In the penultimate part of our five part tribute to late Japanese animator Makiko Futaki we look at anime fantasy film Spirited Away (2001).
Last night was my first time watching Spirited Away. I had heard about it and saw a trailer which I found was a bit dark. But upon watching I found the film, which is Japan’s highest grossing of all time and winner of Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards, to be a delightful, fantastical and whimsical adventure.
A WEIRD NEW WORLD
Spirited Away tells the story of 10 year-old Chihiro. She is driving in the country side with her parents to their new home, a fact that she is not too happy about as she misses her old home, school and friends. While en route her father stops at a mysterious tunnel. When the family investigates they find a large but ostensibly empty theme park area. Chihiro gets a bad feeling about the place and warns her parents to leave. They ignore her warnings and even eat some food they find which subsequently transforms them into dumb pigs.
The centre place of the area is a bath house for spirits run by the irascible witch Yubaba. She reluctantly gives Chihiro a job and renames her “Sen”. It is up to Chihiro, aided by a mysterious boy named Haku, to navigate this strange world and save her parents.
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The creatures that populate this world are weird and visually interesting. There’s cute soot creatures, a spider-like man, a talking frog, frog people, a weird fat creature, a giant baby, a water dragon, disembodied heads, a No Face spirit and a disgusting “stink spirit”. At every twist and turn there is something new and cool for Chihiro and the audience to discover.
There are some frights and tension that may be a bit much for younger children but older kids should be fine. The fantasy and quest aspects of the plot, as well as the vivid colours of the animation, reminded me of a fairy tale. The lovely soundtrack was also quite a pleasure.
Chihiro as a protagonist is fearful and fragile at first but grows stronger as she faces each new test and obstacle. Spirited Away is a story about facing your fears, being self-reliant and taking on new challenges and situations. It has been compared to Alice in Wonderland – young woman growing up via adventures in a fantasy world – but Spirited Away weaves its own unique magical web.
If you would mind the bad pun, I was pleasantly spirited away by Spirited Away. It is a modern day fairy tale adventure worth experiencing by all.
Rating: Spirited Away gets 4/4 plump pig parents.
It would be remiss of me not to mention that, like My Neighbour Totoro and Princess Mononoke (previous entries in 5 from Futaki which you can read here and here respectively) Spirited Away was written and directed by legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki. He also scripted and directed Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) which is the final part of 5 from Futaki and you can read that here.
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