‘Spirited Away’ is a classic anime for everyone
Late last week I decided to watch a movie I haven’t seen in a long time, “Spirited Away.”
I can’t remember exactly when I watched it last, just that I was little enough to be creeped out by some of its characters. Characters such as No Face and Yubaba were super unsettling to small me who hadn’t quite learned there are more pressing things to be afraid of.
Now I’m a grown adult with much more real fears (like EVERYTHING 2020) to deal with so they’re nothing anymore.
“Spirited Away” is a Japanese animated fantasy film released in 2001 by Studio Ghibli and is considered one of the best animated films ever made, grossing $352 million worldwide when it was released.
The film was so popular a friend of writer/director Hayao Miyazaki who worked for Pixar (John Lasseter) convinced Disney to purchase the North American distribution rights and create an English dubbed version.
While watching the film you can recognize quite a few voice actors. They include Daveigh Chase who voiced Lilo in “Lilo and Stitch,” Jason Marsden who voiced Max Goof in “A Goofy Movie” and Kovu in “The Lion King: Simba’s Pride” as well as Susan Egan who lent her voice to Megara in “Hercules.” You may have noted a pattern there. I’m not saying Disney likes to utilize talent repeatedly… except that’s exactly what I’m saying.
The film opens with 10-year-old Chihiro Ogino (Chase) who is pouting in the backseat of her parents vehicle on their way to their new house. Chihiro is rightfully upset her parents are taking her away from her home to somewhere unknown even with their insistence that things will work out.
Chihiro’s father accidentally makes a wrong turn to their destination and leads them to a dead end road with an ominous tunnel. Chihiro’s parents, who should not be making decisions, figure they might as well explore the mysterious tunnel to nowhere.
After walking through the tunnel against Chihiro’s wishes (smart kid), they find themselves in what they believe is an abandoned theme park.
They cross a dried riverbed and wander through the shops, finding a restaurant that apparently is still active. Once again Chihiro’s parents ignore her misgivings and begin to eat the food without even bothering to find a server. C’mon guys that’s just restaurant etiquette!
Fed up with her parents (I can’t say I blame her for that) she begins to explore the park further, coming upon a large bathhouse that appears to be active.
She bumps into a young boy Haku (Marsden) who insists she get her parents and go before sunset.
Unfortunately, as these things go, Chihiro fails to find her parents and get across the dried river bed before nightfall.
Significantly terrified (I would be too) Chihiro runs and hides as spirits of all shapes and sizes begin to descend upon the area, now surrounded by water.
Haku finds her again and explains that she was in the world of Kami, where spirits would come to enjoy a bath at the bathhouse owned by the evil witch Yubaba (Suzanne Pleshette).
The film follows Chihiro as she faces her fears, taking a job at the bathhouse and even giving up her own name to Yubaba, all to rescue her parents from the clutches of the evil witch.
The animation is one of my favorite parts of this movie. It balances soft and colorful landscapes with sometimes more detailed and harsher scenes really well. Not to mention, like most Studio Ghibli films, it makes the food look absolutely delicious! It makes me almost jealous I exist in the real world with our regular old McDonalds.
The soundtrack is also really nice, rarely becoming so loud that it takes your attention away from the screen. It offers quiet moments of reflection for Chihiro throughout her journey and seems to accentuate the softness of the environment the animators created. It’s typically the kind of music that makes me want to relax in a field of flowers or something and forget about all my worries. Something I’ve found myself wanting to do more and more as this year drags on (show of hands, who’d like to join me?).
I’m not really big into anime, the genre kind of hit or miss for me, but “Spirited Away” is a film that everyone could enjoy. The storyline is solid and based off of real Japanese folklore from the Shinto and — like I said before — has great animation and a good soundtrack.
It even won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards in 2003 making it the first, and only, hand-drawn animated film to accomplish such a feat.
“Spirited Away” can be watched on HBO Max with a subscription or purchased from YouTube, Vudu, Google Play and Amazon Prime for $11.99.
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Laura Jameson is a staff reporter for The Express.