Spirited Away (2001)

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Starring: Voice of Rumi Hiiragi (Japanese version), Daveigh Chase (English version)

CHIHIRO – “How did you know my name was Chihiro?”
HAKU – “I have known you since you were very small.”

Young Chihiro isn’t happy. Her parents have decided that it’s time to up sticks move house, and she’s upset that she won’t get to see her friends any more. On the way to their new home however, Chihiro’s dad takes a wrong turning and the family come across a mysterious tunnel. On the other side they find what appears to be an abandoned theme park.

Smelling something nice, Chihiro’s dad finds a stall filled with delicious food, which he and Chihiro’s mum start wolfing down. Chihiro wanders off and finds a boy called Haku who warns her to leave before it gets dark, but it’s too late – by the time she gets back to her parents, they’ve turned into pigs. Suddenly the once-abandoned theme park becomes a village filled with spirits and otherworldly creatures. It’s up to Chihiro to find out what’s going on and turn her parents back into humans again.

That awkward moment when a person comes on a train and sits right next to you even though there are free seats

Spirited Away is the twelfth film released by Studio Ghibli, the iconic Japanese animation studio responsible for such delights as My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle. Studio Ghibli is to Japanese cinema what Disney is to western cinema and Spirited Away is a key example of this, as it’s without a doubt one of the greatest animated movies ever made. Indeed, on the year of its release in the US, it won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, beating out the likes of Lilo & Stitch and Ice Age.

The imagination and originality on display in Spirited Away is breathtaking, with a huge variety of weird and wonderful creatures and characters throughout. From Yubaba – the bizarre witch with the massive head – to multi-limbed boiler man Kamajii, to the creepy spirit No Face and the hilarious little frog chap who keeps getting himself in the way, every character is a treat to watch.

The moment Chihiro realised a dragon's testicles are kept just under its chin

Then there’s the animation itself, which is tremendous. While animation purists will nitpick at the “frame rate” and claim that at times the characters aren’t animated very smoothly, to some (myself included) this only gives the film a more personal feel and makes it clear that it was beautifully animated by incredibly talented people. The occasional CGI shots aren’t too intrusive either, making for some wonderful shots – like those as the train crosses the ocean in the final act – that win you over with their beauty.

The only real negative people may draw from Spirited Away is that at 125 mins it’s maybe a little too long for a story that could essentially be told in much less time. Much of the film consists of lengthy sequences showing scenery or lingering on parts of the mysterious world Chihiro finds herself in, so if you’re after something fast-paced this might not be for you.

Otherwise, this is an incredible film that all admirers of not just animation but storytelling as a whole should check out, especially if you’re new to the world of Studio Ghibli and want to see what all the fuss is. This is all the fuss.

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