out of Five
Running time: 122
Japanese: Simultaneous release of dubbed and subtitled versions
Strange, beautifully-animated, moving film that’s like a combination of
Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz (alongside many other references) yet, at the same time, it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.
If Spirited Away sounds at all familiar, it’s probably because, to the delight of animation fans everywhere (notably Jonathan Ross, who was visibly shocked and pleased) it won this year’s Best Animated Feature Oscar, beating out the likes of Ice Age and Treasure Planet.
If you’ve seen Princess Mononoke (the only other Studio Ghibli / Miyazaki film to have so far received a general release) then you may have some idea of what to expect. If you haven’t, then you’re in for something of a treat.
Trapped In A Ghost World
It’s an oft-repeated maxim that the best movies are capable of transporting you to different worlds. This is especially true of fantasy films and with Miyazaki’s latest you will find yourself, quite literally, Spirited Away.
Chihiro is a ten year old girl who is moving to a new town with her parents. When she reluctantly follows her parents as they explore a sinister-looking tunnel, she finds herself trapped in a mysterious ghost world inhabited by ancient Gods and magical creatures and ruled over by a demonic witch, the sorceress Yubaba.
After greedily eating a sumptuous banquet, her parents are transformed into pigs, leaving Chihiro to fend for herself. Fortunately, she hooks up with the enigmatic Haku (a boy who is also, somehow, a dragon) who teaches her that to survive in her new world she must make herself useful and work in the bath-house of the Gods…
Deserves To Be Seen By Children Everywhere
Spirited Away is an imaginative, colourful fantasy that deserves to be seen by children everywhere. Crucially, it isn’t necessary to know anything about Japanese folk-lore or fairy-tale, primarily because the film follows its own internal dream logic. As such, it draws on several varied sources, the obvious ones being Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, but adults can have endless fun spotting others, such as Tove Janssen’s Moomin books, Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast and the books of Maurice Sendak (Where The Wild Things Are, In The Night Kitchen).
Interestingly, you are often left to draw your own conclusions about the various creatures – for example, is the ghostly No Face sinister or sad?
The film is absolutely packed with bizarre characters (the aforementioned No Face, three bouncing heads, the Stink Monster, a giant baby) jaw-dropping imagery and stunningly beautiful sequences, such as the scenes where Chihiro and her two friends take a train ride across a stretch of water.
To sum up, Spirited Away is a genuinely magical experience that both adults and children will enjoy. See it – you’ll be glad you did.