A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Spirited Away

August 23, 2010

Spirited Away

I didn’t even start my review for tonight’s movie until we had reached the closing credits. With most movies we put in I’m at least jotting notes, looking away from time to time, or nipping out to grab a cup of tea during the movie. But this film is so mesmerizing, so beautiful and so captivating that I found, even after having seen it before in the past, that I couldn’t look away. It’s the magic and power of Hayao Miyazaki at his very best.

I’ve always been fascinated by fairy tales. They can be magical and wondrous, but also dark and frightening. The lands of farie are not places to be traveled lightly, and they are full of subtle traps. If a person isn’t careful they can easily be drawn in and stuck there forever. Just as Pan’s Labyrinth is Guillermo del Toro’s homage to the twisted farie realm, this movie is Miyazaki-san’s. It’s a fabulous piece of world-building that borrows tropes from traditional tales but adds a typically Miyazakian flare.

Young Chihiro is moving with her parents to a new home. At the start of the film she is petulant and upset, not wanting to move and sad that she’s having to leave her old life behind. But when her father takes a wrong turn they happen upon a mysterious building with a long tunnel running through it – a tunnel that leads to another land. Chihiro’s parents break one of the cardinal rules of most farie lands and gorge themselves on a fabulous feast they happen upon. She chooses not to succumb to the feast and explores further, discovering a huge mysterious building. There she is met by a boy who warns her to flee – to escape back the way she came before night falls. But as she tries to run away she finds that her parents have been turned into pigs by their piggish behavior, and that a vast river has replaced the little stream she and her parents crossed earlier. She is trapped, a lone human among mysterious creatures in a strange and magical realm.

There are a lot of references to folk tales I’m familiar with. The not eating in a mystical realm. The power of names. Curses and witches and dragons. But there’s also a strong Japanese influence throughout. The giant building Chihiro first came upon turns out to be a bath-house for the gods of the land. It’s a very shintoist world, with gods and spirits associated with the rivers, rocks and skies. And it is very much a product of the fertile mind of Hayao Miyazaki. The gods catered to by the bathhouse are a motley crew of lumbering but also charming beasts. There are giant chicks, strange masked ghostlike figures, a bulbous rotund man-thing that appears to be a root of some sort… There’s no way that in one viewing you can see them all. It’s just wonder piled on top of wonder and strangeness piled on top of strangeness.

Of course all of it is brought to life with the most amazing hand drawn animation ever accomplished. It’s a Studio Ghibli thing. Look, for example, at the oozing “stink god” with its organic flowing ichor. Look at the many-armed Kamaji who runs the boilers beneath the building. Look at all the many vast crowds of bizarre creatures throughout the movie. As you would expect given its pedigree this movie is an absolute feast for the eyes.

What I love most about the film, however, is its gentle heart. This is another trademark of Miyazaki. Every conflict in this movie is resolved through the steadfast and unswerving resolve of Chihiro, and by her constant kindness to everybody. She treats even the most frightening beasts with compassion and respect, and the result is that she experiences kindness in return. It’s a message that I truly appreciate. Something that resonates powerfully with me, and something I aspire to in my daily life.

I’ll admit that when I first saw this movie I was not as moved by it. I was contrasting it, at the time, with Princess Mononoke, which is a movie with a much darker and sadder tone to it. I don’t know quite what I was thinking. Maybe I thought that this movie was more childish. But looking at it now I realize that there’s a distinction between childish and child-like. That something doesn’t have to be dark and bleak to be moving. And that nowadays I’m more attuned to movies that present a world-view where optimism and kindness can really make the world a better place.

August 23, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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