FILM REVIEW - Spirited Away
By The Masked Medic
Now that it’s become apparent to several people that I have this website and I write reviews, there are a number of films being recommended to me to watch and review. I promise that I will slowly make my way through the list, but for today, it’ll have to be a film that I’ve had on my to-watch list for a very long time; Spirited Away. I’ve heard from many that it’s such an interesting film and even those that didn’t understand it said they could still appreciate the vision that had been created!
‘Spirited Away’ is an animated film by Studio Ghibli, an infamous animation studio hailing from Japan. It tells the story of a young girl named Chihiro, who along with her parents is moving into a new home. During the drive, her father takes what he believes to be a shortcut and ends up outside a large abandoned building. Much to Chihiro’s annoyance, her parents want to have a look inside. At the other end of the empty building lies an old deserted theme park. Chihiro’s parents however smell some food and venture inside to find where the smell is coming from. They find a shack with lots of food and they begin chomping it down. Chihiro, now thoroughly exasperated explores the area and comes upon a boy named Haku who warns her to leave. Suddenly, the landscape changes and there are multitudes of spirits converging on the theme park. Chihiro finds that her parents have been turned into pigs due to them eating all the food. Scared and lonely, she’s found by Haku who tells her that this area is ruled by a witch named Yubaba and that if she’s found, Chihiro will be turned into an animal. The only way to escape is to go to the large bathhouse where the spirits are gathering and convince someone to give her a job. Chihiro initially speaks to Kamaji, a supernatural creature who is in charge of the boiler room. Through him, she ends up face to face with Yubaba. Agreeing to give up her name in order to get a job, Chihiro must go by the name of Sen and ends up working as one of the bathhouse workers. Although it takes time for Sen to get used to her job, her first customer ends up being an ancient river spirit who gives her a magic dumpling. Suddenly Yubaba is pleased with Sen. However, when Sen ends up inviting a spirit named No-Face who begins eating the staff, Sen has to interject to stop him. Concurrently, she finds out that Haku is a mystical dragon who has stolen something from Yubaba’s twin sister Zeniba. After seeing Haku being attacked and badly hurt, Sen vows to make things right and undo Haku’s wrongs. Can she help save her friend? And will she ever find her parents to escape this spirit world?
As with most animated films, often the acting abilities of the cast don’t matter as much as their ability to give good vocal performances. Daveigh Chase voices the protagonist, Chihiro, and she does a wonderful job of really emphasising the fact that Chihiro is just a child. There are many scenes in which she just starts shouting, which cracked me up. Given that Chase played Lilo in Lilo and Stitch, you can see where she gained the experience to play a loud child, haha! The supporting cast included Jason Marsden as Haku and Suzanne Pleshette as Yubaba and Zuniba. Both voices seemed extremely familiar to me and my siblings who were watching the film with me. We quickly identified that the two had worked together before as mother and son combo, Zira and Kovu, in the critically panned ‘Lion King II: Simba’s Pride’. That being said, I think they did a fantastic job, Pleshette in particular who played two twins but was able to alternate her voice to the point that you forget that it’s the same actor.
I think, that when I started watching this film, a part of me was quite nervous because I had heard such wonderful things about the studio and this film in particular. I have to say this film did not disappoint. I was hooked from the very first scene through to the end. I’m sure that I would find this with the other films made by Studio Ghibli, but it’s evident that although on the surface, ‘Spirited Away’ may seem like a children’s animated film, the themes explored, go so much further. The idea of greed separating human beings from animals. The idea that cleanliness and order should be qualities that are admired. The idea that each of us has two sides, identical on the outside, but internally opposing. Exploring all of these thoughts made me really enjoy the film. Following discussions with my family after the film had been seen, we all expressed how interesting Japanese culture was and how much of it naturally factored into the film’s plot. For me, it also bought about a massive wave of nostalgia, as so many aspects reminded me of the cartoons I used to watch as a child, most, if not all of them, Japanese in origin. I genuinely wanted to go back and re-watch so many of them!
Animated films are most certainly more difficult to judge in terms of cinematography, but not this one. The artwork and the scenes were visually stunning. Each of the locations really pulls the viewers in, and some of the scenes, such as the trains passing on tracks underwater, were extremely calming and aesthetically pleasing to watch. I don’t often speak about music, but just the other day, my brother mentioned that he saw a vinyl of the soundtrack to ‘Spirited Away’. It made me wonder how good it could be and damn, it really didn’t disappoint. It definitely added to the nostalgia and by the end of the film, I had tears in my eyes. Overall, what a fantastic film! I can’t believe that I’ve waited so many years to watch it. I’ll definitely be watching more of the Studio Ghibli films soon!
Voice Acting: ★★★