Master animation director Hayao Miyazaki follows up on his record-breaking 1997 film 'Princess Mononoke' with this surreal and intelligent tale about a lost little girl.
The film opens with ten-year-old Chihiro riding along during a family outing as her father races through remote country roads. When they come upon a blocked tunnel, her parents decide to have a look around-even though Chihiro finds the place very creepy. When they pass through the tunnel, they discover an abandoned amusement park. As Chihiro's bad vibes continue, her parents discover an empty eatery that smells of fresh food. After her mother and father help themselves to some tasty purloined morsels, they turn into giant stuffed pigs. Chihiro understandably freaks out and flees. She learns that this very weird place, where all sorts of bizarre gods and monsters reside, is a holiday resort for the supernatural after their exhausting tour of duty in the human world.
Soon after befriending a 12-year-old boy named Haku, Chihiro learns the rules of the land: one, she must work, as laziness of any kind is not tolerated; and two, she must take on the new moniker of Sen. If she forgets her real name, Haku tells her, then she will never be permitted to leave.
Whoever said that featured animation was just for kids would not be familiar with the work of Japan's ingenious Hayao Miyazaki, and his follow up film may well be the finest animated film to be released in a decade. Apart from Miyazaki's startling visuals, 'Spirited Away', which won the well-deserved Golden Bear at this year's Berlin Film Festival, is a profound study of avarice and power in a topsy-turvy 'Alice in Wonderland' world, an E.T for today's generation of cynics, minus the overt sentimentality Hollywood imposes.
A multi-themed rich and fascinating tale featuring a collage of whimsical characters, some genuinely monstrous, this is the kind of cinematic animation adults love. Ironically, the second animated film picked up by Disney for distribution [ 'Lilo and Stitch' having preceded it], it is a film, that like 'Lilo and Stitch', deals with humanity in a surprisingly complex fashion, dealing with a central character whose arc is as detailed as any conventional live action drama.
'Spirited Away' may have been adapted by Disney to avoid subtitles, but the original is still prevalent. There was no attempt to 'Hollywoodise' the film, to give it a cutesy, mainstream feel. And at just over 2 hours, 'Spirited Away' is a far more detailed work, in which magnificent visuals and a strong and imaginative narrative go hand in hand.
The Disney version, which features the voice of Daveigh Chase [Lilo, in 'Lilo and Stitch', coincidentally], who voices Chihiro perfectly, is bound to surprise audiences with its genuine darkness, intelligence and rich tapestry. 'Spirited Away' is a masterful and poetic work, beautifully scripted by the remarkable Miyazaki, and features some of the most exquisite examples of animation seen in a while. But at its heart, the film is an 'Alice in Wonderland' for the new generation, a surreal and compelling masterwork that is imaginative and richly entertaining. This is a must see for adults and older kids alike.
- Paul Fischer