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Film of the Week: Spirited Away

Spirited Away compels us to the greatness of anime-fantasy, and with the news that Hayao Miyazaki is coming out of retirement for one last film, there is no better time to look back at one of his masterpiece than now.

The plot focuses on 10-year-old Chihiro, of whom we are immediately introduced to along with her parents. We are made aware of the fact that the family are moving to a new neighbourhood, with Chihiro conducting herself with the same reluctance as any other 10-year-old would be expected to. On the contrary, her parents appear unbothered, and approach the circumstance with intrigue. Especially when they discover an abandoned amusement park once the journey comes to a drastic halt.

Unbeknownst to Chihiro and her parents, the park is magical beyond their most outrageous beliefs. Chihiro perceptively senses that something is wrong, yet cautiously follows her parents who are aloof to the potential danger. Chihiro explores her environment, and is bewildered to see that the park is beginning to evolve into a new setting. She races to find her parents but unexpectedly realises that they have been turned into giant pigs.

Chihiro, worrisome and young, must face the consequences alone. However, she soon meets a young male named Haku. He explains that the park is a resort for supernatural beings, and that Chihiro must work there in order to survive and ensure her parents will return to human-form. With that, the plot is outlined for the rest of the film; we anticipate the outcome through Chihiro, and how she handles her work duties (these include: washing an enormous bath tub for a “stink spirit”, retaining the safety of the employees and guests from a killer-spirit named No-Face, and accidently having to babysit an abnormally large new-born), all under the watchful eye of proprietor, Yubaba.

Its kookiness is endearing, the integral and supporting characters are conventional yet captivating, and the general plot is interesting without being overly dramatic or lacking any action to the point where it is slow-paced.

The majestic nature of this story is its most important attribute. A viewer may find themselves finding moments throughout the plot quite peculiar, though this is what makes Spirited Away so special. Its unusual and spiritual specialties do not require any questions or answers, but the simplistic adventure-driven narrative is enough to delight the typical viewer through the film’s entirety.

The visuals of this hand-drawn animated sequence are fantastic, and must take incredible talent. There is no other way I could imagine this movie to aesthetically replicate. Every supernatural entity is created to look like an unearthly creature, but appear comfortable in the intricate design of any location of which they appear (Yobaba in particular is drawn so beautifully, and representative of her being the antagonist. Her sharp and dominant features are somewhat intimidating whenever she appears on screen). The non-diegetic composition varies depending on what the scene entails, but is cleverly done to reflect the mood or atmosphere at any particular time; it is definitely the most special and, maybe, underrated part of Spirited Away.

Spirited Away remains the highest grossing film of all time in Japan, and is universally acclaimed amongst a majority of critics. It is a cultural phenomenon, but Spirited Away has also gained a cult-like following. The world-wide dissemination of this film and its sociocultural elements, has allowed a wider group of people to become interested in Japanese-Anime, with Spirited Away being one of the most recognised films of its genre. It’s important to note that for those who are not fluent in Japanese, this film can be appreciated through the translation of dialogue, or subtitles.

I will await Hayao Miyazaki’s ‘final’ film with excitement, but I realise that this well-recognised director has produced an abundance of films I am yet to watch. However, I am suspicious to whether any of them will surpass Spirited Away’s excellence in how emotionally connected I felt to the story’s ideology. The main themes of love and family is one that is hard to beat. It’s heart-warming, and you will be glad you have watched it by the time the credits roll.

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