The name Hayao Miyazaki is very much synonymous with magnificent artistic films, filled to the brim with beautifully vibrant colors and imaginative characters, and his masterpiece Spirited Away is no exception.
Article by Stephen Cleath
In anticipation of the upcoming Miyazaki festival that is appearing in theaters all across America, with Spirited Away showing up in select theaters for Studio Ghibli Fest on Oct. 28-30, I decided to reacquaint myself with the teenage protagonist Chihiro’s magical journey, and I was not at all disappointed. In this article, I wanted to share three aspects of Spirited Away that I especially love, with occasional spoilers scattered about (for those readers of this article whom haven’t yet watched this incredible Miyazaki movie).
Spirited Away is about a pre-teen girl named Chihiro, who is reluctantly moving to a new town with her parents. On the mountain road that should lead to their new house, they get lost and find themselves at the site of an abandoned amusement park. After a brief time of investigating the park, Chihiro leaves her parents eating at a food stall and goes deeper in, only to be warned to leave by a mysterious green haired boy. When she reunites with her parents, however, she finds they have turned into pigs. To fix this, she’s forced to enter a magical world, full of mystery, danger, and more, to find a way to reverse the spell on her parents and keep from forgetting who she is.
Wide Array of Characters
First of all, I enjoy the wide array of characters that Miyazaki has woven into this movie, from the wide eyed idealist Chihiro, to the manipulative Yubaba, to the mysterious No-Face. They all fill a special role in this Alice In Wonderland-like world that Chihiro finds in the abandoned theme park that the movie takes place in. As Chihiro goes deeper into this strange world, she discovers within herself untapped depths of strength, courage, and true empathy for others, as she slowly navigates a perilous path to freedom for both her parents and herself. My top favorite character, besides Chihiro, would have to be No-Face, a spirit of some sort who wears a black and white mask and whom causes major mayhem at the fantasy bath house.
Spectacular Art & Animation
Another aspect of Spirited Away that I greatly enjoy is the animation that brings a special liveliness and sense of wonder to the movie. The artwork is spectacular, the colors pop in a very vivid way, and every scene is so packed with detail, it almost leads to sensory overload. One of the characters that come to mind in terms of color and detail is this stink spirit that comes into the bathhouse one evening. It was drawn and colored so well, just one look at it was enough for me to imagine how slimy, smelly, and overall repulsive it was, an imagined assault on my senses that left me feeling like I needed to take a long hot shower to clean myself off.
The other characters that I enjoy the most is the bunch of soot sprites that Chihiro meets and works alongside in the boiler room, carrying chunks of coal to the furnace. There’s just something ridiculously cute about little black creatures with large eyes that eat multi-colored sprinkles on their meal breaks and talk with funny squeaks. The soot sprites help bring a childlike sense of wonder and laughable antics into this fantasy world, which I think takes the movie to another level.
The third and final aspect of Spirited Away that I enjoy is the journey of maturation and self-discovery that Chihiro embarks on after she is separated from her parents. In the opening scene, she’s in the process of moving to a new city, far from anything she’s familiar with, and that overwhelming feeling of dealing with the unknown factors in her future terrifies her. By the halfway point of the movie, she has grown accustomed to the bath house, and fearlessly takes on the challenge of washing the stink spirit, who really turns out to be a river spirit, stuck inside a hardened shell of debris & junk left by humans in the river.
Her personal journey of growth concludes with her passing Yubaba’s final test, and she is allowed to return to her parents and the real world, filled with bravery, wisdom, empathy for others, a taste for adventures, and true fearlessness for the future that she faced in this new town that she had been dreading. These qualities, and the lessons Chihiro learned through the course of her journey, are very rarely found in most movies, which makes Spirited Away’s stalwart protagonist stand out, in my opinion.
Anyways, I give this movie two thumbs up and five stars, beyond any doubt!! If you have watched this movie before, perhaps it’s time to revisit it. If you’ve not yet viewed it, then I emphatically urge you to find some way to borrow the DVD or stream it when you have a free evening! Or see it in select theaters during Studio Ghibli Fest. It’s definitely a must-see classic movie that should be on every To-Be-Watched list!
Featured image credit: Studio Ghibli