Spirited Away (2001) – movie review

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Movie Review by Vivienne Messenger

Starring (voices of): Daveigh Chase, Jason Marsden, Suzanne Pleshette, Michael Chiklis

Directors: Hayao Miyazaki (Japan) / Kirk Wise (USA English dubbed version)

Fe fi fo fum ‘they’ smell the ‘scent’ of…. not an Englishman but a young ten year-old Japanese girl, Chihiro. ‘They’ are the spirits that inhabit a deserted town Chihiro and her parents have stumbled upon after walking through a tunnel in the woods on route to their new house. Unaware of the danger that exists in this magical alternate world ruled by the wicked sorceress Yubaba, her parents feast in a deserted restaurant while their somewhat spoilt, headstrong daughter goes off in a huff exploring.

However as darkness falls Chihiro is suddenly aware of ghosts and monsters all around her. Frightened and alone she runs, screaming, retracing her steps frantically only to discover her parents – still gorging on food – have turned into snorting pigs. Nervous and terrified she flees and hides but is found by a young boy, Haku, who takes her under his wing. He attempts to explain to her that to stay alive in this dangerous spirit world and to delay the fateful day that her parents are slaughtered and eaten she must make herself useful and get a job to survive.

Trembling with fear the distraught Chihiro embarks on an adventure of a lifetime…

SPIRITED AWAY almost sounds too frightening to watch but children (and adults) of all ages will be enraptured by this truly enchanting, animated, fantasy tale. The film is almost like a Japanese ALICE IN WONDERLAND, though admittedly somewhat scarier with some awesome and gross spirits like a gigantic, stinking monster and another called No Face who eats people if they anger him, that visit the Japanese bath house where Chihiro has found a job under the watchful, evil eye of Yubaba who has taken away her name and calls her by a different one.

Central to the movie is the underlying theme that love, honesty and goodness will prevail in the fight against evil which is also a theme central to many Disney productions. But this is so different and interesting because it gives a refreshing glimpse into another culture and way of life, from the way Chihiro bows on greeting spirit guests to the fact that the film is situated for a large part in a Japanese bathhouse!

Forget the long running time (125 minutes) because most children will be so engrossed in Hayao Miyazaki’s fantasy tale that the time will fly by. Despite the pace seeming slow in places and some of the background piano music becoming a tad repetitive the mystical tale that unfolds will nonetheless capture the imaginations of its young audience who did not seem to be bothered by these minor drawbacks in the preview screening.

Fortunately SPIRITED AWAY has been dubbed into English for screening in multiplexes and mainstream theatres whilst the original Japanese language version is being shown at selected art-house cinemas in Japanese with English subtitles so be sure to check with the cinema to find out which version its showing.

5 out of 6 stars