Spirited Away (2001) by Hayao Miyazaki

Spirited Away is a Studio Ghibli film, directed by the Master, Hayao Miyazaki. It tells the story of a young girl named Chihiro who is moving to a new town with her parents when they are sidetracked by an odd tunnel on the drive there. They soon find themselves in a mysterious and seemingly abandoned village. Yet when delicious food appears, Chihiro’s parents start eating it down while Chihiro stays fearfully away. As the sun sets, she realizes that strange magic is at work, her parents are now giant pigs and she is a spirit working with other strange spirits who visit or serve a bathhouse run by the powerful witch Yubaba. At first glance, all of this might be a lot to take in. But at its heart, Spirited Away is a story about the power of innocence and kindness in the face of evil.

Chihiro is no powerful witch or dragon, nor is she a chosen one or princess. She is stubborn, a ‘klutz’, and often easily scared. Nevertheless, this little one strives to tackle each task with honesty, kindness, and a certain forthrightness that is incredibly charming. Through her personality, she garners friends and even turns former enemies into allies. Her journey is difficult and through it, Miyazaki explores the dangers of environmental pollution, human greed, selfishness, and gluttony.

It is no surprise that Miyazaki is considered a master of the art form; the film is comprised of beautiful frames that always feel alive, coherent, and incredibly detailed while being perfectly focused. His characters are incredibly real and reflective of the world around us, while also equally fantastical in their physical form. While I do not want to reduce this to a mere comparison, a lot of western animation strives for realistic levels of graphics but fails to have the emotional depth that a very unrealistic anime might have. This is, of course, not always the case and both forms of animation have evolved and changed over time. It is simply to note that Spirited Away manages to incredibly layered frames into beautifully simple moments.

I particularly appreciate the pacing of the story which is slower than what I am used to but not so slow that I am bored. Moments where the character just breathes are so well placed that the audience too takes stock of what has happened and might happen. It pushes us to invest in the moment further, but also allowing us to refresh our eyes and mind.

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