Spirited Away was the first Miyazaki film I ever saw, and since then I started an outlandish and distinctive liking to it. ‘Spirited Away ‘was made in 2001, a Japanese animated fantasy film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki and produced by Studio Ghibli. The film stars Rumi Hiiragi, Miyu Irino, Mari Natsuki, Takeshi Naito, Yasuko Sawaguchi, Tsunehiko Kamijō, Takehiko Ono and Bunta Sugawara, and tells the story of Chihiro Ogino (Hiiragi), a sullen ten-year-old girl who, while moving to a new neighborhood, enters the spirit world. After her parents are transformed into pigs by the witch Yubaba (Natsuki), Chihiro takes a job working in Yubaba’s bathhouse to find a way to free herself and her parents and return to the human world.
Many summers back, the director Hayao Miyazaki spent his vacation at a mountain cabin with his family and five girls who were friends of the family. The idea for Spirited Away came about when he wanted to make a film for these friends. Miyazaki had previously directed films such as My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service, which were for small children and teenagers, but he had not created a film for ten-year-old girls. Just during those days, he had two project proposals, but they were rejected. The first one was based on the Japanese book Kirino Mukouno Fushigina Machi, and the second one was about a teenage heroine. Miyazaki’s third proposal, which ended up in Spirited Away. All the three stories revolved around a bathhouse that was based on a bathhouse in Miyazaki’s hometown. Miyazaki thought the bathhouse was a mysterious place, and there was a small door next to one of the bathtubs in the bathhouse. Miyazaki was always curious to what was behind it, and he made up several stories about it and also his reading of shojo manga magazines, which did inspire in the making of Spirited Away.
It’s far too often adventure movies set in strange worlds, the highpoints and the climax with a battle between the forces of good, and the forces of evil respectively. The world is seen as the stage for dueling dualisms. The opinion here is this just a simplistic story telling with the worldview developed with our prejudice and hatred, or resentment or self-disgust, anger or alienation and paranoia, and so forth. Fortunately this is one such antidote and refreshing with an unusual animated feature of Miyazaki’s refusal to set up a dualistic battle between the little girl and an evil adversary. All the central characters have both a light and a dark side. Our heroine must overcome the forces of fear, entitlement, selfishness, gluttony, and greed within herself as part of the blooming of her soul. Little Chihiro does what spiritual seekers will recognize as “shadow work” — taking back her projections, learning to love all parts of herself, including those mirrored by others — healing both herself and those around her in the process.
Rightly thou- Miyazaki’s films often contain recurrent themes, like humanity’s relationship with nature and technology, pro-feminism, and the difficulty of maintaining a pacifist ethic. The protagonists of his films are often strong, independent girls or young women. This film is a follow-up to Miyazaki’s extraordinary Princess Mononoke (1997). He has fashioned a simple animated feature which transports us to a mysterious and always surprising world of spirits. Yes in the strange world of Shinto fable and its folklore, the whole thing in nature has a god living within it and these beings are vulnerable to the dissipations and desecrations of humanity.
This animated feature from Japan is the story of a 10-year-old girl, Chihiro, who stumbles into an abandoned amusement park, only to discover that it’s the playground of hundreds of spirits. Presided over by an imperious witch, the park, which is built around a bath house, becomes the girl’s unhappy home till she can find a way to rescue her parents, who have been bewitched and turned into a pair of hogs. As she tries to accomplish this, she undergoes a series of distracting adventures, some with romantic overtones featuring a magical boy who may be a friend or just one of the witch’s henchmen.
The story activates as Chihiro and her parents driving to their new home, as she frets in her back seat. Her father takes a wrong turn, and they wind up driving through a bumpy forest road to a hillside tunnel. When her adventuresome parents decide to explore the place, Chihiro is frightened and doesn’t want to go ahead. But she follows them, and they enter what her father decides must be a deserted theme park. When he smells the odors of food, they follow the scent and come upon a row of restaurants and one empty one where food is piled high on the counter. Chihiro’s parents begin devouring the fare and, to their daughter’s dismay, are turned into pigs. Chihiro flees this scene and soon realizes she has stumbled into a world of spirits. A strange boy named Haku comes to her assistance, shows her how to keep from becoming transparent in this world, and how to cross a bridge without being detected as a human. Still, Chihiro is pretty scared.
Haku tells her that to save herself and her parents she needs to seek employment in a huge bathhouse that caters to all kinds of strange-looking nature spirits. He sends her to the boiler room where the keeper, Kamaji is assisted by hundreds of little soot-balls that carry coal to the furnace. They take quite a fancy to the human girl. In due course, she meets Yubaba the covetous and selfish sorceress who runs the bathhouse. This dominating woman puts her to work as a bath-attendant but not before taking away her name and giving her a new one, Sen. She is assigned to Lin another human. Their biggest challenge comes when they must deal with the “Stink Spirit,” an incredibly foul smelling being. Only after his bath do they discover that he is a once noble and proud River God who is filled with sludge and worthless junk. Sen also proves her mettle in her relationship with Kaonashi the no-faced, a lonely figure who follows her around and eventually brings havoc to the bathhouse spirits by drawing out their yearning for gold.
Miyazaki is well known to fans of anime, the Japanese form of animation which only a decade ago was known, in its most accomplished forms to only a trickle of enthusiasts outside of Asia. Miyazaki‘s visual representation and his trade mark signature of movie making is based on a highly individualized combination of Japanese architecture and Victorian illustration. Not that his compositions have any sense of ordered synthesis; if these were ever mere copybook models for Miyazaki, he must have surpassed that stage long ago. As they emerge from his brush, these two apparently foreign (to each other) designs fuse with a strange, natural simplicity into something lively and new. This isn’t just a matter of background, but of character animation, too. Although they answered to, say, the round-mouthed convention of anime character-drawing, there are always strictly Miyazakian elements to the director’s characters.
The film’s emotions and images alter in perfect calibration. Chihiro’s encounter of the disturbing place she’s entered, her integration into its routine, and, best of all, her mocking relationships with her various keepers, displays an enormous understanding of how childhood’s fears and resilience have a gear-like relationship. As figures on the screen, the spirits of the bathhouse – which include a rutabaga spirit and a stink monster and the more corporeal beings that serve them may be astonishing, frightening, appealing, or comical, but always arresting and diverting.
As said these character designs reach an apex with the evil witch, Yubaba, who reigns over the park. She’s a graphic wonder, squat and fat-headed, outrageously out of scale, and the movie’s most distinct Victorian traces. If she reminds you of a missing queen from Alice in Wonderland, it’s not a bad thought to have, though she stands on her own as a graphic invention. When she turns into a bird, the better to spy one her domain, Miyazaki sends her wheeling high into some gray-blue clouds, over his echt Japanese structures, lit from within by yellow lights growing every more steadily bright in the growing darkness. It’s quite dazzling.
The film was released on July 20, 2001, and became the most successful film in Japanese history, grossing over $274 million worldwide. The film overtook Titanic (at the time the top grossing film worldwide) in the Japanese box office to become the highest-grossing film in Japanese history. The film also won the Academy Award for the best animated feature and the Golden Bear Award at the 2002 Berlin Film Festival. The English language version, which uses the same animation, was guided by executive producer John Lasseter of Pixar Studios (Toy Story), director Kirk Wise, and producer Don Ernst. Similar in spirit to Princess Mononoke, this animated feature can be thoroughly enjoyed by both adults and children. It is a cross-cultural masterpiece that takes us to an unfamiliar world where we see familiar things with fresh eyes. For example, Miyazaki provides an ongoing commentary on contemporary society in Japan and elsewhere with the characters of Chihiro’s gluttonous parents who are turned into pigs; Yubaba’s gigantic baby, a spoiled brat who gets whatever he wants; and lonely No-Face whose efforts to use his wealth to make others like him backfires.
The makeover of Chihiro from a petulant, clingy, and fearful little girl into a resourceful, loving, sensitive, and respectful person is a marvel to behold. Her most magic moment comes when she embraces Haku’s dark side which manifests as a dragon. Instead of turning against him, she reaches out to help him in his mission to discover his true identity. That’s what is so remarkable about Spirited Away; it recognizes the shadow elements in everyone and works with these warps as part of the process of soul-making.
- Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
- Produced by Toshio Suzuki
- Written by Hayao Miyazaki
- Cast: Rumi Hiiragi; Miyu Irino; Mari Natsuki; Takeshi Naito and Yasuko Sawaguchi
- Music by Joe Hisaishi
- Cinematography by Atsushi Okui
- Editing by Takeshi Seyama
- Studio: Studio Ghibli
- Distributed by Japan:Toho; Australia:Madman Entertainment; International: Walt Disney Pictures
- Release dates: July 20, 2001
- Running time 124 minutes
- Country: Japan
- Language: Japanese