Spirited Away

culture

Spirited Away (DVD)I've been meaning to write about the animated film Spirited Away--a Disney produced Anime style film directed by Hayao Miyazaki. The week before, we had seen Belleville Rendez-Vous so we were looking forward to another animated feature. When we saw the trailer at the cinema, the film was dubbed with American voices, but we were relieved that the version actually shown was in Japanese, with subtitles[1]. The animation style was stunning, but I wasn't quite sure what to make of the plot.

The story is roughly as follows: a little girl (Chihiro) is en route to her new home with her parents, angry and sullen about having to leave all her friends behind. Her father takes a short cut across country and they end up in what appears to be an abandoned theme park. Her parents find an empty restaurant with the counter groaning with food, and start to tuck in like greedy pigs. Which--as it turns out--is exactly what they turn in to.

Chihiro is helped by the mysterious Master Haku, and becomes a servant in the place. It isn't an abandoned theme park at all, but a kind of health spa for the gods. I loved this idea--that after a hard day's smiting, your average deity would like nothing more than a nice herbal bubble bath and a good meal. No one is quite what they seem, and Chihiro has to go through some trials and tribulations (and to lose her selfishness) before she can have a hope of saving her parents.

The story and visuals were stunningly inventive and rather haunting (particularly her trip on a train full of ghostly figures through a watery landscape), but I felt a certain amount of culture shock. I'm not very familiar with anime, and I just didn't feel that I 'got' this film in the same way as Belleville Rendez-Vous. I constantly felt that I was missing out on some richness of the experience. I also think that it could easily have been a good 30 minutes shorter without any loss--the first half hour was quite slow. Nevertheless, it was a great film, and a completely different experience from the usual Disney/Pixar fare.

[1] That is, until the guy with the big fat head sat in front of us, and we had to rock from side to side to see the dialogue.

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