Masterpieces #27: Spirited Away

Spirited Away
About Spirited Away (2001)
Spirited AwayMaster animator Hayao Miyazaki directs this fantasy adventure about Chihiro, a ten-year-old girl who is leaving behind everything she knows to move with her parents to a new home. Along the way, they stumble across a tunnel that leads to a spooky, deserted open-air restaurant where Chihiro’s parents sit down and begin to eat. But she is uncomfortable with their new surroundings and wanders off to explore further. She meets a boy, Haku, who explains to her that the world they have entered is a holiday resort for spirits who have left behind their exhausting earthly duties. After discovering that her greedy parents have been turned into pigs, she learns the number one rule of the new world she is now part of: laziness is not tolerated, and only working hard can enable her to break the spell on her parents. With its fantastical critique of an adult world of capitalism and wasteful consumption, entwined with the simple tale of a girl finding herself and learning to get by on her own, the film has been dubbed a modern-day ‘Alice in Wonderland’, and won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

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Spirited Away (2001)

Hayao Miyazaki has retired for what he assures us is the last time, having previously revoked such claims. The Japanese maestro has been responsible for some of the finest animated films of the last 30 years weighing in with the likes of Laputa (1986), My Neighbour Totoro (1988) and Princess Mononoke (1997). However, it is his Oscar winning classic, Spirited Away (2001) that I have put forward as Miyazaki’s finest.

Worryingly, the film almost never happened. Ready for retirement after Princess Mononoke, Hayao Miyazaki was only persuaded to return to work after meeting the daughter of a friend, with the little girl being the inspiration for the film’s protagonist, Chihiro.

The beauty of Spirited Away is in the transformation of Chihiro. She begins the film as a spoilt brat, complaining at her parents for moving house and unhappy at the prospect of starting a new school. Chihiro is forced to fend for herself when her parents are turned into pigs and imprisoned by Yubaba, ruler of a bathhouse devoted to the cleansing of visiting spirits. Forced to work for survival, Chihiro gradually displays a resilience that enables her to overcome the many challenges she faces.

The scenes in Spirited Away are immaculate from the frantic workers in the bathhouse to the flight of Chihiro’s friend, Haku, when he takes on the form of a dragon. However, the best comes near the end when Chihiro goes on a train journey. The railway is surrounded by water with the tracks barely protruding from the surface. At this point a long contemplative shot of Chihiro is enough evidence that she has changed dramatically on this truly remarkable journey.

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Dave Brown

I was born in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England and have always been a bookworm and enjoyed creative writing at school. In 1999 I created the Elencheran Chronicles and have been writing ever since. My first novel, Fezariu's Epiphany, was published in May 2011. When not writing I'm a lover of films, games, books and blogging. I live in Barnsley, with my wife, Donna, and our six cats - Kain, Razz, Buggles, Charlie, Bilbo and Frodo.
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