Review: Spirited Away

by Jake Sproul

Rating: (out of )

Prerequisites for seeing Spirited Away:

1. An imagination
2. The ability to think outside the ordinary
3. A sense of beautiful imagery

As you may have guessed from the three necessary items above, Spirited Away is like nothing I, nor any other moviegoer will likely have ever seen before. Unfortunately, its my duty to inform everyone that despite the overwhelmingly huge praise for Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, the film dips into territory already explored and utilized by the Disney corporation in its final half. Its never easy to go against the crowd, but while I do concede that Spirited Away has its strong points, and certainly had the potential to be the masterpiece everyone is claiming it is, Miyazaki wasn’t able to translate all that potential energy into actual kinetic energy (sorry, a little chemistry humor). To call Spirited Away similar to regular Disney fair isn’t quite the insult that I may have insinuated, as most Disney fair is quite tolerable and agreeable. I am disappointed that Spirited Away isn’t better than agreeable and tolerable.

The only time I have ever been a fan of anime was during my brief Pokemon infatuation of 1998, and even then, I was more interested in the cards and video games than the Japanese imported cartoon. Spirited Away has certainly changed my mind on the artistry that goes into anime. Spirited Away is a visual treat, a feast for the eyes, and easily rivals if not beats anything put out by the Disney empire. From the ordinary, to the bizarre, Miyazaki’s team of animators has succeeded in making Spirited Away look like a dream. Nightmarish at times, fun and whimsical at others.

Chihiro is a 10 year old girl who is crestfallen about her family’s new move to a different city. During the ride to the new house, Chihiro and her parents get lost and discover a tunnel. To the protests of Chihiro, the three walk through and discover what appears to be an abandoned fair ground or carnival. Things only get stranger from here, as they find a food kiosk that unlike everything else, looks to be open. Despite all common sense, mom and pop begin wolfing down food. Chihiro starts to walk around by herself, and as it begins to get dusk, she encounters spirits. (Please believe me if saying that I am not embellishing the plot, as my synopsis begins to become more bizarre. I told you that you would need an imagination to understand this film). In a panic, Chihiro runs back to her parents, only to discover that they have been turned into pigs. In a fright, Chihiro meets a young boy named Haku, who vaguely warns her as to the dangers of this place, and the pertinence of her leaving. Its very hard to describe how this film meanders beyond this point, but Chihiro gets a job working at a bath-house for the Spirits, and the film chronicles her adventures. The plot of Spirited Away and the characters incorporated are so imaginative, that I must emphasive the importance of possessing the three prerequisites before viewing.

A script is very different from a plot, and sometimes people, even myself tend to confuse the two. Spirited Away has an excellent plot, or premise, however its script lacks. The first 45-60 minutes of the movie are wonderful, yet the film because very reminiscent of other Disney favorites as Chihiro goes on an quest to save her best friend, Haku. Spirited Away also tends to lose track of its ultimate goal, as the film saunters into different directions than its plot intended. One such is of a mysterious monster named “No-Face” who terrorizes and enthralls the staff of the bath-house. While such diversions are at times even pleasurable, they do not add up to a great film, the kind of great film that Spirited Away could have been. While the first hour was great, the rest is merely average. In considering the intended demographic for Spirited Away, its obvious that it is marketed and targeted towards children, yet unlike some Disney and other animated fair, this movie can be equally, if not superiorly enjoyed by parents and adults alike.

From a technical stand-point, Spirited Away is flawless. Being a 2 hour plus film, Spirited Away requires significantly more frames than a traditional Disney animated film, and from the first second of the movie, to the very last, Spirited Away bursts with life and color. In summer 2002, Disney released their very colorful Lilo & Stitch, and yet compared to Spirited Away, Lilo & Stitch is at best drab. Far From Heaven may have had the most sophisticated score of the year, The Hours may have had the most controversial score, and Frida may have won the Oscar for its score, but I believe that Spirited Away has the most fitting and overall, best score of the year. The music in the film can be tranquil, and at other times very suspenseful, all the while, hardly changing a note.

Condensing the whole of Spirited Away into a single closing paragraph is no simple task. The film is full of life and exuberance, and boasts a plot that from the outside may seem like a inconceivable dream, but from the inside feels completely believable tail. (Of course, we come back to Earth after leaving the theater.) Yet while its attempts at being a true masterpiece are noble, they are never realized. “Close but no cigar” is just that, close, but not quite there. Spirited Away has a few kinks to work out in its script before donning the title of ‘masterpiece.’

© 2003 Jacob Sproul

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