Spirited Away (2001)
August 31, 2019 2:15 AM - Subscribe

A young girl, Chihiro, becomes trapped in a strange new world of spirits. When her parents undergo a mysterious transformation, she must call upon the courage she never knew she had to free her family.

[Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, 2002]
Japanese myths often use shape-shifting, in which bodies reveal themselves as facades concealing a deeper reality. It's as if animation was invented for shape-shifting, and Miyazaki does wondrous things with the characters here. Most alarming for Chihiro, she finds that her parents have turned into pigs after gobbling up the free lunch. Okutaresama reveals its true nature after being freed of decades of sludge and discarded household items. Haku is much more than he seems. Indeed the entire bathhouse seems to be under spells affected [sic] the appearance and nature of its inhabitants.
[Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times, 2002]
Although it comes to the sweetest possible ending, “Spirited Away” is as at home with disturbing scenes of creatures throwing up as it is with images of piercing tranquillity and purity, like the unforgettable vision of a train gliding to nowhere on tracks submerged in water that could have could have come from a painting by Magritte.

Miyazaki no doubt intended the opposition of these images to have an effect on us. Dream and nightmare, the grotesque and the beautiful, the terrifying and the enchanting all come together to underline the oneness of things, to point out how little distance there is between these seemingly disparate states, much less than we might imagine.

2001 interview with Miyazaki
[Miyazaki:] I felt this country only offered such things as crushes and romance to 10-year-old girls, though, and looking at my young friends, I felt this was not what they held dear in their hearts, not what they wanted. And so I wondered if I could make a movie in which they could be heroines...

If they find this movie to be exciting, it will be a success in my mind. They can't lie. Until now, I made "I wish there was such a person" leading characters. This time, however, I created a heroine who is an ordinary girl, someone with whom the audience can sympathize, someone about whom they can say, "Yes, it's like that." It's very important to make it plain and unexaggerated. Starting with that, it's not a story in which the characters grow up, but a story in which they draw on something already inside them, brought out by the particular circumstances... I wanted to tell such a story in this movie. I want my young friends to live like that, and I think they, too, have such a wish.
Making of documentary
posted by J.K. Seazer (11 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Lilo and Stitch was on the other day, and I looked on IMDB and discovered that Daveigh Chase, in 2001-2002:
- was in Donnie Darko (I never saw Donnie Darko)
- was the English-language voice of Chihiro in Spirited Away
- was the voice of Lilo in Lilo and Stitch

That's some range right there.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 11:27 AM on August 31, 2019 [8 favorites]


Thank you. I just earned many parenting points for telling my daughters this.
Minds were blown.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 12:40 PM on August 31, 2019 [3 favorites]

This is a good movie.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 4:54 PM on August 31, 2019 [2 favorites]

This was my introduction to Miyazaki and it remains a favorite. Everything is so strange but so familiar. It sticks in your mind.
posted by emjaybee at 10:09 PM on August 31, 2019 [5 favorites]

Not just my favourite Miyazaki movie, but one of my all-time favourite movies. There's a wonderful darkness in this film and it's brimming with strangeness. I mean, just the character design for Yubaba (and Zeniba) alone?? She would be utterly terrifying to encounter yet impossible to look away from. I think I'm overdue for a rewatch.
posted by Rora at 1:21 PM on September 1, 2019 [6 favorites]

This is truly one of the best movies I've ever seen to this day. It's a strong contender for my favorite movie, though that's not a hard task because I'm not that much of a movie guy, especially these days. Still though, it's basically perfect. And at least two of my other favorite movies are also Miyazaki films (Princess Mononoke and Howl's Moving Castle). If you've never watched this movie do yourself a favor and do so.
posted by Caduceus at 6:12 PM on September 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Absolutely my favorite Miyazaki movie. I worked in a video store when this came out and I played this movie in the store every shift for months.
posted by Aquifer at 8:29 PM on September 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

Oh boy. This movie is just so wonderful and I love it so deeply. When I recently went through a period of chronic despair, this is the only thing I could stomach watching. It’s real, in the sense that it’s confusing and beautiful and tragic and funny and wondrous just like life. But it’s also kind and empathetic enough about all of the above to be an anchor in the storm - especially when it’s hard to remember that there are parts of life that are beautiful and wondrous and funny. I love this movie so much and I’m going to be shocked if it ever leaves my #1 favorite spot.
posted by seemoorglass at 2:27 PM on September 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

An essay by Miyazaki in the art book for Spirited Away (translation not mine):
I would say that this film is an adventure story even though there is no brandishing of weapons or battles involving supernatural powers. However, this story is not a showdown between right and wrong. It is a story in which the heroine will be thrown into a place where the good and the bad dwell together, and there, she will experience the world. She will learn about friendship and devotion, and will survive by making full use of her brain. She sees herself through the crisis, avoids danger and gets herself back to the ordinary world somehow. She manages not because she has destroyed the "evil," but because she has acquired the ability to survive.

The main theme of this film is to describe, in the form of a fantasy, some of the things in this world which have become vague, and the indistinct world which tends towards erosion and ruin.

In everyday life, where we are surrounded, protected, and kept out of danger's way, it is difficult to feel that we are working to survive in this world. Children can only enlarge their fragile egos. Chihiro's skinny legs and her sulky face are their symbols. However, once the reality becomes clear and once she encounters a crisis, she will surely be aware of the life she actually possesses and of a capacity for flexibility and patience, and for decisive judgement and action.

Most people just panic and collapse while shouting, "It can't be true." Those people will be erased or eaten up in the situation in which Chihiro finds herself. In fact, Chihiro's being strong enough not to be eaten up is just what makes her a heroine. She is a heroine not because she is beautiful or because she possesses a unique mind. This is the key characteristic of this work, and therefore it is a good story for ten-year-old girls.

Words are power. In the world Chihiro wandered into, words have a great importance and immutability. At "Yuya," where "Yubaba" rules, if Chihiro were to say, "I don't want to do this," or "I want to go home," she would be eliminated by the sorceress. She would be made to wander about with nowhere to go until she vanishes or is made into a hen to lay eggs until she is eaten. On the contrary, if Chihiro says, "I will work here," even a sorceress can't ignore her. In these days, words are thought to be light and unimportant like bubbles, and no more than the reflection of a vacuous reality. It is still true that words can be powerful. The fact is, however, that powerless words are proliferating unnecessarily.

To take a name away from a person is an attempt to keep them under perfect control. Sen shuddered when she realized that she was beginning to forget her own name. And besides, every time she goes to see her parents at the pigpen, she becomes used to seeing her parents as pigs. In the world where Yubaba rules, people must always live among dangers which might swallow them up.

In a dangerous world, Chihiro began to come alive. The sulky and languid character will come to have a stunning and attractive facial expression by the end of the film. The nature of the world hasn't been changed in the least. I am arguing in this film that words are our will, ourselves and our power.

This is also the reason why I created a fantasy set in Japan. Though it is a fairy tale, I don't want to make it like a Western type of story which allows many possibilities for escape, and is likely to be taken as a cliché. However, I would prefer to say that it is rather a direct descendant of "Suzume no Oyado" (The Sparrows' Inn--a trap in which sparrows lure people by food and pleasant surroundings) or "Nezumi no Goten" (The Mouse's Castle--similar to "The Sparrows' Inn"), which appear in Japanese folk tales. Our ancestors had been dining at the Suzume no Oyado and enjoying a feast at the Nezumi no Goten.

I created a world where Yubaba lives in pseudo-western style to make it seem as if it is something that has been seen somewhere else and to make it uncertain whether it is a dream or reality. And also, Japanese traditional design is a rich source for the imagination. We are often not aware of the rites, designs, and tales of the gods. It is true that "Kachi-kachi Yama" and "Momotaro" are no longer persuasive. However, I regret to say that it is a poor idea to push all the traditional things into a small folk-culture world. Surrounded by high technology and its flimsy devices, children are more and more losing their roots. We must inform them of the richness of our traditions.

I think the world of film can have a striking influence by fulfilling the traditional functions, as a piece of a vividly colored mosaic, to a story which can be applied today. That means, at the same time, we can gain a new understanding of what it means to be the residents of this island country.

In this borderless age, a man who doesn't have a place to put down his roots will be looked down upon. A place is the past and also a history. A man without history, or a people that forgot its past will have no choice but to disappear, like a shimmer of light or to lay eggs endlessly as a hen and consumed.

I would like to make this film something through which ten-year-old girls can encounter what it is that they truly want.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 5:08 PM on September 2, 2019 [13 favorites]

I love this movie so much. Interestingly, my daughter loved it too -- except! that she refuses to rewatch it because she finds the implication at the end that Chihiro is fully and permanently back in the ordinary world, the spirit world left far away and separate, too profoundly miserable to enjoy. (By contrast, she's watched Totoro far too many times for me to keep count.)
posted by redfoxtail at 7:49 PM on September 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

Miyazaki does the little quiet moments of life so beautifully: Chihiro and No-Face on a train, looking out the window; Satsuki, Mei, and Totoro standing at the bus stop. These things are so familiar and mundane, and still so magical.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 11:04 PM on September 2, 2019 [8 favorites]

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