuki, Takashi Naitô
Director: Hayao Miyazaki

 

 

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20 July 2004 Le-Samourai from The Cinematic Archives:
'Spirited Away' is the first Miyazaki I have seen, but from this stupendous film I can tell he is a master storyteller. A hallmark of a good storyteller is making the audience empathise or pull them into the shoes of the central character. Miyazaki does this brilliantly in 'Spirited Away'. During the first fifteen minutes we have no idea what is going on. Neither does the main character Chihiro. We discover the world as Chihiro does and it's truly amazing to watch. But Miyazaki doesn't seem to treat this world as something amazing. The world is filmed just like our workaday world would. The inhabitants of the world go about their daily business as usual as full with apathy as us normal folks. Places and buildings are not greeted by towering establishing shots and majestic music. The fact that this place is amazing doesn't seem to concern Miyazaki. What do however, are the characters. Miyazaki lingers upon the characters as if they were actors. He infixes his animated actors with such subtleties that I have never seen, even from animation giants Pixar. Twenty minutes into this film and I completely forgot these were animated characters; I started to care for them like they were living and breathing. Miyazaki treats the modest achievements of Chihiro with unashamed bombast. The uplifting scene where she cleanses the River God is accompanied by stirring music and is as exciting as watching gladiatorial combatants fight. Of course, by giving the audience developed characters to care about, the action and conflicts will always be more exciting, terrifying and uplifting than normal, generic action scenes. Through Chihiro, Miyazaki is clearly (but non-patronisingly) talking to youth of Japan. There's a certain sense of revile about the youth of Japan at the moment. Many people consider them to be ill-mannered and baring no respect for their elders or their forefathers. They are simply bi-products of their material world and consumerism. 'Spirited Away' taps into this. At the start Chihiro is a selfish, spoiled, whiny brat. But as she plunges deeper into the spirit world, she becomes more independent, more assured, more respectful and learns some manners. No Face, a black figure with a white mask, is the catalyst behind Chihiro's transformation. Once he is let into the bathhouse, we are no longer tourists – the story propels forth. Watching No Face prey on the greed of the workers is a terrifying delight. The three main characters in Miyazaki's youth allegory are Chihiro, No Face and Bô. All of these characters are disconnected with their world. They are lonely, misunderstood and largely ignored. But when they go on their journey together, they united and become stronger individuals.Miyazaki also talks about the ecology of Japan. What was once a beautiful; grassland has now turned into the Asian New York. That The Last Samurai had to be filmed in New Zealand to get a turn of the century Japanese look speaks volumes. The River God sequence is an unsubtle but unpretentious commentary on pollution. While these two themes are very much current in Japan, they are also universal themes – which makes 'Spirited Away' a universal story that most of us can connect with. I'm willing to bet everyone reading this has at some time seen bicycles lying on a lake bed or have had a child talk to them disrespectfully. Sure these themes aren't advanced philosophy. They are everyday issues told in an inventive, fun way.The animation is wonderful, if not as smooth as Disney's works – but there's something superior to that. 'Spirited Away's imperfect, but detailed world is far more fascinating than the perfected blandest of Disney's latest offerings. The animators successfully balanced the tight-rope between not-enough animation on characters and too much animation on characters. No Ralph Balski ADD antics here! The film is full of vivid images – both beautiful and horrifying. The line between those two extremes is crossed over seamlessly. From Chihiro and Haku running through an opening flower field to Haku's dragon snarling with a bloody mouth, both extremes seem to belong in the film. It's also excellently done with the characters. Kamaji can be seen as a scary, daunting figure at the beginning, but soon he seamlessly changes into a humble, wise figure. Yubaba also seems to be able to turn from kind to witch with the snap of a finger. The sound on the film was expertly done. The sounds perfectly match the on screen actions and objects. My sub woofer got a wonderful workout when Haku swoops Chihiro past the bridge at the beginning. And while I don't speak Japanese, I think the voice actors did a wonderful job of conveying their personality and emotions true their voice. Joe Hisaishi's music is sublime, definitely one of my favourite scores. His main piano theme is simple and evocative. His thunderous action music hits the viewers on the chest like a hammer. Like all great scores it heightens the greatness of a scene about three times. The score, unlike many American composers', is unobtrusive. It plays excellently with the scenes, but never overbears them. A lot of the time the it is barely noticeable, a sole piano plays softly in the background evoking a dreamlike/lullaby quality. 'Spirited Away' is a simply a modern masterpiece, easily one of the Top 10 films of the new millennium. It works on a multitude of levels; a social commentary on Japan, a homage to ancient Japanese/Russian mythology, a moral film for both children and adults. But most importantly, it is a simple story brilliantly told by a great filmmaker who appears to be at the top of his game. 'Spirited Away' works much like a relaxing journey. Pop in the DVD; leave this world for two hours and when you will be almost certainly enriched and ready to take the trip again.
4 November 2002 soma_001 from Melbourne, Australia:
There is simply no denying that Miyazaki is the Godfather of Japanese Animation, time and time again delivering unto the public works of such incredible beauty, such stunning visual and sensory delights, such mastery of storytelling, that one can only be left speechless. Overwhelmed. Intoxicated with wonder. Such is the magic of Spirited Away.Much like Miyazaki's previous feature Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away is an epic fairytale fantasy that deserves no better medium than the stunning animation work of Studio Ghibli. This multiple award-winning masterpiece has grown to become the largest grossing film in Japanese history, and rightly so. From the moment our child heroine Chihiro enters the bath houses we are literally bombarded with an overwhelming sense of detail and rich, lavish colours rarely - if ever - seen in western animation. Scenes such as Chihiro running through the field of flowers, the marvellous landscapes seen from the train, Haku and Chihiro soaring the skies above, and Chihiro running across the pipe to climb the walls of the bath house are nothing short of breathtaking, and undoubtably some of the most lavish animation ever to hit the screen.The world of Spirited Away is simply bustling with life; unique, quirky, instantly lovable creatures jostling about their daily activities and tasks in the bath houses, dancing across the screen like leaves caught in a playful summer breeze. The inventiveness of Miyazaki's character designs, much like in Mononoke, is wonderful to behold, in fact not since classic tales like Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland and The Neverending Story have we been able to fall hopelessly in love with such original, quirky, magical, even fantastical characters. The viewer is plunged headfirst into another world for nearly two hours and one cannot help but be completely and utterly captivated.The music and original score is stunningly beautiful, the original Japanese language track of such high quality that one wonders why someone could insult the work by producing a dub track at all. With a plot differing in its complexity on so many levels, from the basic storyline, to the omnipresent universal themes, to the riddling of Japanese history and fable throughout, children and adults alike will be mesmerised from start to end. A magical, awe-inspiring, tearful, laughter-filled, heartfelt journey through a land of sweeping fantasy and dreams.Prepare to be Spirited Away........................
18 October 2004 Balibari from London:
Last year I saw Spirited Away on it's UK release. I've never been a particular fan of anime, and it didn't really occur to me that I was watching a foreign language film dubbed into English (or 'American'). I can't imagine seeing a live action foreign language film dubbed into another language, but hey, this is a kids cartoon, what does it matter? Up to a point it didn't, because I loved the film. I enjoyed it so much I set about digging up the Studio Ghibli/Miyazaki back catalogue, in the process Sprited Away was filed away as one of the lesser Ghibli's - still great, but compared to Laputa, Grave of the Fireflies and a few others, it seemed a little weak. BUT... I recently re-watched it on DVD with the subtitles and found the difference unbelievable. The film came alive like the other Miyazaki's I've seen. It seemed infinitely more layered, detailed, intelligent and witty than I remembered. Could it be that retaining the intended performances (even if the words are unintelligible) can make that much difference? Maybe the dub was just poorly done? Or was it just because I was now versed in the language of Ghibli? As a little experiment I decided to re-watch some of the film with both the English subtitles and English language dub in order to compare, I ended watching the whole thing out of morbid fascination. It's simply amazing what a difference there is. Entire scenes change. It's not just that subtle emphasis is shifted or the same points are made in a different manner - in the dub, the subject of whole conversations and scenes are changed, and often to some flat and uninteresting hokum. Relationships between characters are changed, their motivations and personalities are changed, the difference is shocking. I appreciate western, and particularly American audiences can be put off by subtitles. And cinemas are less likely to show the film anyway. It's pointless to be all righteous when, fundamentally, you just want people to see the film. Unless they do, this treasure trove will remain undiscovered, and maybe finding it will encourage people to conquer the 'subtitle demon' (as Miyazaki might call him). But the problem is the quality of these dubs, and the liberties taken with the source material. Of course, without speaking Japanese, who can say it's not the subtitles that are way off? They're probably written by westerners too. But the dub just stinks of Disneyfication. Saturday morning generic nonsense. The challenging, uncompromising and emotionally ambitious nature of the film is severely watered down.A fair question might be, 'if it's so bad why was it so successful?' The success is evidence of the films staggering quality. Even so, it hardly challenged whatever Jerry Bruckheimer movie was showing at the time. In Japan it's the biggest grossing film in history. 'Go figure,' as Chihiro wouldn't say.

 

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