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