Spirited Away [50 New-Old Movies for the 51st Year #8]

A couple of months ago, I turned 50 years old!  And to add to all the real life goals and challenges that that brings, I’ve created at least one as it relates to movies and this blog–watch a film I’ve never seen before which cam out in each year of my life (thus the “Old-New” terminology), and then write a bit about it.  This is Post #8.  Spoilers ahead.  

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Spirited Away

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

Release Date:  March 28, 2003
My age then:  32 years old

What it is about:  Chhiro is a ten year old girl who gets lost while driving with her parents to her new home.  They wind up in what appears to be an abandoned theme park, but turns out to be a bit of a hotel and bath-house for traveling spirits under control of a witch named Yubaba.  Her parents are transformed into pigs but Chhiro finds refuge by forcing the witch to employ her.  With the help of a handsome boy named Haku , Chhiro eventually is able to outwit Yubaba and eventually earn freedom for herself and her parents.

Starring Rumi Hiiragi as Chhiro, Miyu Irino as Haku, Mari Natsuki as Yubaba, and others.

Animated, and in Japanese.

My impressions of this movie before I watched it:  I’ve heard about this movie for a while now, with more than one person who really like animation saying that it was one of their favorites.  I’d never seen it nor anything else from the famed Studio Ghibli.  Other than that it was Japanese and animated, I didn’t know anything about it, but had the impression that it might have something to do with a horse (a completely false impression that I might have had from being vaguely aware of the American animated film

Reality:  Well, first of all, Spirited Away has nothing to do with a horse.  I can only guess that I got this idea from being vaguely aware of the animated film Spirit:  Stallion of the Cimarron, which is about a horse.

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Now, I can’t guarantee there are no horses in Spirited Away, but I didn’t see any.  There were, however, a whole bunch of the weirdest and most are out animated creatures I’ve ever seen, including a giant baby, three bouncing decapitated heads, a big spider-legged dude, a ghost-like creature that resembles the murderer from Scream until it starts eating people and turns into a huge, overweight devouring beast that later regurgitates everything it ate in sickening detail…

OK, look, I’d love to say I loved Spirited Away.  I have multiple friends who think it’s amazing, and I can totally recognize the artistry on display.  The movie makes strong use of composition, perspective and movement to tell its story and to make its emotions visceral.  There are images of profound and quiet beauty to be seen, an the movie has a transporting quality.  The design is steeped in Japanese folklore and there is pointed commentary about modern society and pollution.  And there is a constant stream of surprising turns and unusual imagery to hold interest, all in a story that at least makes a level of sense.

So from a technical and artistic perspective there is nothing wrong with this movie, and much that is right, but I can’t say I love it.  I find it confusing and a bit impenetrable, and the pacing, the lack of set-up and the stream-of-consciousness feel of the narrative challenging to connect with. It took me longer to get all the way through the film then any of the others I’ve watched for this series, even legitimate stinkers like Kate & LeopoldAnd though I can enjoy both, I’m not strongly drawn to either fantasy or animation (and in particular Japanese animation, in spite of my personal background).

But by no means would I want this to be seen as a “bad review” of the movie.  I think really it’s just a statement that I didn’t ultimately “get it” like I’d need to to love it like I wish I could have.

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So…when you get down to it, what did I think?  I respect Spirited Away, I admire it, I hold it in high esteem…I just didn’t enjoy watching it.

And yet I feel vaguely ashamed for saying that.  Like, if I was out on a dinner date with the film, I’d be saying, “It’s not you, it’s me.”

Maybe someday my appreciation for the cultural and artistic traditions that the movie is springing from will have developed to the point that I’ll have a different perspective.  But that day isn’t today.

See here for the Master List.


4 thoughts on “Spirited Away [50 New-Old Movies for the 51st Year #8]

  1. One of my fav films of all time 🙂 The stream of consciousness storytelling is something I love about this and other Myazaki films. I suppose being a very visual and less verbal person, it strikes me as being so rich. He starts with the visuals. He plans films in reverse, drawing the storyboards and writing a script later based on the storyboards, sometimes while the film is already being animated. So good.

  2. JRDF has highlighted part of what makes Spirited Away fun, and there is not doubt that this one of Myazaki’s most visually arresting films. But writing the story after making the storyboards is in my opinion a backward way of writing a script. Ha ha. There is no reason why a story couldn’t be written first with all the imagination needed to result in fantastic visuals. On that note I can think of at least three Myazaki movies that I liked more that were just as visually interesting in my opinion but also had the benefit of making more sense including Howl’s Moving Castle, Naussica and Princess Mononoke. I’m also partial to Totoro. 🙂 So keep going Ben. You’re just getting started exploring Myazaki’s amazing animated worlds.

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