- Written and Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
- July 20, 2001 (Japan)
- Chihiro-Daveigh Chase
- Chihiro’s Father-Michael Chiklis
- Chihiro’s Mother-Lauren Holly
- Haku-Jason Marsden
- Yubaba / Zeniba-Suzanne Pleshette
- Lin-Susan Egan
- Kamaji-David Ogden Stiers
- Assistant Manager-John Ratzenberger
- Boh-Tara Strong
- Bath House Woman-Mickie McGowan
- Radish Spirit (Oshira-sama)-Jack Angel
- No-Face / Frog-Bob Bergen
- Foreman (Bandai-gaeru)-Rodger Bumpass
- Frog-like Chef-Phil Proctor
- Chichiyaku-Paul Eiding
- River Spirit-Jim Ward
While moving to the suburbs with her family, a young girl finds herself in a strange place ruled by spirits and witches and where people are turned into gluttonous swine.
Spirited Away is an amazing bit of animation from Japan. It is a mature yet family friendly film that does not talk down to the viewer. There are elements of fantasy, supernaturalism, traditional Japanese culture, environmentalism, and even an examination of western consumerism. That is some pretty weighty stuff for a film that you can sit down and watch with the kids.
Some have compared this to Alice in Wonderland as well as Through the Looking Glass in that both are set in an odd fantasy world. I side with the individuals that compare this to The Wizard of Oz in that Chihiro is transported to a strange and dangerous place and must get home. Chihiro also magically loses her name and must find a new identity.
The main location of events in the film is a Japanese bathhouse. Many creatures from Japanese folklore visit there. There is a character called No-Face that reflects the individuals around him. It is all surreal in my opinion.
Spirited Away examines traditional Japanese culture. At the time this was made Japan was experiencing an economic downturn and people were looking to reconnect with their society’s past. Here Chihiro lost her past self when she came to this strange place and was seeking to reclaim it in much the same way Japanese society was trying to reconnect with itself.
Environmentalism is examined when Chihiro must deal with a rather potent stink spirit while at the bath house. This spirit was once a river but was so corrupted by pollution that it was unrecognizable. Haku is the spirit of a river that was destroyed and lost his identity because it.
Chiro’s father dresses in a polo shirt and drives an imported car while talking about his credit cards and cash and her parents are turned into pigs when they excessively indulge at the eatery in a swipe at consumerism.
This is a deeper story than you might get from more popular animated films. All the things they touch on go down easy and are not shoved in your face. A mark of good message stories. Chihiro must also deal with change which is a natural part of life. She is moving to a new area and like any child doesn’t want to. Her experiences in this bizarre fantasy world teach her how to deal with the changes in life.
The story starts out simple enough. After taking what they believe will be a road to their house the family finds themselves at the entrance to an abandoned and rather creepy amusement park. Exploring the bizarre place, they soon find it’s a dark magical realm. There are spirits and talking frogs and dragons. It’s all run by a giant headed witch that can transform into a bird.
But Spirited Away is also really weird. Like I said we have parents being transformed into pigs. We have giant headed witches and stink spirits and a Japanese bath house with the whole story taking place in what is made to look like an abandoned theme park. Those places are just creepy.
Too often family friendly films are shallow with little depth to them. There may be a touch of something there, but they are not as complicated or as deep as something like this. Children can handle deeper material.
The legendary Hayao Miyazaki was inspired to make a film for family friends that he regularly vacationed with. Through a friendship with a Pixar animator, Disney got western distribution to this film but poorly handled it. To be honest, given what I have read, it is amazing it became known.
Hand-drawn animation is so much more beautiful and enduring than purely CGI work. Computer assistance was used sparingly here to enhance the work. This movie is over 20 years old at this point and is still a beautiful work of art. There is 20-year-old CGI that looked sharp in its day but has definitely not aged well. Heavy computer animation loses its luster with technological advancement. Think about video games.
Things like Donkey Kong or Pac-Man or even some of the arcade racing games from the 90s looked amazing when they first came out, but the graphics today are not that good if they can be considered good at all. This film stands the test of time visually. It is art.
Spirited Away is a classic piece of animation that if you haven’t seen it you should. This is a must watch!