Spirited Away review
That's The Spirit
Studio Ghibli. This name should be instantly recognizable by anyone who call themselves fans of anime. They have produced such renowned anime like Grave of the Fireflies, My Neightbour Totoro, Princess Mononoke and, of course, Spirited Away. Considering the praise given it seems almost a crime to not have experienced them when one delves into the world of anime. Well, I sit here today and profess to being a criminal, as until recently I had not watched a single film from this studio. After this experience I cannot believe what sheer quality I was missing out on.
Spirited Away starts off fairly normal, where the lead girl Chihiro is sat bored out of her mind in the back of her parents car as they drive to their new home. On the way they get lost and find themselves by a strange tunnel entrance. The parents decide to explore, much to the disappointment of Chihiro who is reluctant to go along but doesn't want to stay at the car by herself either. Shortly into the new land she receives an odd warning from a boy and then realism is tossed out the window. This land is populated by many strange creatures and events match the setting as Chihiro finds herself facing all sorts of bizarre scenes as she tries to find a way to save her parents that were turned into pigs.
If anything, the sheer scope of the imagination infused into the film is part of the reason why it works so well. There are many spirits here that add their own contributions to the film. Even the small bit characters really help to flesh out this fantasy world and give it such a surreal feeling. The turnip spirit that says nothing but has a short scene with Chihiro going up the where Yubaba is, the three heads that bounce around seemingly inquisitive about everything and the charming magic-infused soot that develop a fast attraction to the girl. Individually these characters do not do all that much but they give this fantasy such a diverse feeling that the film likely would not be the same without them.
Then there are the main stars that really drive the story forward. As one would expect it is Chihiro that plays the most important role. If anything, the story is more about her overcoming her fears and worries as a child and thus becoming much more mature. At the beginning she is fearful and quick to complain, demonstrated in the car ride and her attempts to stop her parents from exploring the tunnel. Her expressions and body actions synch up well to this facet as well, with fearful glances around herself and her physical clinging to her mother heading through the tunnel. When events take a turn for the worse she is forced to face some difficult challenges, and with the assistance of some of the spirits there she gains new confidence in herself as time passes. It's wonderful to see this young girl face up to the difficult tasks, which makes the end scenes very worthwhile. This can easily be related to a child's growth in reality too. The idea that at some point your parents will not be there and that you will have to go into strange places and meet strange people can be a rather frightening experience as a person grows up, and this film presents that theem wonderfully as Chihiro is forced to experience that herself in a rather more pronounced manner. Her developing courage and determination wins over the characters in the story and the people watching this film alike.
Chihiro is supported by a host of other starring characters that allow the events to flow smoothly along. Haku is the first she meets, who first warns her to flee, but when she finds herself trapped and fading Haku appears and helps her. At first his position is unclear, as he seems to switch between cold heartless and helpful friendly throughout, but it soon becomes clear which one is the act put on and Chihiro really develops a bond with the boy. He is the one that gives Chihiro some of the strength she exhibits as the film goes on. Then there's Yubaba, the witch who runs the bathhouse. Her appearance is somewhat freaky and it helps her antagonist role greatly. She doesn't like Chihiro and takes pleasure in handing her the worst jobs. She fits the role of a wicked witch well and works to solidify the darker side of the tale. No Face is a creature that Chihiro befriends but demonstrates the capacity for destruction when he runs wild in the bath house. He's mostly a calm spirit that silently follows the girl around and helps where it can and his presence and actions paint him as a strong character despite the lack of dialogue for much of his time onscreen.
The film's direction combines the concepts of a emotionally moving tale with bursts of humour, and the balance works very well. The humour is never overkill and helps to lighten the mood, demonstrating that Chihiro is still just a little girl who retains her tendencies even in the new strange world she is forced to adapt to. Such scenes are generally very well executed and will generate some laughter from the viewer. One such scene worth mentioning involves descending a stairway high above ground level, when one of the steps breaks causing her to dash down the steps at high speed screaming before slamming into a wall. It was so sudden and well done that I could not help but laugh.
The story is complimented by the wonderful art style used to present the film. Although perhaps not as sharp as more modern anime of today, Spirited Away still manages to possess its own charm in its looks. There is a lot of attention to detail in the scenary as this new vast world has been crafted with utmost care. The lands spans a great distance into the horizon and there is a solid use of perspective in some cases where it is needed. This world is also filled to the brim with vibrant colours that seem so at home in a fantasy setting that it can't be anything but natural.
The animation itself is simply of a very high standard, and the details used in this are equally impressive. The way the characters move themselves about is done very well, and not just with the standard walking and talking actions any anime should accomplish without fault. It is things like Chihiro's mad dash down the stairs, the bouncing and rolling of the three heads, the way she expresses disgust and fear and the level of activity that tends to be abound in the bath house from the customers and employees iswhat makes it really 'work'.
Just as the visuals succeed, so does the audio. The performances by the English voice cast is simply outstanding, and may well qualify to be the best anime voice acting I've heard. Daveigh Chase really stands out as the voice of Chihiro, successfully portraying the concept of a sacred young girl forced to overcome many challenges. There is a lot of emotion from the cast as a whole that I could imagine that they are truely interesting in the dialogue themselves. It's the kind of involved voice work anyone in the field would aspire to.
The music used is fantastic too. The timing is well suited to enhance specific sequences and the collection of tracks can well be described as mostly calm with a gentle tone to them. They enhance the fantasy feeling extremely well and complete the package.
In terms of the DVD menu design I would call it nice and functional. There's nothing inparticular that stands out aside from the audio setup screen that appears when you start the film (which uses a scene from the film very effectively) but the art shown is nice and it has a relatively clean appearance that makes it simple to navigate around.
The disc I watched only really had the one extra on it, which is the ability to view the storyboards in tandem with the main feature. Special editions are available though at a higher price that offer many more extras.
Spirited Away is not just a good film. It is a film that any self-respecting anime fan must watch at least once. There is simply so much going in its favour with such charm and moving moments that it cannot be anything other than amazing. The different elements blend together seamlessly for a highly rewarding package.
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