As part of the BFI’s Studio Ghibli Season, Jackson Ball reviews Spirited Away…
In one of the more terrifying cases of time passing in the blink of an eye, it has been nearly thirteen years since Spirited Away’s initial release. Often billed as Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece, the film has broken some impressive monetary records in that time, and remains the most commercially successful film in Japan’s cinematic history ($229,000,000 worldwide gross). It’s not short on critical accolades either; the Berlin Film Festival’s Golden Bear and the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature are just a couple of the many prestigious awards the film has garnered.
For those of you unfortunate (or foolish) enough to have never experienced Spirited Away in all its glory, the film tells the magical story of a young girl named Chihiro Ogino (voiced by Rumi Hiiragi). Upon moving to a new house, Chihiro and her family accidentally stumble into the spirit world. To make matters worse, her parents are then transformed into giant pigs by a crafty witch. Chihiro must search for a way to save her parents, all the while encountering the weird and wonderful inhabitants of the spirit world. I must stress, this is a very basic synopsis; there is just so many intricate layers to Spirited Away’s narrative that a neat, little summary is basically impossible.
Thematically, the film encapsulates the dreaded ‘limbo’ between childhood and adulthood in one of the most creative ways ever committed to film. Chihiro is on the road to adolescence, and upon entering this new and mysterious environment (represented by the spirit world), is left to take care of herself and make her own decisions. Many people have drawn parallels between this narrative and that of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, a comparison that is only strengthened by the hallucinogenic nature of Spirited Away’s characters and setting. Having said that though, I would argue that Chihiro’s character arc is even stronger than Alice’s, as Miyazaki grounds the character with a far more relatable aura of humanity.
It is impossible to discuss Spirited Away without mentioning the animation itself. Here the Studio Ghibli team have accomplished something truly momentous, in that the animation has that timeless, hand-drawn feel but with a glossy movement that creates almost a dream-like effect, perfect for the film’s supernatural plot. The result visuals are just as spectacular as their 3D counterparts in the west, but with a natural beauty that sets them apart.
Despite having been around for over a decade now, Spirited Away still maintains the power to send a jolt of pure joy down the spines of the audience. Like all ‘classic’ films, it remains as glorious as it was at your first viewing, perfectly balancing an unforgettable story with innovative, awe-inspiring visuals.
Throughout April and May, the BFI on Southbank are screening all the Studio Ghibli films. For more information, click here.
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