REVIEW: Spirited Away

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Michigan Theatre’s screening of Spirited Away was met with a delightfully long line outside the theatre, people willingingly shivering in the cold, anticipating the much-loved Ghibli classic. I have to admit before I go any deeper into this review that this was my first time watching Spirited Away– or any Ghibli movie, for that matter. It was such a treat to witness the spectacle of animation and the immersive fantasia of Chihiro’s journey into the spirit world. I walked out of the theatre with my head filled and spinning with colors, the trembling of leaves, the delicate swaddling of stars in the sky, the ordinary magic of life. I want to watch every Ghibli movie now and be muse to the enchantments it casts on the viewer– and, honestly, I want to watch it on the big screen. I’m so glad that the Center for Japanese Studies is extending their screening series called the “Icons of Anime” to show even more animated Japanese classics in the Michigan Theatre.

Spirited Away tells the story of ten-year-old Chihiro’s journey into a terrifying and fantastical adventure into some kind of spirit world. Her father stops in front of a derelict amusement park, and, despite Chihiro’s insistent disapproval, her parents enter the park and begin eating the food at the vending station. As nighttime descends, spirits emerge in the world around Chihiro. She desperately tries to go back to her parents only to find out, in one truly terrifying moment, that they’ve been turned into pigs. Chihiro must befriend the spirits in the theme park and work there in order to buy her and her parents their freedom from being trapped. Chihiro meets little spider-like coal-carrying creatures, an eight-legged man who mans the production of the resort, some friendly guiders, and a scary woman with a large, wrinkly face who owns the resort by night and stalks its grounds as a hawk by day. Chihiro also meets Hero who helps her– and whose fate it ultimately entangled with her own.

The plot of the movie is gripping in the beginning of the movie. It hits a bit of a dip in the middle and meanders a bit before picking back up by the conclusion. In the end, however, I’m not sure that the plot of the movie itself as engaging as the cinematic experience of it. There were plot points that seemed lazily patched-up at the end of the movie and the protagonist didn’t develop a great deal throughout the movie (perhaps she gained strength and bravery, but this wasn’t of real importance). The beauty and immersive animated experience of the movie overcomes its narrative weaknesses– but still, I can’t help but believe that the movie as a whole could have been strengthened by a better focus on plot structure and character development. Ultimately, however, Spirited Away was a truly enjoyable movie experience– magical, unique, and transportive, with the same power and childlike wonder as a Disney movie, but its magic works differently. I look forward to watching many more Ghibli movies.

(Image from Google Images)

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