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.