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Film Review-Spirited Away
In 2001, Hayao Miyazaki released Spirited Away based on his friend Seiji Okuda’s 10 year old daughter who came to visit his house each summer. Starring Rumi Hiiragi, Miyu Irino, Mari Natsuki, Bunta Sugawara, Yumi Tamai, Tsunehiko Kamijo, Takehiko Ono, Akio Nakamura, Tatsuya Gashuin, Yo Oizumi, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Yasuko Sawaguchi, Kobe Hayashhi, and Ken Yasuda with Daveigh Chase, Jason Marsden, Suzanne Pleshette, David Ogden Stiers, Susan Egan, Paul Eiding, John Rantzenberger, Bob Bergen, Rodger Bumpass, Tara Strong, Michael Chiklis, Lauren Holly, and Jack Angel providing English voices, the film grossed $289.1 million at the box office. The highest grossing film in Japanese history, the film won the Japan Academy Awards for Best Film and Best Song, the Tokyo Anime Awards for Animation of the Year, Best Art Direction, Best Character Design, Best Director, Best Music, Best Screenplay, Best Voice Actor, and Notable Entry, the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, and the Annie Awards for Best Animated Feature, Directing in an Animated Feature Production, Writing in an Feature Production and Music in a Feature Production.
During the move to a new town, Chihiro, a sullen young girl, is stranded in the spirit world after her parents stop at what they believe to be an abandoned amusement park and eat food that turns them into pigs. Initially, she finds aid in Haku, a mysterious boy who finds her shelter and a job in a bathhouse that caters to the spirits but she eventually makes more friends in her search for a way to make her parents human again and escape the spirit world.
Beautifully animated and wonderfully done by Studio Ghibli, Spirited Away is quite the magical film. It’s essentially a coming-of-age story that feels like Miyazaki was putting his very distinct spin on Alice in Wonderland. Chihiro begins the film aimless, spoiled and hardheaded while not being very sure of herself. However, from losing her parents to gluttony, with them turning into pigs, and having to rescue them along with saving Haku almost bleeding to death and having to earn the admiration and respect of the workers in the bathhouse, she comes out the other side having blossomed in to a young woman who is polite, brave, more well-mannered and exhibiting quite a bit of self-confidence. It’s wonderful character growth. Yet, while it’s clear that she’s grown as a person, the film implies that her memories are going to leave her mind. At least most of them will at any rate, with the film suggesting that she’s maintaining some of them when she tells her father that she thinks she can handle starting life in a new home and school.
A very interesting aspect to the film is how Chihiro affects all the spirits. Initially, she’s hunted by them simply because she’s a human who doesn’t belong in the spirit world. However, thanks to the aforementioned character growth, most notably the point where she helps a guest spirit and then saves the spirits from No-Face. It seems to show the spirits that she can be trusted and even gets them to cheer for her at the end when she accomplishes the final task given to her by Yubaba. The film also displays early on that she’s going to be helpful when she saves a Soot Spirit struggling under the weight of his coal and finishing its job.
As far as characters go, No-Face is quite interesting, with him showing us as one of many strange spirits and then being a very large problem for the bathhouse. Yet, he’s not all that bad and is even though he does cause a lot of problems, it’s because the bathhouse made him sick due to him feeding on the emotions of those around him and becoming corrupted by their greed. What’s more is he’s very lonely and hangs around Chihiro because she was kind to him and only really wants to gain her affection. Near the end, it’s shown that he’s actually quite helpful.
Yubaba is also great as an antagonist with greed being her primary motivation. At the same time though, she’s also seen as a reasonable authority figure with how she’s able to effectively manage the bathhouse. Yubaba also has her moments where she does bring up very salient points, one of which is seen during her rant when she and Chihiro first meet and calls out the girl’s parents for eating food that wasn’t for them. What’s more is that she’s very a kind, loving, and doting mother to Boh, so much so that the film implies that her coddling him is the reason he’s such a giant baby.
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