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Spirited Away. Opinions?





splitunion
Review:

To animators across the world, Hayao Miyazaki is a god. Within the animation community, his work is revered, and fans of “anime” (Japanese animation) await each new Miyazaki film with the same degree of ill-concealed impatience as displayed by 11-year olds hungering for the next book in the “Harry Potter” series. In mainstream United States movie-going circles, Miyazaki is not a well-known name, which is one reason why, several years ago, Walt Disney Pictures purchased the North American rights to Miyazaki’s catalog. While there were some gripes about the manner in which the dubbing and distribution of Miyazaki’s previous feature, Princess Mononoke, were handled here, more care has been taken for Spirited Away. Two American animation luminaries – Pixar’s John Lasseter and Disney’s Kirk Wise (the director of several animated features, including Beauty and the Beast) – were recruited to convert the Japanese version of the movie into one for English-speaking audiences.

Let me state up front that I am neither a fan of, nor an expert on, anime. In fact, I’m not a lover of animation in general. But I know when I’m in the presence of good storytelling, and Spirited Away represents that. Watching this movie, you immediately become aware of two things – the animation is excellent (something that will come as no surprise to anyone who has seen one of Miyazaki’s previous outings) and the story turns in unusual, often unexpected directions. One of the biggest problems I have with many animated films (even the best ones) is plot predictability. That’s not the case here.

Spirited Away takes influences from “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Wizard of Oz” and uses them to fashion a highly original story about a 10 year-old girl, Chihiro (voiced by Daveigh Chase), who, along with her parents, ventures through a tunnel that leads to the world of spirits. After a witch, Yubaba (Suzanne Pleshette), turns Mom and Dad into pigs, Chihiro must find a niche in the spirit world, where humans are not well thought-of, and figure out a way to convince Yubaba to change her parents back into humans and send them all home. With help from Haku (Jason Marsden), Yubaba’s boy apprentice, and Lin (Susan Egan), a “big sister” type, Chihiro gets a job at Yubaba’s bathhouse for sprits, and there her quest to aid her family begins. But, as complications arise, she finds additional tasks to perform and other allies willing to help her.

The nature of the story is tailor-made for animation. Many of the characters engage in shape-shifting (boys become dragons, adults become pigs, a giant baby becomes a bloated mouse) and the bathhouse is frequented by a variety of strange and unusual creatures. While a few of the inhabitants of the sprit world look human, most appear to be anything but that. Take the boiler operator Kamaji (David Ogden Stiers), for example. At first glance, he’s just a cranky old man with a frizzy beard. Then we notice that he has eight legs and walks like a spider. We also find out that he’s not as intimidating as he looks. His initially surly disposition melts away and he becomes of one Chihiro’s numerous friends.

Miyazaki is an environmentalist, and his films often contain strong pro-environment messages. (This was a cornerstone to Princess Mononoke.) In Spirited Away, one of the visitors to the bathhouse is a river spirit who has been so badly polluted by sludge and other waste materials that his stench drives people away and he is in need of a powerful cleansing to sluice away the filth. It takes an effort, but he is eventually restored to his former glory.

The film’s animation is stunning, with richly-detailed backgrounds and flawless foregrounds. Unlike many animators, Miyazaki still relies almost exclusively upon hand-drawn artwork (although he employs some computer technology to touch up and enhance the final product), and his meticulous care shows. The colors are bright and vivid, and some of the scenes (especially those taking place during a rainstorm) are peerless in the world of motion picture animation. Also, with a running length that exceeds two hours (124 minutes), Spirited Away requires approximately 40% more cells than what is needed for the average Disney release.

Miyazaki does not dumb down Spirited Away, even though his stated target audience is children. This is a true family film, in that adults will be as enchanted by the characters and situations as children will. The pace is a little slower than the average animated film – there is not as much frantic action – but not so languid that younger viewers will become restless. The dubbing into English is very good (as is voice selection), so there is no subtitle barrier. Overall, while Spirited Away may not be as complex and imaginative as Princess Mononoke in some areas, it is as beautifully rendered and no less sophisticated in its outlook. Miyazaki has provided another triumph, and, in the midst of the quality fall-off of Disney’s in-house animated projects, a reason for animation-lovers to rejoice.

© 2002 James Berardinelli
Scaramanga
Man, I really sick of this attitude people have towards Miyazaki. His films are alright, I mean, visually, they tend to be fairly interesting, but we're not talking epic masterpieces of cinematic history here (except maybe in Japan, and even then I'd say Kurosawa FAR outstrips him.) Don't get me wrong, his films are "cute" and often ethereal. But I really dislike this whole worshipping attitude a lot of fans have of his stuff. And I say this as some who is generally unoffended by his films, and maybe even liek a few (My Neighbor Totoro springs to mind as being a decent sort of film.) Also a lot of what I consider "good" Miyazaki films are really only the ones produced by him, not directed/written (Omohide poro poro/Only Yesterday and Whisper of the Heart come to mind as well.) Oh and don't get me started on how much respect I lost for the guy, when he refused to let his own son (who is supposed to be an accomplished animator/director in his own right) direct the next Ghibli film, yikes!

I'm sure plenty of people disagree with me, but there's got to be someone out there who isn't overly awed by Miyazaki.
SunburnedCactus
It's not me, I can't get enough of those films. Shocked

I don't really care about the politics behind it, or the "scene", frankly I enjoy watching his films and they make me feel good, and that's what matters to me.
Revvion
I really like this movie, it is a good story. however the ending was a litle rushed in my opinion but overall it's fun to watch.
splitunion
Scaramanga wrote:
Man, I really sick of this attitude people have towards Miyazaki. His films are alright, I mean, visually, they tend to be fairly interesting, but we're not talking epic masterpieces of cinematic history here (except maybe in Japan, and even then I'd say Kurosawa FAR outstrips him.) Don't get me wrong, his films are "cute" and often ethereal. But I really dislike this whole worshipping attitude a lot of fans have of his stuff. And I say this as some who is generally unoffended by his films, and maybe even liek a few (My Neighbor Totoro springs to mind as being a decent sort of film.) Also a lot of what I consider "good" Miyazaki films are really only the ones produced by him, not directed/written (Omohide poro poro/Only Yesterday and Whisper of the Heart come to mind as well.) Oh and don't get me started on how much respect I lost for the guy, when he refused to let his own son (who is supposed to be an accomplished animator/director in his own right) direct the next Ghibli film, yikes!

I'm sure plenty of people disagree with me, but there's got to be someone out there who isn't overly awed by Miyazaki.


It's always interesting to see both sides of an opinion.... James Berardinelli might have exaggerated a bit though, so I see where you're coming from. Personally I loved Spirited Away. I don't care too much about who's behind even though in some cases that makes all the difference.... As long as the story line is good and played out just right, then the movie is fine to me.
splitunion
Revvion, when you say the ending was rushed, what do you mean?
I personally felt that the movie maintained it's pace.
Scaramanga
splitunion wrote:

It's always interesting to see both sides of an opinion.... James Berardinelli might have exaggerated a bit though, so I see where you're coming from. Personally I loved Spirited Away. I don't care too much about who's behind even though in some cases that makes all the difference.... As long as the story line is good and played out just right, then the movie is fine to me.

Oh hey, don't get me wrong, I think that's ALL that's needed to enjoy any film. And I'm not saying Miyazaki's films are bad, just that I don't understand people idolizing the guy. He makes decent films. I think though a lot of people have this "OMG Japanese cartoons are SO awesome!!!1!" mentality. And when it comes right down to it, Miyazaki IS one of the better storytellers in Japanese animation. But when compared to the whole gamut of cinematic masters, I'd say he's somewhere in the middle.
Revvion
Quote:
Revvion, when you say the ending was rushed, what do you mean?

propably gonna sound stupid but somehow i think that if the movie was just a bit longer 5 or 10 minutes the ending would be better. one minute there at the house of the sister witch and next your with the witch of the bathouse before I/you really know it.
SunburnedCactus
The pace is quite unusual, it opens a lot more quickly than some of his other films, but as you say the ending does seem to tie everything up in a short space of time.
Revvion
I am not saying you have to see it that way it's just my own opinion because the ending seems a beet rushed to me
kahve-peynir
i really don't understand how people really like this film. i agree that the characters are cute and sometimes interesting but the story irritates me. characters are almost bi-polar. please some one tell me, is it possible to change so fast?
for example: in the beginning, chihiro is affraid to stay alone in the car when her parents enter the tunnel. one minute later she leaves her parents eating and goes to discover the park by herself.
another example: one minute earlier the creature with mask tries to kill the girl and one minute later they sit together and watch the sunset in the train.
i prefer to watch the tv animations, which are eaqully cute but more reasonable
althalus
Heh, I started watching the movie a few minutes ago, but only watched 10-15 minutes (I've seen it once before, though). I'm a little tired, so I decided to sit by the computer for a bit to avoid falling asleep on the couch.. (Happened last night)..

The story is pretty nice and while it seems to be more of a girlie movie, I quite enjoyed watching it last time around. The animations are great and some of the backgrounds, like when they passed the "carved stone figure" on the way to the new house just a few minutes into the movie, are blowing me away. The music is also very nice.. Tempted to look up whether there is a soundtrack avalable. Smile
odinstag
I'm not really that into cartoons. But I have seen it twice and it is a very interesting story. Very complicated and the toons were pretty good too.

I didn't regret seeing it. So it wasn't all bad. Will it be in my collection? NO.

A friend has it in his collection and I will see it enough there.LOL!!!

If you like this kind of thing, My bet is that you will like Spirited Away.
TheDrunkenClam
I agree with Scaramanga that Miyazaki is good, but he's not a god among men. I enjoy his films very much, but I wouldn't say that they're the greatest in the world. Actually, I like Princess Mononoke more than Spirited Away. I like the unresolved nature of the film. No one seems to really win in the end, the couple isn't joined in eternal bliss, the world isn't necessarily a better place in the end. I kind of wish American movies were so trite in that they always end with some feel good, everything is wonderful ending. Did anyone see the alternate ending of Dodgeball, where the underdogs lose? They had to take it out because test audiences couldn't take it? Anime, despite it's far distance from reality seems to hold closer to real life than American movies.
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