I knew I wanted my last Rewind Review of this semester with The Daily Nebraskan to cover a different kind of film than those in previous weeks.
While I loved most of the other films I’ve reviewed in this series — specifically “Die Hard” and “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” — they all had one commonality: they’re all live-action films. So, this week I decided to review the beloved animated film from director Hayao Miyazaki, “Spirited Away.”
With movies like “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Howl’s Moving Castle” and “Princess Mononoke,” Miyazaki developed a name for himself as one of the best animation directors in history. Yet, prior to watching “Spirited Away,” I had not seen a single one of his films, nor had I seen any film produced by Studio Ghibli, the Japanese animation studio that Miyazaki co-founded.
I’ve been meaning to watch several films from Studio Ghibli for a while now, but I decided to start with “Spirited Away” as it is widely considered one of its best, even winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2003. I watched the version that has been dubbed over in English so I could better appreciate the film’s visuals without worrying about keeping up with subtitles.
The story of “Spirited Away” follows a young girl named Chihiro who, after her and her parents wander into what appears to be an abandoned amusement park, finds herself stuck in a strange world of monsters and spirits. Her parents are turned into pigs as punishment for their gluttony, and Chihiro must figure out how to change them back while also remaining safe in the process. This task sets her on an adventure throughout a ghostly community where she encounters various frightening and fascinating creatures; some wishing to help her and some with more ill intentions.
I’ve never really been big into anime, but I found “Spirited Away” to be a stunningly beautiful and incredibly creative film, unlike anything you would expect from a traditional Hollywood animation studio like Pixar or DreamWorks.
The designs and animations of the creatures and spirits in this movie are nothing short of enchanting. They range from simple designs such as bipedal frogs to the more complex look of No-Face, a mysterious masked figure that follows Chihiro for much of the film. The exquisite bathhouse, where much of the film takes place, looks like a palace. The grand architecture and never-ending stream of odd-looking characters in its halls make it feel like a place you would visit in a dream.
Chihiro’s adventure also features plenty of strange events and sequences that perfectly match the strangely alluring nature of the visuals. Whether it be in her off-kilter interactions with the spider-like man who works in the boiler room or the numerous bizarre run-ins with No-Face, Chihiro’s quest to save her parents and find her way out of this perplexing world easily captivates the audience with its oddities.
It’s hard not to become invested in Chihiro and her journey. The audience wants her to succeed, yet the idea of leaving the bathhouse seems sad because it's such a fascinating and magical place. Even though leaving is a crucial part of what Chihiro needs to do, the strange and inexplicably delightful nature of this world almost makes you wish she would stay.
The story of “Spirited Away” is undoubtedly excellent, but the true magic of the film lies in the world Miyazaki creates. The strange creatures and magic make you want to go and visit yourself, which makes you want to immediately rewatch the film when it's over.
“Spirited Away” certainly has some strange moments, but I imagine anyone will be swept up in the dazzling, wondrous and sometimes scary aura the movie provides. It’s a very different kind of animated film than you would see from any Western animation studios, and that’s precisely why you should watch it.