Just forget the words and sing along

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Films of Hayao Miyazaki: Spirited Away

For those just joining the party, I'm spending my downtime this August watching every film made by Hayao Miyazaki. Tonight, we finally arrived at the one that many consider the finest film in the Miyazaki filmography. Winner of the 2002 Best Animated Film Oscar, and a worldwide blockbuster, ladies and gentlemen, we finally arrived at....

Spirited Away (2001)

Celebrity Voice Cast
For the English dub, Disney snagged Daveigh Chase, Jason Marsden, Michael Chicklis, Lauren Holly, Susan Egan, Suzanne Pleshette, David Ogden Stires, and, the sexiest voice in voice acting today, Tara Strong.

Wow. This movie was so huge. when it first hit theatres, the Internets were buzzing with reviews and just raving about it. I arrived in Japan for my year of teaching English one year after it came out, and everyone was still talking about it. Things kind of came to a head one night, as a friend and I were coming back from a small town in the Japanese countryside. It was late at night...the train we were on was rather deserted. The train came to a station, all the doors opened, no one came on, and no one got off. As the train pulled out of the station, I turned to my friend and said, "Dude, you think in situations like that, that maybe there's, like, spirits or something that are getting on and off the train and we can't see them?" He looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and said, "Dude, see Spirited Away NOW." I finally saw it my Christmas in Japan, when I went to visit my friend up north in Hokkaido. Spirited Away had become his Bible to understanding Japanese culture, and he threw it in his DVD player hoping I would learn from it. (Yes, there's a much bigger story there, but it's for another day.) Needless to say, I was captivated.

Young Chirhiro is sad and withdrawn. Her family is moving to a new town, and she's none too pleased about it. But then, they take a wrong turn in the road, and Chihiro's family stumble upon an abandoned amusement park. They find a still-working restaurant, and Chihiro's parents proceed to pig out...and promptly turn into pigs. It turns out this abandoned amusement park is actually a bathhouse for the gods, and Chihrio's parents were cursed for eating food meant for the gods. In order to save her parents, Chirhiro strikes a deal with Yubaba, the evil witch who runs the bathhouse. Chihiro gets a job in the bathhouse, and begins to work for Yubaba. However, this deal costs Chihiro her name, and she is re-christened as Sen. Sen, now, must struggle to remember her name while tapping into her inner strengths in order to save her parents and escape this bathhouse. Fortunatly, she makes lots of new friends to help her out.

What I Liked
Normally, with films like this, the mythology gets overly complicated and bogs things down. But with Spirited Away, things actually remain quite simple to follow. And with the character of Chihiro, we get a very believable and a very likeable heroine.

What I Didn't Like
Nothing, really. It's all good.

Final Verdict
A fantastic film. Just spellbinding.

4 Nibs

Fun Trivia Fact
You can thank head of Pixar animation John Lasetter for being able to see this. Seeing as to hwo Princess Mononoke didn't make a dent in the American box office, Disney was ready to abandon their plans to release Studio Ghibli films. But then Lasetter - an unabashed Miyazaki fan - went to Japan, saw Spirited Away, then marched into Disney HQ and pretty much demanded that they release it to theatres in North America. Lasetter was the executive producer of the English language dub.

Next Time
Aww! Just one more and we're done! For our final film, it's Miyazaki's 2004 epic...and the first (and to date, only) Miyazaki film I've had the priveledge to see in a threatre, on the big screen. We're wrapping things up with Howl's Moving Castle.

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