With delicate strokes, Miyazaki has crafted a story of epic proportions. A fantasy with elements of social commentary, Spirited Away picks you up and beats you over the head with awe.
While inspired by a friend’s 10 year old daughter (who would be older by now), this is a video that can be enjoyed by adults who love fantasy, too. The easiest, most recognizable comparisson is Carroll’s “Alice In Wonderland.” Also a fantasy with it’s dark moments, featuring a younger girl in a fantasy world with all kinds of odd creatures and people.
Spirited Away starts off with our heroine, Chihiro, lying down in a car, her legs propped on some boxes. Her family decided to move, forcing her to leave her school and friends. Chihiro has a bouquet of flowers, given as a goodbye gift by a friend. She is not happy, but loves her flowers.
Then, her father takes a wrong turn. The car bounces along an unpaved road and into a dark forest. A round statue zooms by. The car suddenly breaks into the light and screeches to a stop infront of a large building. Her father gets out to inspect it. Chihiro gets upset, because, after all, this isn’t their property. After putting on a small, fearful tantrum, Chihiro meekly follows her mother and father through the building. Emerging on the other side, rolling, grassy hills cross their vision and colorful buildings stand out. Her father declairs it as an abandoned theme park.
Then, smelling some food, he wanders deeper into the theme park. Past many buildings which used to be restaraunts and there, in one of the booths, there is food. Steam rises off of it and the smell is too good to be true. Despite no one being around, and the assurance that they’ll leave money, the parents dig into the meal.
Chihiro is obviously uncomfortable with this. Refusing to touch the food she goes out to explore and finds a bath house with steam rising out of the smoke stack. Here the movie becomes a roller coaster ride. Up to this point the roller coaster was just loading passengers and starting the slow climb to the top of the first hill. Now, a guy named Haku appears and the rollercoaster dips past the hump of the hill and goes speeding through the rest of the movie.
Haku tells her to quickly cross the river or she’ll be caught, so Chihiro runs back to her parents as lights start to come on, revealing shaddowy creatures walking and working. Arriving at the place her parent’s stopped she tugs on her father’s shoulder with the warning, and cries in shock as a two pigs, in her father and mother’s clothes, fall off the stool. Chihiro stares in disbelief. Are these two pigs her mother and father? Scared, she runs to the river, but finds it to be an ocean. Chihiro is now caught in a strange, fantasy land. And her goal is to save her parents and escape.
The remainder of the movie (and a lot there is!) shows how she gets a job, thus making her “safe” for the time being, how she makes friends, gains respect, causes fear, falls in love, and in the end, returns.
Spirited Away shows some incredible characters who change as the movie passes. Most noticably is Chihiro, who at the begining is a frightened, scared girl who would rather curl up and cry than face reality. As she in constantly bombarded with new and stranger creatures and situations you can see her put aside her fear and buckle down to do what she has to do. In a world where being human is practically a death sentance, she shows resilliance by surviving. She pushes toward her goal of saving her parents and escaping, yet she still heart to look around her and help those who are suffering. She sacrifices for other people, even when it means that she might never return to her old life. In the end she appears as old and wise, while still being the same physically.
Another chcaracter which seemed to change was Yubaba, the witch who runs the bath house. Yubaba, while perhaps not actually changing throught the movie, gets different sides shown of her, creating the illusion of change. Our first impression of her is Haku’s description that she is the evil witch who runs the bath house who will turn Chihiro into an animal, like her parents, if she doesn’t get a job. Soon after, in looking for that job, she comes face to face with Yubaba. After the demand for a job, Yubaba gets angery and tells her to shut up and leave, but Chihiro remains persistant. Yubaba’s baby wakes up and starts screaming and breaking things. In this chaos Yubaba gives in and gives her a job to get her out of there. Later, we see how Yubaba runs the bath house and takes care of her customers, who are all spirits of some kind. When Chihiro takes care of a dificult customer, you see Yubaba, in gratitude, hug her. And so she becomes, in the this viewer’s eye, a shrewd business woman and a mother. She never becomes kind, per se, but a lot of the evil seems to wash away.
There is a change in attitudes, too. At the begining, the people treat Chihiro as an inferior being. But as she demonstrates her strength and deterimation, everyone warms up to her. Then through one mistake people grow angery at her through fear. Once she corrects the problem, however, the cheer her like a hero.
Miyazaki makes certain statements with his movie. A stink spirit comes to the bath house. No one wants to serve him because he stinks so bad. Yubaba makes Chihiro take care of him. And through her kindness she discovers a “thorn” in it’s side. It ends up being a bicycle handle. With the whole bike. She, and the rest of the workers, start pulling it out, and along with it comes all kinds of other trash. What remains after the dirt and rubble are pulled out is a mighty River God. The pollution hindered him, making him unrecognizable.
The bonus DVD has some interesting items, especially if you are into seeing how the story was created. However, after seeing Spirited Away, they can be a bit anti-climatic.
All in all, this is a fantastic movie. Like “Alice In Wonderland” this movie has it’s dark points, but in the end Spirited Away has light triumph. I would not be too surprised to see Spirited Away become the Japanese equivalent to “Alice In Wonderland”, as far as it being wide known and the classic fantasy for everyone.