Spirited Away (2001)

Class: User
Author: DaikaijuSokogeki!
Score: (5/5)
February 2, 2006 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

In the late 1990's, acclaimed anime director Hayao Miyazaki retired from filmmaking following the highly successful release of Princess Mononoke (1997). A few years later, Miyazaki met the daughter of one of his friends. She was a spoiled brat who was lazy and whiny. So, Miyazaki decided to focus a movie on a similar girl that would concentrate on how people like her can change. In 2001, Studio Ghibli released Spirited Away (Japanese title: Spiriting Away of Sen and Chihiro). The movie became the most successful film ever in Japan, grossing over 30 billion yen (over $200 million U.S.) and winning several awards around the world. A few of these awards include the Golden Bear Award, the Japanese Academy Award for Best Picture, and Best Animated Feature Film U.S.A. Academy Award, making it the first anime movie to win an Oscar. Simply put, this film deserved it. From the brilliant animation to the riveting score, Spirited Away has it all.

Knowing how long the story is, I have to go through the ever-painful task of summarizing this work in a few sentences. In fact, I'll let the review fill in the blanks. After having her parents turned into pigs, Chihiro, a spoiled 10-year old, has to work at a bathhouse for the spirits. There, she meets many strange creatures. She meets love in the form of Haku, a strange boy who can't remember his name; greed in the form of Yubaba, the evil witch who runs the place; and care in the form of Kamaji, the boiler man. She also helps a spirit, who changes personalities, find a home. She meets many friends on her quest to return her parents back to normal.

The plot is much more complex (and intriguing) than what is stated above. In fact, once you see the movie yourself, you'll see just how much I left out. There are many themes in here as well; for example, when Chihiro is signing the contract, Yubaba changes her name to Sen. She nearly forgets her name at one point, but thanks to Haku, she remembers. This symbolizes that names are identities of people, and that once names are changed, people can easily forget who they really are. Another theme is love, for without it, we wouldn't be able to grow up. In fact, that's the primary theme of this film: maturing into adulthood. You'll just have to see the film to know what I mean. However, this movie wasn't specifically made for Americans. This is a very Japanese film. What I mean is that there are many subtle cultural references, such as the scene where Chihiro kills the spell that resembles a worm. Kamaji tells her that she must be cleansed of the bad energy by placing her index fingers and thumbs into an oval shape, which he would then proceed to separate with his hand. Clearly, this is something the Japanese would be far more likely to understand.

Next, there are the characters. Simply put, these characters are very memorable. To begin with, Chihiro clearly gets the most development. Throughout the film, the changes she makes are visible and the audience (well, myself at least) root for her to reach the promises of adulthood. Next, there is the mystery boy, Haku. We actually learn quite a fair amount about him, considering his character is so mysterious. He cares for others and hates the fact he is forced to obey Yubaba. He is a lost spirit, trying to find his home, which has been destroyed by construction (another theme). Next up is Yubaba. She is a greedy hag who only cares for two things: gold and her giant baby, Boh. The final major character is Lin, a servant of the bathhouse who looks out for the underdog, who happens to be Chihiro in this case.

Concerning the supporting characters, there is Kamaji, the six-armed boiler man. He seems rough, but it is discovered that he has a very soft spot. Next is Boh, Yubaba's baby who is encouraged by Chihiro to literally stand on his own two feet. The rest of the characters are not quite as memorable, though. There's the frog, whose greed nearly gets him killed. There are the parents, who are reckless and end up paying the price for that as well. Likewise, Zeniba, Yubaba's twin sister, is the opposite of Yubaba. She is caring and generous and even offers a home to the last minor character, No-Face. We don't get to know much about him except that he's lonely and the only way he thinks he'll be loved is through acquiring the perfect personality.

Without voice acting; however, there would be no characters. The voice acting here is top-notch, as all the actors and actresses do their job well. Rumi Hiragi, who voices Chihiro, does the voice just right. She's very whiny at first, but her voice matures in tone as the movie progresses, reflecting her character's development. Another actress worth mentioning is Mari Natsuki, who successfully pulls off the voices for both Yubaba and Zeniba. Their personalities are defined perfectly and the line delivery is superb. No one else really sticks out, save perhaps Miyu Irino, who does a good job giving emotion when need be. All in all, the actors/actresses do excellent work, and no one sounded dull while recording for this film.

Naturally, you can't have an anime film without animation, and Spirited Away has this aspect covered very well. The animation is some of the best animation cinema has ever seen. It is magnificently detailed and you could easily say the characters really are alive. The sets are gorgeous, for if you had time to kill, it might be possible to count all of the straws on the ceiling of Zeniba's hut. Each cel looks like a painting, which is, simply put, a remarkable feat. The animators did a flawless job here. The CGI in this film is also handled well, but the only time it looks pretty obvious is when the river spirit is rising from the bath. Overall, the animators deserve much kudos for this film.

Finally, there's the music, scored by Joe Hisaishi, Miyazaki's composer of choice. This is his finest score to date. Period. Many themes in this film, such as Chihiro's plight in the town when the spirits are appearing, gave me goose bumps. Every theme is outstanding and very well scored. Heck, the score alone is enough to sell the film, in my opinion. There is also the song, “Always With Me”, sung by Youmi Kimura. The song fits the film well, and I'm sure Miyazaki knew this as he was heard humming it to himself during production meetings. It's sung nicely by Ms. Kimura; the lyrics are beautiful and warming.

To wrap up, this film is basically the Seven Samurai (1954) of anime. It is majestic, beautifully composed, wonderfully animated, and there's not a single dull voice. The only problem I had is that it dragged... for about 3 minutes. This film deserves a perfect score and that's exactly what it will get. If any anime movie deserved a five out of five, it's this one. If I could, I would shake the hands of everyone who worked on this movie. If you don't own it, buy it. If you don't have the money, steal it. This is a movie experience not to be missed.