Version reviewed: English Dubbed / Japanese Subtitled
Date of Review: 31 Mar 2011
The full original title of this film is Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, which translates to The Spiriting Away of Sen and Chihiro.
A splendid fantasy from Hayao Miyazaki, and my current favorite Ghibli film.
Chihiro and her parents are going to their new house when her dad takes a wrong turn and they discover an abandoned theme park. All Chihiro wants to do is leave, but her parents are insistent on exploring the run-down buildings. They find an operating restaurant in the midst of all the decay, all the while Chihiro continuing her protests. As her mom and dad feast on the unattended food, Chihiro looks for a way out. She doesn’t find one, but instead finds a boy who urges her to leave with her family before nightfall, or else they will be trapped there. Chihiro runs back to her parents, but they are no longer there, and as she tries to run back to the family’s car, she finds the way blocked by a river which was not there before. Chihiro is now trapped in this place, which turns out to be a resort for the spirits. How will she find her parents and the way back home?
Studio Ghibli primarily deals in two different kinds of films: epic fantasy and childhood wonder. Spirited Away pulls off the feat of straddling the two, and does it quite well. The presentation of the film is on the grand side, yet the story plays out almost as a kind of variation on Alice in Wonderland. The art is impeccable, as to be expected from Ghibli. Also, keen observers may spot what is possibly a reference to PIXAR in the film’s third act. As you may be aware, Ghibli and PIXAR share a mutual admiration and respect for each others’ work. Look no further than Totoro‘s cameo in Toy Story 3 for the most recent example.
In a bit of a departure for Ghibli, Spirited Away is one of the few films in their catalog which uses computer-assisted animation. It’s not used for flash or distraction, but just to augment the cel animation. It does stand out to a certain degree and is easily spotted, but this is more due to the contrast between the two animation mediums than anything else.
Chihiro (known as Sen for a majority of the story) carries on the Ghibli tradition of strong female leads, and she has her own quirks which give her a distinct personality. She begins the movie as a somewhat stubborn and spoiled child, but through her experiences in the film she grows and changes. Chihiro is also something of a klutz, as there are more than a few instances where she ends up face-first into a wall or something similar. On the English side, Chihiro is voiced by Daveigh Chase, best known as Lilo from Lilo & Stitch. When I first saw Spirited Away in the theater years ago on its limited US release, it took a while for me to disconnect Lilo from Chihiro. At the same time, it was somewhat amusing.
Another unique aspect of Spirited Away is its pacing, which seems a bit different from Hayao Miyazaki’s other works. Rather than being dictated by plot, it is dictated by events, letting Chihiro’s actions guide the story. It’s very laid back, to the point where the film’s third act reaches an almost meditative calm, notably during one of my favorite sequences in the film involving a train ride. The ending is a bit on the abrupt side, but it’s not so jarring as to ruin my enjoyment of the film.
There’s not much more to say about Spirited Away. It remains my favorite Ghibli film of those I have seen, which is most of them. The art, music, characters, and story all combine to create what is for me two very enjoyable hours. Rather than attempt to describe it any further, the best advice I can give is to seek out the film and watch it for yourself. Chances are you will find it to be time well spent.