Saturday, 28 January 2017

World Cinema: Japan - "Spirited Away" (2001) Film Review

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Hayao Miyazaki’s enchanting film “Spirited Away” (2001) is one of Japans most successful films of all time. Being a Japanese animation, it is rich in an array of colours, matte paintings, and gentle style. Japan is the headquarters of anime which is popular around the world, but these styles of films incorporate anime in a unique and individual style, with an adventurous storyline that the whole family can enjoy. “Spirited Away” uses the excellent visual language to convey its adventure. 

Writer and director Hayao Miyazaki has many notable works such as “My Neighbour Totoro” (1988), “Kiki’s Delivery Service” (1989), “Princess Mononoke” (1997) “Howl’s Moving Castle” (2004) and “Ponyo” (2008), all of which are brilliant feature films in their own way too. Miyazaki, along with Isao Takahata and Toshio Suzuki, founded the well-known company Studio Ghibli that produces the animated films, on June 15th, 1985, and the company is recognised for its distinct films. 

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 What is usually seen in Japanese animations are simplified scenery and characters, but Miyazaki has beautifully complex backgrounds, complimented by an array of bizarre characters. Roger Ebert states: “Miyazaki, in contrast, offers complexity. His backgrounds are rich in detail, his canvas embraces space liberally, and it is all drawn with meticulous attention. We may not pay much conscious attention to the corners of the frame, but we know they are there, and they reinforce the remarkable precision of his fantasy worlds” (Ebert, 2012)

The film also includes the most traditional form of animation – hand drawn. Used frequently in the past by companies such as Disney, hand drawn animation has a light-hearted feel to it, and with “Spirited Away”, this traditional form of animation is brought back, only digitally colourised. Ebert explains:  "Spirited Away" is surely one of the finest of all animated films, and it has its foundation in the traditional bedrock of animation, which is frame-by-frame drawing. Miyazaki began his career in that style, but he is a realist and has permitted the use of computers for some of the busywork. But he personally draws thousands of frames by hand. "We take handmade cell animation and digitize it in order to enrich the visual look," he told me in 2002, "but everything starts with the human hand drawing." (Ebert, 2012).

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The film follows a long and adventurous storyline, but with one goal in mind – for Chihiro to return her parents back to normal after turning into huge pigs. This all occurs when the family become lost in the woods, and walk into a red tunnel. The father thinks the place they have discovered is a deserted theme park, but later on, Chihiro watches on in horror as her parent’s stuff themselves with food and turn into gluttonous pigs, but then she sees the world of the spirits and their arrival to the bath house, (but they are actually Gods) led by the ruthless Yubabu. Yubabu decides to tolerate Chihiro as long as she does some work. Thereafter, she is made to clean a large tub, in preparation for the arrival of an enormous slime monster. During all this, a boy called Haku is trying to help and teach her how to survive the place and return her parents to normal. 

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Elvis Mitchell describes the film as: “Mr. Miyazaki's specialty is taking a primal wish of kids, transporting them to a fantasyland and then marooning them there. No one else conjures the phantasmagoric and shifting morality of dreams -- that fascinating and frightening aspect of having something that seems to represent good become evil -- in the way this master Japanese animator does.” (Mitchell, 2002). In agreement, Miyazaki does take the elements of a child’s imagination and makes them into reality. “Spirited Away” also doesn’t follow a typical plot route – the viewer may expect things from a film, such as a linear plot with three main acts, action and good vs evil, but this film, although featuring these, twists and exaggerates them, and is a fast-paced journey into something that has never been seen before. 


Ebert, R. (2012) (Accessed on 28/01/2017)
Mitchell, E. (2002) (Accessed on 28/01/2017)

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