(Dir: Hayao Miyazaki, 2003, PG, 120mins running time)
Rather than make you wait till the end of the review for my opinion I will start with it; Spirited Away (Sen To Chihiro Kamikakushi in Japan) is marvellous, brilliant, fantastic, supercalifragilistic expialidocious and more.
It opens with a girl called Chihiro and her parents setting off for their new home. Chihiro is quite naturally upset and refuses to be placated. On their journey they take a detour and end up entering a mysterious cave. The cave opens up to a luscious green landscape, a dried up river, and a ghost town. While exploring, her parents find an unattended feast; unable to resist the temptation they begin gorging themselves.
Meanwhile Chihiro, sensing something is wrong, explores further. She find’s a deserted bath house but the day begins to fade and once again she begins to feel uneasy. Returning to find her glutinous parents transformed into pigs, Chihiro is left alone as lights begin to strike up in windows and strange shadows take shape. The scene is set for a breathtaking adventure. Although I have yet to experience any other Japanese animation, I am reliably informed that adults often appear in this way; completely lacking in common sense and totally unaware of things their children obviously are. The central premise, that children posses a wisdom and maybe even intuition that adults do not and that in some ways adults are poorer and stupider for it is one that is definitely not present in mainstream Western culture. In that sense Spirited Away brings the joy of a fresh perspective on the world to the screen. Rather than being a children’s adventure written through an adults eyes it gives the impression of almost having been written by a child.
Chihiro soon finds employment in the bath house which turns out to be where the gods and the spirits go for a spot of cleansing. The bath house is owned by a witch called Yubaba who as well as owning three bouncing green heads as pets has managed to spawn an improbably large off-spring. Chihiro, now Sen, soon makes friends among the eclectic cast of characters, most notably with a monster with no face that she let’s into the bathhouse from the outside. Saving a river spirit from human pollution elevates Sen to star status.
However, her love interest, Haku, is hurt badly running an errand for Yubaba. During her quest to save him Sen meets Yubaba’s good twin, Zeniba. If you are confused now then bear this in mind; this is only a very brief, abridged version of the story. The film run’s for over two hours and by the end of the two hours you will almost certainly get lost more than once. In essence the story is about Chihiro’s journey through her own self-doubt and fear. On this level it appeals to adult viewers as well as a younger audience. It is something that can be enjoyed as both a piece of mindless escapism and as a story of deeper meaning. Just put the DVD in your player and allow yourself to be Spirited Away!