Spirited Away, A Children’s Tale.

Spirited Away

I know many people may find it hard to stomach, but I was far from impressed with Hayao Miyazaki‘s Spirited Away. Well, to be honest, while I’m a fan of Miyazaki’s films, his last several films have left me less than impressed (Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle and Ponyo). I did enjoy Spirited Away slightly more on re-watching it.

 My problem with Spirited Away was quite simple, that it was a children’s story. Sure, a lot of Miyazaki’s films are aimed at a younger audience, or can be enjoyed by children and adults alike (such as how ten year olds whom I’ve known enjoyed the superb Princess Mononoke), but while I could enjoy My Neighbour Totoro for instance, which was unabashedly childlike but also charming, aside from its art, Spirited Away had left me both cold, and made me feel as if someone were paternalizing me.

This is a “Things I Like” post, and as such, it’s not a review per-se, but my thoughts on the series. Spoilers should come as no surprise, this post will have very small amount of spoilers.

 Let me describe a story to you, a story as one can find in many books aimed at toddlers, and likewise in TV cartoons aimed at them. Friend Rabbit had woken up in the morning, and decided to skip along the way to Friend Owl’s house, upon arrival, they had chit and they had chat, and then Friend Owl suggested they go and visit Friend Bear! Friend Rabbit thought it was a splendid idea, so off they went, and after arriving at Friend Bear’s house, he in turn had raised the idea of going off and meeting up with Friend Fox. They did not need to consider it much, so off they went, and they had a merry time once they had reached Friend Fox, and soon evening had come, and they had all gone to sleep together.

Now, you see that story? If you break down the shiny glitter of animation, and the whacky things that happen in the movie (in normal Miyazaki/anime style), which serve to somewhat obscure this, then this is exactly the story you come to face in the movie.

The ending had also slightly annoyed me, with how Chihiro finds out who her parents are, from amongst the other pigs. It was done better in the garden of statues, in the animated Wizard of Oz series, from the section after Dorothy returns to the Land of Oz, and in other places as well.

The movie is obviously not all bad, and aside from being drawn beautifully, at the top of the Studio Ghibli range, it also has some really amusing and enjoyable scenes, such as the scene with the dirty River Spirit, or some of the scenes with Haku, especially in his dragon form. To be honest, some of these things actually make me dislike the movie, because you are given tantalizing hints at a deeper mythology, which is more interesting than the main storyline, but you are only left glimpsing them through the keyhole, rather than getting a chance to explore them fully, and their ramifications (such as the relation between the River Spirit being cleaned and how it’d affect the story).
Also, I wasn’t fond of the deus ex machina of how Chihiro and Haku had known each other earlier, as it wasn’t alluded to enough to seem like a natural growth of the story.

Score: 9/10 if you’re under the age of 9, 8/10 graphically, 5/10 if you care for story.

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23 comments on “Spirited Away, A Children’s Tale.

  1. mefloraine says:

    That was the first anime movie I ever watched, I recall. I loved it then…now that I’m a little older I realize it’s not the best movie ever made, and not the best Miyazaki movie, but it’s still enjoyable. Compare it to movies released recently…it’s still better than many of them.
    Which is sad.

    • Guy says:

      Heh, it’s definitely better than much that’s been released recently, and it can be a bit sad. Especially better than recent Miyazaki stuff.

      But here’s the thing, it’s technically superb, and much from its greatness is how it can dazzle you so you don’t peer into its shortcomings, but the shortcomings are huge. I’d rather watch My Neighbour Totoro, which is honest about what it is, or Kiki’s Delivery Service, which is just great.

      Or if you’re speaking of movies, and not just Ghibli, well, thankfully there are plenty of non-anime movies which are great, and many movies released before I was born, to occupy me :)

      But it’s definitely a crowd pleaser with the younger crowd, which I imagine is a consideration to parents, of which not many post on my blog :D

      • mefloraine says:

        Well, I preferred Spirited Away over My Neighbor Totoro, personally.
        And non-anime movies are definitely [generally] better than the anime variety. I don’t rate them on the same scale.

    • kluxorious says:

      Same. This is the first movie of Miyazaki for me too. I liked it then and I still like it now. For some reason it just appeal to me. Maybe I just like fantasy shit stuff *shrugs*

      • Guy says:

        I don’t think less of people who like the movie :P I just think it doesn’t have enough for me to like it.

        Also, I don’t think anyone can accuse me of not loving fantasy shit enough :D

  2. bluedrakon says:

    Pretty much anything done by Miyazaki I have purchased. These anime’s are great because it give us something we can watch together as a family. I think we loved Kiki’s Delivery Service the best so far. Seemed to be the one my son watched the most, though I would have thought he would like My Neighbor Totoro more.

    • Guy says:

      I actually thought of you when I made the point about my readers who have children :D One of my offline friends, his two girls love Totoro, it’s almost on repeat in his house. He even made it his Facebook photo for a while :D

      I love Princess Mononoke the best, it’s also probably the most adult.

  3. Tommy says:

    This movie holds a special place in my memory, and I’ll end it at that. I watched it when it went in theaters seven(?) years ago, and haven’t re-watched it again. So it’s still a good story in my mind.

    Another anime movie that I really liked back then is Laputa: Castle in the Sky. I watched it a several times as a kid.

    • Guy says:

      Laputa was nice. Sadly, when I’ve watched it at a now infamous screening at a convention, due to overheating the projector kept shutting off, while the movie was still rolling.

  4. Canne says:

    Spirited away’s story can be summarized into something even shorter and simply than what you’ve written. I have to agree with you about the main plot and how it is covered up by other subplots. That’s why what I remember the most about the anime is its several fragmented details like the river god. Miyazaki’s movies are always full of details. Nevertheless, I still love it a lot.

  5. Reltair says:

    Laputa was my favorite one of his films. I saw it quite a few times as a child.

    His newer films don’t really stand up to Laputa or Princess Mononoke in my opinion.

  6. Yi says:

    Agreed that Howl’s Moving Castle and Ponyo are below his standards… I loved Spirited Away though, just as I loved Totoro, Laputa, and Kiki’s.

    I don’t particularly mind the childish plot so much. For me, plot is often secondary when I watch anime. Further, I do think that sometimes a “childish” or straightforward adventure could be really amazing and pleasant. I can’t watch “intellectual”. I guess I’m not a deep person.

    It’s just my personal preference though.

    Anyway, completely agreed about the whole Haku thing. That just seemed out of place.

    • Guy says:

      I enjoy childish as much as the next person, but childish that tries to come off as mature? Less so.

      Also, I don’t think “Childish” should equate “dumbed down” or “has no depth”, but more a tonal difference.

  7. lovelyduckie says:

    Spirited Away is my favorite movie by Miyazaki. After watching it for the first time I wasn’t sure how I felt…but then I started thinking about the scenes often, and I re-watched it a few times. I really grew to appreciate this movie. I just feel like I’ve been transported somewhere else when I watch this movie. It’s the stuff fascinating folklore tales are made of. But at the same time I can see how people would dislike this movie a lot. I also love Howl’s Moving Castle, I think that one deserves more credit then it gets. Howl’s Moving castle filled a hole (for me) that Disney left open when they strayed away from fairy tale movies.

    • Guy says:

      One of my problems with Howl’s Moving Castle was that I’ve read the book before watching the movie, and it doesn’t come close to comparing. It is a fun and mostly empty film though, yes.

      Disney films still have more depth, even when they covered fairy tales. Fairy tailes with morals.

      • lovelyduckie says:

        I bought the book recently, I plan on reading that soon. I usually end up preferring the book over the movie in general as well. So far there are only two exceptions to that rule, The Devil Wears Prada and Coraline. On those two I preferred the movie.

    • Guy says:

      Well, I think I happen that way as well. It’s just that the book has a lot more depth, a lot more characterization.

      Also, I prefer the Lord of the Ring movies over the books ;)

      And I should post my next post, dag nabbit, heh.

  8. FaS says:

    Mehhhhh, I liked it. Or rather I get a positive emotion when I saw it. However, I haven’t seen Ponyo, but was really excited when I heard it was coming out. But when it came time to advertise it in the U.S., they made it look like ONLY a kids movie. Only is the U.S. -_-‘ Completely turned me off. But I see what you’re saying about the story structure. Things did seem a little predictable, limited, and entry-level if you will, but what else would they have been? Do you think a different story would have worked as well or better? These are sincere questions, not an attack or argument. I’m curious as to what you think

    • Guy says:

      A different story, would it have worked better? Quite possibly, because my qualms were with the story.

      I think elaborating on Haku’s history, on the way spirits come from the real world, and what effect, say, cleaning the river spirit would’ve had on the real-world river, more on Haku and Chihiro’s shared past, why he learns magic, more on how Chihiro found her parents and actual depth to the sisters’ struggle, the baby, etc.

      Most of the characters in the movie aren’t, they’re a deceptively good looking background, and many don’t even unravel enough of Chihiro’s personality. In a way, it does have some better elements, because we do uncover some of Chihiro’s personality via the supporting cast, but they should’ve made them more of their own characters as well.

      • FaS says:

        Hmmm, you know, I guess I never really thought of that. It did seem like the movie was rushing towards the end when the protagonist was supposed to stay at the twin witche’s house. A little flashback at least would have been wonderful.

  9. Chappy says:

    Ahh, one of my favorite Miyazaki’s films. I watched it for at least 10 times, on TV, computer and DVD.
    I have a presentation for one of my electives in few weeks’ time and i am going to do this.

    • Guy says:

      Feel free to share (email?) the presentation to me ;) I wrote a book report on Neverwhere back at the tenth grade, focusing some on the names, and last year I wrote a paper on Holism in The Big Model (a theoretical framework for looking at Role-playing games’ play).

  10. […] 12. Spirited Away is beautiful, but has the plot structure of a bedtime story you tell 5 year olds – two friends go to meet a third friend, then they all go together to a 4th friend! The story is simplistic to non-existent, and the story coats by on being a “feel” movie. Here, have a blog post on the topic. […]

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