Watched Aug 21, 2012
Reid Volk’s review:
Well, my Miyazaki marathon continues with Spirited Away. After my first helping of My Neighbor Totoro had successfully left me longing to find my inner-child, something led me to Spirited Away. While I probably just had the image of the film’s cover lodged in my brain, I would like to think that some Miyazakian magic drove me to it. Whatever the case, I was excited to find that this coming of age adventure had a little bit of a bite to it.
When brooding 10-year-old Chihiro and her parents take a wrong turn in an attempt to find their new home, they accidentally happen upon an abandoned amusement park. Yet, as one would expect, this is no regular amusement park. But rather a gateway to an alternate reality where Chihiro must fend for herself after her parents come down with a bad case of “swine” flu.
The film predominantly deals with Chihiro’s transition into adulthood and the paralyzing fear of being on her own one day. Most of the adults in this separate reality are cold and cruel to her, and Chihiro’s only instruction in this new world is to find a job. In doing so, she has to sign her name away. Her name, her identity, now belongs to her employer. It now belongs to the past. Chihiro’s only source of solace, Haku, is another child who laments that he cannot remember his own name. The film shows that there is no easy conversion into adulthood and in doing so, you inevitably lose a precious part of your character.
In keeping with themes that he explores in his other films, Miyazaki shows that losing your childhood is something to mourn. In fact, he goes to great lengths to illustrate the depraved nature of adults. Within the first 10 minutes, he displays that unlike Chihiro, who is lead by her intuition and her gut, her parents are driven primarily by their desires. As her dad exclaims before his transformation, you can have whatever you want if you have money and credit cards. As the film progresses, the majority of the adults are entirely consumed with the idea of obtaining gold. Even innocent souls such as the mysterious “No-Face” turn into gluttonous monsters once being invited into the main bathhouse.
As per usual, the colors are rich and vibrant. How the animators captured motion in such a compelling way is stunning. I actually found myself pausing several scenes in an attempt to understand how exactly they plotted out the motion. Also, having John Lasseter supervise the English-language translation was a smart choice as I normally loathe anything dubbed, but was not distracted here at all.
My Neighbor Totoro was such a sweet film and I am glad that I got to see Miyazaki tackle some tougher issues. While on the whole I think My Neighbor Totoro is a better film, Spirited Away reminded me of how regardless of age, we all have our own fears and struggles. With countless films tackling “adult problems”, it was interesting to see a filmmaker take seriously the plight of the young and the terror that comes with having to navigate your own way in this world.