'Spirited Away' (2001) 500 Word DVD Review

August 14, 2009 § 3 Comments

Score: 5 out of 5

While moving to a new town, ten-year-old Chihiro (Rumi Hîragi) and her parents take an unexpected detour and stumble upon what they think is an old, abandoned theme park. However, as darkness gradually descends upon the unsuspecting family, it soon becomes clear that all is not what it seems in this ghost town.

Having wandered around by herself for a bit, Chihiro returns to find her parents magically transformed into swine and that she is starting to disappear into thin air. Luckily, she is rescued from oblivion by an enigmatic, young human boy named Haku (Miyu Irino) but, nevertheless, finds herself a prisoner in a strange, mystical universe, populated by visiting gods, monsters and wandering spirits.

In terms of imagination, Miyazaki has outdone himself; Spirited Away’s world and characters are simply astounding in their design and the amount of detail that’s clearly been put into them. The universe itself, like Miyazaki’s previous work, possesses that paradoxical quality of being beautiful, exciting and wondrous while, at the same time, being sinister, dangerous and haunting. But this is all one side of the coin; Spirited Away also features an amazing, epic, orchestral soundtrack, and it’s this combination of graceful, dream-like visuals choreographed with evocative scoring that makes Spirited Away, at its very best, a kind of animated poem.

Spirited Away 1

While the world of Spirited Away is breathtaking on its own, the film also boasts a story that is as moving as it is engaging and dialogue that is both smartly written and flows effortlessly. The narrative is, essentially, quite straightforward – Chihiro must find a way to save her parents and return them to human form – but, like most fairy tales, the joy is in the journey and not the destination. While there are slight deviations from the main plot, these tend to form the most striking scenes and, most importantly, it never feels digressive. Other than that, the dialogue is frequently witty and comical in the right places, and many of the characters, even minor ones, are strongly personified to be both unique and memorable.

At times, the story can be a little unclear or understated, like some vital information has been withheld from the audience, but I think this is in part due to the brisk pace of the film, where you just happen to miss something or it’s lost in translation. There are also a couple of other smaller issues I had, such as some slightly intrusive CGI effects and some scenes being a tad too overwrought for my taste, but they are, as I said, minor problems that pale in the shadow of the brilliant, visionary aspects of the film.

Spirited Away is a towering cinematic achievement – not just for animation and not just for a children’s film. Spirited Away is a great film – period. I would recommend it to anyone.

(470 words.)

[Editors note: this was a review of the Japanese dubbed, English subtitled version; however, an English dub is also available on the R2 DVD.]

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§ 3 Responses to 'Spirited Away' (2001) 500 Word DVD Review

  • Chris White says:

    Hey man,

    glad you enjoyed the film so much. It’s quite different from Mononoke but packs an equal, or perhaps even weightier, punch (as a film, though perhaps not thematically-speaking. It’s hard to trump mononoke on that front!). The whole film is simply a wonder from start to finish, and you’re right – the imagination at work here is incredible. Miyazaki is such a brilliant man, I hope he’ll produce more after Ponyo.

    Particularly liked the turns of phrase:

    “like most fairy tales, the joy is in the journey and not the destination”

    “– not just for animation and not just for a children’s film.”

    “Miyazaki has outdone himself”

    “the dialogue is smartly written and flows effortlessly”

    I didn’t think the “poetic” comment was at all pretentious, it was a great way to highlight the potency of the film although I do think you could maybe have written it slightly more clearly. Still, the film is worthy of that kind of comparison.

    Great review on the whole man 🙂

    Hope you don’t mind, but I’d also like to point out one or two points that I found most broke the flow of the review:

    “she gradually comes to realise that this is no theme park but discovers that it is the ideal tourist hotspot for visiting gods, monsters and wandering spirits – and humans are strictly prohibited”

    -there were a couple of things about this, but most notably the use of the word “discovers” which comes not long after another instance of “discovers” in the same paragraph.

    “While the world of Spirited Away is visually arresting, it is by no means a hollow or shallow film”

    -I don’t think hollowness or shallowness has been implied simply in saying that the film is visually arresting so you could dispense with those terms and instead plump for a positively-oriented phrase such as “…is visually arresting, it is also [somethingorother]…”

    Lastly this bit:

    “At times, the story can be a little unclear or understated, like some vital information has been withheld from the audience, but I think this is in part due to the brisk pace of the film, where you just happen to miss something or it’s lost in translation. There are also a couple of other smaller issues I had, such as some slightly intrusive CGI effects and some scenes being a tad too overwrought for my taste, but they are, as I said, minor problems that pale in the shadow of the brilliant, visionary aspects of the film.”

    -It’s ok but the sentences are pretty long. You could probably sharpen the paragraph up quite a bit, just some trim and tidy-up really. Nothing else.

    Those are just my personal thoughts, but I thought I’d share my reader-response with you. I know you said you wanted to rewrite a couple of bits anyway so you might have already intended to address these things.

    Generally a great review though man, and perfect picture choice! I love No-face!

    Keep up the good work 🙂

  • yangchu says:

    Thanks for the feedback, Chris. I’ve made quite a few changes to the opening synopsis and the parts regarding poetry and the implication that a visually stunning film might be shallow. In all honesty, I’m not sure if I’ve ended up improving the review or making it worse, even though your comments were pretty on-the-ball. I’ve seemed to hit a bit of mental block with this one, so I’m tempted to just leave it as is. If you’ve got any further comments, though, I’m always interested. Take it easy, man.

  • coresampled says:

    I’ve never seen any of Miyazaki’s work but this sounds like a very good movie. Thanks for the review.

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