Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Spirited Away (2001)

TOP 100 FILMS: #15

When Chihiro, and her parents, arrive at a ghost fair ground on the way to their new city of residence, they have little idea of what lay ahead. The parents quickly turned into pigs for eating food that wasn't theirs, Chihiro must find a way to survive. Save their parents, and understand the new world of gods, and monsters, while working at a local bathe.

"Once you do something, you never forget. Even if you can't remember."

What allows Miyazaki's 2001 anime masterpiece to be so widely loved is that, in every aspect, it's an anime film built to be widely loved. Filled with breathtaking visuals, Spirited Away serves as a perfect introductory film to the many lore of anime tales. A movie so rich in imagination, yet grounded in captivation, it creates the world from the perspective of someone completely unfamiliar with it.

For seasoned anime fans this may come a bit tedious, but to those with no real knowledge of the genre it's a welcome mat. A welcome mat to the world of fantasy anime (and yes there are many different types of anime - see my review of Grave of the Fireflies if you don't believe me). And that world has the potential to absorb the mind of a viewer unlike many others. Supported by ancient myths of Asian culture, the fantasy world developed is so deep, one would have to try hard not to be entranced by it.

Now, I will say Spirited Away is a very heavy character film. And there are a lot of characters to be had. Because of that the movie is long, and at times slow. Always for good reason. Miyazaki doesn't just want to make this movie about the allure, he wants it to be about the journey of a young girl (another prevailing theme throughout his films). The trials of youth, and the struggles that stem from them. All wrapped in a journey of mystical stature.

Spirited Away is all about coming to terms with the new challenges life presents. Some admittedly harder than others, but all conquerable if you're determined enough. That is the task presented to Chihiro. Can she learn to overcome her fears of change, without the support of her parents? Can she hold onto those most dear to her, when they are in most need? Spirited Away exists to tackle that challenge. To bring it to life. Ultimately presenting the viewer with a world so vast, and foreign to this world, but grounded in the moral challenges each and every one of us must face.

Aided by its ability to invite viewers of all backgrounds in, Spirited Away is a beautiful tale of one girl's coming of age. Her learning of what it means to be human, to be herself, and to overcome any obstacle that stands in her way. But only if she's willing to face those challenges head on, and with an open heart.


As a programming note: The reason I've started reviewing my all time favorite Anime's is that this will mark the end in my Anime Wednesday series as I move into other projects. I won't be able to watch anime with enough consistency to keep the weekly deadline, and I know only a handful of my regular readers enjoy it. But, I will still review anime, just on a more by the view basis. Stay tuned next week for the brand new Wednesday series!

13 better thoughts:

Robert said...

Great review! This is probably my favorite film ever. I was the perfect age when I watched it, I didn't know a thing about it before I did, and then I was just captivated. Any time I rewatch it I feel so young again. It truly is a masterpiece.

Japan Cinema said...

I agree this is a great welcomed mat as its probably one of the most mainstream anime's you can find. But in this case 'mainstream' isn't a bad thing. Great review buddy!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I saw this one in the theater. This is definitely one of the best anime films.

Univarn said...

@Robert Thanks. Yeah watching it at the right age can make all the difference. But I think it ages incredibly well, especially if someone finds it a bit slow on the first go around.

@Japan I concur. Mainstream here is perfectly used.

@Alex I wish I could have seen it in the theater. I remember watching the Oscars for it going "what the hell is that, it looks awesome!" But I wouldn't see it for another 6 years.

Castor said...

As you know, one of my very top movie of last decade. The world of Spirited Away is so full of life and "real" while US animations seem to create a world that is like a lifeless cardboard cutout. Not sure if I can explain myself better lol

Anonymous said...

One of my favorite films. This wasn't the first Miyazaki film I saw, but it was the first that I completely connected with and loved.

You are right on when you say that viewers from all backgrounds can enjoy it. I've persuaded a number of doubters who "don't like animation" to watch this and now they realize what's up. Great review.

Univarn said...

@Castor I'm not sure I can either, but I sure understand it. I think a lot of it has to do with in the US animation is considered (albeit unjustifiably) to be a child/family medium. So attempts at it here are often left with that sort of feeling.

@silver thanks for the comment! Yeah, it's definitely got the perfect introductory element. But it does play into the stereotypes of anime, which can be a downside. To those I generally recommend something like Grave of the Fireflies.

Anonymous said...

Still haven't seen Grave of the Fireflies myself, which I know is a serious oversight. Gonna have to rectify that soon.

SugaryCynic said...

oh that Miyazaki and his young female protagonists overcoming adversity! Spirited Away is what I show all my un-initiated friends to convert to the cult of Miyazaki

Heather said...

With Castor and others here it was one of my favorite of the decade, and one of my favorite anime films ever. I know it's more "mainstream" but it still maintained a sinister feel, a foreign projection that gave people seeing Anime for the first time a good taste of something different. It is a beautiful film with a lovely story. Glad to see it's even appreciated by hardcore anime aficionados.

Anonymous said...

This has been sitting on my DVR for months now ... I've heard many fantastic reviews and I think this will finally be the one to make me watch it. Nice job!

Univarn said...

@silver Go for it, just pack the Kleenex.

@Sugary Miyazaki does love strong young women... wait that came out wrong.

@Heather Oh, it is. I think lots of hardcore anime fans give it a bit lower grades because it is considered more mainstream, and a little slow on developing genre norms. It just nails it so perfectly for me.

@mashall You should watch it, and I'd love to hear what you think of it!

Fletch said...

Like Marshall, this is sitting in my DVR waiting to be watched, though thankfully, it hasn't been months...yet. One day...

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