Hey guys! So I hate to admit it, but about a month ago I never saw a Hayao Miyazaki film. I know, I know! Its all so horrible, but I added all available movies to my Netflix queue and I’m watching them as fast as I can! Because I am doing this, I am going to review each an every one of the available movies! There is no order on which movie I watched first, so let’s start with his most successful movie to date, Spirited Away! So strap in and brace yourself for what I am going to say! Let’s get started!
Spirited Away was written, boarded, and directed by Hayao Miyazaki and his famous Studio Ghibli and was released in July of 2001 in Japan and in September of 2002 in the US. It quickly became the best Japanese movie ever and helped make Miyazaki a household name in the US when it won Best Animated Film in the 2003 Academy Awards. The film had a $19 million budget and brought in about $330 million in its run.
When it was brought to the US, Studio Ghidli sold the distribution and translation rights to Disney, along with many other Studio Ghibli films. The circumstances for this move, however, was to not change the story, not cut the film in anyway, and keep the translations as close to the original script as possible. Its impressive that Disney undertook such a task, but they managed. Did I think they did a good job with this? I do, but I’ll wait for later to explain myself.
The movie starts off and ends in modern day Japan. However, the movie mainly focuses around the spirit world that has a timeless Japanese feel to it, similar to Meiji Japan. The spirit world mainly stays in the one city, where the story stays put in. However, the bathhouse, which is the largest structure in the city, is the main focus. The scenery is always colorful and interesting, but I just wish they focused on the interesting world outside the bathhouse a little bit more than what they did.
There are a decent amount of characters in this movie, but I’ll stick to the main ones to save time. The main characters that we follow in this movie are Chihiro Ogino aka Sen, Haku, Yubaba, No-Face, Lin, and Kamaji.
Let’s start with our protagonist; Chihiro Ogino aka Sen. Chihiro is a 10 year-old girl, who is not patient and very uptight. She’s fun to watch in the situations that are presented to her, mainly because you can see yourself reacting in the same fashion. However, no matter what problem is set in front of her, she somehow finds a way to overcome it, which helps the other spirits around her.
Next we have Haku, who starts off as the assistant/apprentice to Yubaba, the witch who controls the bathhouse. He also turns out to be a river spirit who has forgotten his name and his purpose in life. To Chihiro, he’s compassionate and caring and definitely doesn’t want her to see her trapped in the spirit world. However, the rest of the bathhouse staff doesn’t see him the same way. They see him as a hard-ass with no emotion. The character for me is definitely interesting, though the movie forgot to tell the audience that he has the ability to transform into a dragon! They just toss that one at you and you are left scratching your head asking yourself, “Did I miss that?” Either way, he’s a cool character.
Yubaba is the movie’s main antagonist. She is an old witch who runs the bathhouse which the spirits frequent. She’s a greedy old woman who can be extremely threatening, but also nice? To me, this was a confusing character, and no I am not confusing her with her twin sister, Zeniba. At one moment she’s ready to turn Chihiro into a pig, next she is praising her and telling the rest of the bathhouse to be like her, and then she’s back to trying to kill her! I know characters flip flop, but it was extreme in her case as if we were dealing with two different characters. I don’t know, but I wasn’t too sold on her.
Next we have No-Face, a faceless and voiceless spirit who consumes other spirits…. Yeah, that’s all you need to know. Chihiro shows kindness to him and then he is hell bent on eating her. Though Chihiro avoids getting eaten by him, she instantly trusts him not to eat her after a chase scene where he ends up vomiting all the spirits he ate. Point?
Next we have Lin. Lin is a humon looking spirit, though she isn’t human. She is an attendant at Yubaba’s bathhouse who looks after Chihiro. She’s sassy and bitchy at first, but she ends up being very likable as she continues to care for and gets attached to Chihiro. If anything, I wanted to see more of this character, but I am satisfied with the way the movie developed her.
Finally, we have Kamajii, the boiler room spirit. He is an old man with 6 arms and under-developed feet. He’s in charge of getting different hot waters up to the bathhouse for the guests. He’s cranky about his life, knowing that he will be doing that job for the rest of his life, but he is caring and looks out for Chihiro, kind of like a Grandfather. He is another character that I’m satisfied with in this movie. They nailed him perfectly.
The animation and character design in this movie was far different from any of Miyazaki’s movies. It still kept his style, but the depth and attention to detail was much more intense than anything else he made. You can tell a lot of money was sunk into this movie. No matter who you are, you just get entranced in to scenery and the art in the movie. In simple words, it is spectacular.
Now the story is where I feel this movie falls extremely short. I must have missed something or someone is going to yell at me to watch it with English subtitles, but I just don’t get it. I feel like they were trying to show you how Chihiro grows from a whiney little girl to a strong young lady, but they don’t. She didn’t whine more than any other 10-year-old girl. In fact, she was taking a complete uprooting very well! All the situations she faced with in the spirit world, she handled extremely well and with more balls than some of the other characters. She was a strong character from the start to the finish, so I’m not sure even why she ended up in the position she was in. Next, there are too many side stories and not enough explanation to definitely close them off. The first river spirit was a nod to environmentalism, but what did we really learn from that? Why and how did Haku forget his name and was forced to work for Yubaba? If humans are not allowed in the spirit world, why are there human looking spirits working in the bathhouse? These and many more questions that were never addressed.
Now before you start sending me hate mail, which I really hope you read this far into the review before you start, I do like this movie! Its fun and entertaining! It’s a great fairytale story, visually at least, and I think anyone, of all ages can enjoy it. I just don’t think it’s the greatest animated movie I have ever seen. Visually, yes, story wise, no. I am definitely glad I finally saw the movie, but I don’t think I will go out of my way to watch it again.
Movie Rating: B
That was my first Miyazaki movie review! Next up, Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro!