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Film Review: Spirited Away (2001)

An award-winning film by acclaimed Japanese anime director Hayao Miyazaki, Spirited Away is a truly magical journey through the spirit world. Ten-year old Chihiro stumbles into the magical nether sphere and must figure out how to break an evil witch’s pig-transforming spell over her parents and return to her own world. Similar to the coming-of-age tale of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the heroine encounters plenty of strange characters and must navigate the confusing rules of the magical universe in order to prove herself a heroine. In the end, she manages to free herself, her parents, and her new friend Haku, the witch’s apprentice, and re-enters the regular world with newfound maturity.

Super imaginative and heartfelt, Spirited Away is a childhood standard for many. The built-in nostalgia of a young girl’s coming-of-age tale set in a magical world is overwhelming and Miyazaki proves himself a master of childhood emotion. The soundtrack by frequent Miyazaki collaborator Joe Hisaishi is also incredibly moving and highlights the mood of the film. In a brilliant art and writing choice, Spirited Away is set in an enormous Japanese bathhouse run by a rich and powerful witch named Yubaba and acts as a haven for high-rolling spirits, monsters, and hybrid beings. The bizarre creatures of the spirit world, for the most part, straddle the line between interesting and grotesque, from the freakishly disproportionate and wrinkled Yubaba and the elderly, spider-like, boiler room attendant Kamaji to the slow-moving, sludgy, nameless river guardian and the masked, amorphous monster called No-Face. These terrifying and repulsive creatures spring from a seemingly long-established fairytale world as archetypes who test or help the young heroine in her quest to save her parents. Chihiro proves herself again and again, overcoming her fears and passing their tests with steadfast determination, kindness, and respect.

Beyond the enthralling and original spirit world, Miyazaki presents many morals in his film, the first of which is the danger of greed. Chihiro’s parents are turned into pigs because of their appetites when they see delicious food. No-Face tempts the bathhouse attendants with gold so that they clamour to serve and feed him until he becomes bloated and dangerous. Secondly, Miyazaki offers a comment on pollution, showing the unpleasant effects it has on a mud-covered river spirit and through a revelation about Haku’s origins. The film’s final lesson is about the power of love: Chihiro’s love for her parents and for Haku saves them from Yubaba’s dark magic and turns her into a fearless heroine. These lessons, coupled with Miyazaki’s intent to create a role model out of young Chihiro, add thematic depth to Spirited Away and make it a worthy film for children.

Rating: 4 out of 5 silent radish giants

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