Spirited Away

Mention Hayao Miyazaki in anime circles, and you'll usually see a response of utter respect and quiet awe. Mention Hayao Miyazaki to the average American, and you'll get a quizzical look. There is no doubt throughout virtually all of the modern world (save the US) that Hayao Miyazaki is the true heir to the Disney legacy, creating stories of wonder and mystery that far outshine anything the studio has done since the days that Walt himself added the finishing touches. That the Disney corporation purchased the rights to all of Hayao Miyazaki's films made under the Studio Ghibli moniker, then failed to release all but one in theaters and tanked that one (Princess Mononoke) through shoddy marketing at Miramax, shows how low that company has gone since Walt's passing. They have since released Spirited Away, Miyazaki's latest, but again only into art theaters where most children, the target audience, will never see it. This is the ultimate insult, for Spirited Away is truly a gem of a picture, one that for all its Eastern trappings is more universal in its ethics and concept than anything Miyazaki has done in the last decade.

We meet a young girl, Chihiro, as she rides in the backseat of her parents' car on the way to their new home. Chihiro is a disinterested little thing, not pleased about the move, upset about changing schools, and overall pretty much scared (or at least unwilling) to try new things. When her dad takes what he thinks will be a detour to their new home, they wind up finding an abandoned amusement park. Reluctantly, Chihiro follows her parents inside, only to find that the park is not abandoned--it's actually a bathhouse for the spirit world! Her parents indulge in some food from the other side without realizing it, and they are turned into pigs for their treat. It's up to Chihiro to brave a new and sometimes scary life in order to eventually rescue her parents and return to the normal world.

Normally, I would say more in my description about a film that is two hours long, but I'm refraining from that here. Spirited Away shows off more creativity in any given fifteen minutes than any other animated feature I've seen. That creativity is something to be experienced, and so I'm not going to spoil it for you ahead of time. Let me just say that this film is full of visual spectacles and surprises that will turn even the most jaded moviegoer's head. Now the plot is not of utmost importance here. Some critics compare it to an Eastern take on Alice In Wonderland, but that's really just used to try and find something for comparison. Things aren't as nonsensical in Spirited Away by any means, but the film is episodic in nature at times, and like Alice, the journey is the important thing.

And what a journey it is! I have not seen a film that was better animated perhaps ever. Though I might still have favorites beyond this, Spirited Away is simply beautiful in every single frame. The music has been slightly redone for the dub, which I saw, but I have to say that I'll probably take it over the original Japanese score, knowing that I often find Miyazaki's films a little underscored in their original versions. The dub itself is merely OK--Disney did not go to great lengths to make it as good as Princess Mononoke or Kiki's Delivery Service. This was disappointing, but the voiceover work is still far better than the average anime dub.

This film has reached a 99% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, with 106 of 107 critics praising the film. There's not been a better-reviewed film all year. If you can find it playing near you, it's a must-see without a doubt.

Spirited Away -- mildly scary moments, but nothing objectionable -- A+