Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Spirited Away (2001)


A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005

The author of this review doesn't watch as much anime films as much as he would like to. When this happens, I try very hard to watch the best films available. In case of SPIRITED AWAY, 2001 film by Hayao Miyazaki, I didn't have much choice for one simple reason - it was the only anime film regularly distributed in my country. The reason why it deserved such honour lies in the series of awards it had received and reputation that grew in past few years even beyond circles that know much about anime films.

The plot begins when 10-year old Chihiro (voice by Rumi Hiragi) travels with her parents to new home. Along the way they make a wrong turn and end up in a place that looks like abandoned theme park. Chihiro soon learns that the park is situated in parallel universe and that is actually used by various gods and spirits and that humans are rather unwelcome there. Her parents end are transformed into pigs and Chihiro now must use all her skill, determination and help by some friendly locals to break the spell, turn her parents back into human form and return to normal world.

One of the greatest achievements of SPIRITED AWAY is the script, which is simple enough to be understood by children, yet complex and multi-layered enough to be appreciated by older audiences. SPIRITED AWAY in itself combines elements of children's classics like ALICE IN WONDERLAND and WIZARD OF OZ, yet the plot could be interpreted as Miyazaki's comment on contemporary issues like labour relations and environmental protection in modern Japan. Another thing that sets SPIRITED AWAY apart from many other animation films, especially those produced in USA, is the absence of clearly defined villains. Almost every character in the film has at least some redeeming features and can't be simplified into black-and-white cliches. This is one of the reasons why SPIRITED AWAY turned out to be one the greatest box-office success in Japanese history.

Since Miyazaki is one of the greatest names in anime world, it isn't that surprising to find SPIRITED AWAY visually stunning. Great effort has been invested in this film and it shows not only in series of mesmerising and innovative images, but also in the mere quantity of them. With more than two hours of running time, SPIRITED AWAY represents one of the longest animation films in recent history and a pleasant experience to all those who complain about conventional Western films of that genre being too short or too simple.

The author of this review, however, found experience of SPIRITED AWAY to be not as overwhelming as he had expected. I struggled to find the source of imperfection in this film and I finally found it in Joe Hisaishi's musical score, which was somewhat lacking and beyond high standards of the rest of the film.

On the other hand, this little imperfection means little in the end and SPIRITED AWAY deserves recommendation as very good piece of filmmaking.

RATING: 8/10 (+++)


Blogger ザイツェヴ said...

It's a really odd coincidence, but somehow I am getting disenchanted with the music a bit too, or may be specifically with the ED. Put together with Porco Rosso's ED (sung by Takiko Kato), Itsumo Nanodemo aged less well. Still love the film though.

Blogger Andrew said...

I think that a huge contributing factor to the experience and overall feeling of any film is its music. I am inclined to disagree with the author of the review as the music of 'Spirited Away' defined the experience for me. I loved the film and enjoyed the music especially. It was very clever and certain parts of it presented instruments and sounds not heard in most mainstream films.

An enjoyable film would most certainly not be the way it is without its musical score. My personal opinion is that the score for 'Spirited Away' was outstanding.

Blogger William said...

Wow, I'd have listed my single favorite aspect of this film to be its music. As another comment mentioned, the end credits song is not Miyazaki/Hisaishi's best, but the musical score is second to none. The opening yearning piano strains; the glory of the bathhouse as our heroine first explores; the melancholy of the train ride; the heart-bursting joy of her flight home... there are too many highlights to recall.

Spirited Away is not my favorite Miyazaki film, but the score stands with Hisaishi's best.


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