Movie Review: Spirited Away

movie poster Spirited Away
Chihiro a 10-year-old girl and her parents move to a new home by car. On her way to the countryside Chihiro’s father takes a short cut and gets stuck on a woodland avenue in front of a tunnel. They get out of the car and walk through the tunnel. On the other side they find an abandoned amusement park of the 1990s.

Here is a strange atmosphere, you see stone frogs overgrown with grass and everything has a mysterious aura. Chihiro is frightened, her parents are curious, they go further into the amusement park which looks like a ghost town. Suddenly, the parents see an open restaurant. On the counter are many dishes filled with food freshly made and it smells delicious.The parents are magically drawn to the food and begin to eat, eagerly, greedily, they stuff the food into their mouths and turn into pigs.

Chihiro is horrified and runs away. The evening dawns. Suddenly, she discovers a large house in the architectural style of the Meiji era. It is a big bathhouse. Shortly after it comes to life when the lights turn on inside. Ghostly silhouettes appear. Chihiro is magically attracted to it and enters another world. On the bridge she meets a ghostly figure.

She explores the hustle and bustle in the bathhouse until she meets a boy named Haku. He is friendly but warns her to flee the bathhouse before dark. Chihiro misses the right time though. In the bathhouse she meets several characters. For example a multi-armed machinist and the malevolent witch Yubāba who rules strictly over everything in the bathhouse and had turned Chihiro’s parents into pigs.

Chihiro manages to put herself at her service and is now part of the staff. She must survive in this environment and at the same time pursuit her goal to transform her parents back into humans. She has few companions, first and foremost Haku and Yin who is also working in the bathhouse as a maid and cleaning woman. Here Chihiro now has to master some challenges. The customers at the bathhouse are a mix of mythical creatures, animal figures, and ghostly beings. Two special guests are a stink monster and the faceless creature from the bridge, which pose a great challenge to the bathhouse.

The scenery is a Meiji house as it can still be found in Tokyo. Historical pictures served as a template. Amusement parks were a big thing in the 90s, there are still many abandoned places in Japan. Chihiro’s father explains to Chihiro that these kind of amusement parks were built during the bubble economy. The Japanese society became more leisure oriented when the economy was booming. (Read more about abandoned amusement parks in Japan in tofugu).

“Visually, Spirited Away marks the pinnacle of Miyazaki’s artistry. His vibrant and multilayered netherworld is imbued with so much personality and depth that it appears to be a character unto itself. Effortlessly combining computer-generated images with painstakingly hand-crafted cel-based art, Studio Ghibli has (once again) raised the bar for excellence in the two-dimensional domain of animation.” (Animerica)

The entire scenery of the bathhouse, the magical figures, the lovely design down to the last detail, the music and the inventive story make the film simply unique. The film conveys elements of traditional Japan and Shinto religious symbolism.

“This notion of learning to live with a sound, pure heart/mind is a central theme in Miyazaki’s ‘Spirited Away,’ as the story depicts Chihiro’s journey from being a sulking child to that of a young person who acts with genuine sincerity toward others and the world. Miyazaki portrays this spiritual transformation in a captivating way. He places Chihiro in the realm of the fantastic: the strange world of Yubāba, Haku, and the bathhouse, where she is put to the test, and through her tribulations cultivates a pure and cheerful heart which in turn enables her to help her friend Haku remember his true identity.” (Shinto Perspectives)

The movie has won many awards, including an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. It is considered one of the best, most successful anime.

“Miyazaki’s Spirited Away is a masterpiece in the way that it shows both the goodness of simplicity and the purity of the youthful heart, as well as the way it allegorizes the evils of Japanese post-modern social and human conditions.” (Jump Cut)

Title: Spirited Away (千と千尋の神隠し)
My Rating: (5 of 5 stars) ★★★★★
Genre: anime, adventure
Year: 2001
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Screenplay: Hayao Miyazaki
Producer: Toshio Suzuki
Studio: Studio Ghibli
Length: 125 minutes

Link to the International Movie Database