A Personal Review/Rant on Spirited Away


In the honor of Spirited Away special cinema re-airing in my country, I made an article about it.

Disclaimer: Not a professional movie critics, have a very biased opinion, and may or may not affected by various articles I have read regarding this movie.
Warning: Spoilers. But seriously, how come anybody hasn’t seen this film yet.


Look at this adorable scene

If you are in the need of something imaginary, whimsical, and heart-warming movie to watch, then Spirited Away is one to choose. The story itself was written by Hayao Miyazaki, a movie writer and director — as well as co-founder — of Studio Ghibli. As stated before, this movie was produced by Studio Ghibli, then released at 20 July 2001 and distributed by Toho. The movie production was directed by Hayao Miyazaki, and the animating process itself was intriguingly using hand-drawn technique, opposing the western rising-popular computer generated image (CGI) technique. Even though computer software was still used to smoothen the animation, but it was kept at a low level to not steal the “organic” feeling of hand-drawn animation. This 124 minutes movie was carefully edited by Takeshi Seyama, and completed with cinematograph by Atsushi Okui. With a budget of ¥1.9 billion, or equal to US$19 million, this movie won in various award events such as 25th Japan Academy Award as Best Movie, 52nd Berlin International Film Festival as Golden Bear Movie, and 75th Academy Award as Best Animation Feature. The voice actors were notable, too, as the movie was starring the famous Rumi Hiiragi as Chihiro Ogino, and Miyu Irino as Haku. There were also a lot of supporting characters that were voiced nicely by great voice actors: Mari Natsuki as Yubaba and Zeniba, The Sister Witches; Bunta Sugawara as Kamajii, The Boiler Geezer; Yumi Tamai as Rin, Chihiro’s friend; and a lot more.

The story was commenced with the appearance of Chihiro, a ten-year old girl, and her parents who were in their way to move out to their new house. The trip itself was a long one, and the sullied mood of Chihiro had made worse by it. She was apparently still sulking over her parents’ decision to move out, as she must left her beloved school friends. Back to the trip, her father took a wrong turn into a small road, which he thought was the right one, to only find a building with a small tunnel blocked by a weird, little statue. They were intrigued by this findings, and decided to get off the car and walk through the tunnel, for they thought their new house must be not very far from this. Chihiro, still in her sullied mood, somehow grouchily dragged her feet to follow her parents. When they reach the other end of the building, a vast, green land welcomed them, and they were very much delighted with this scenery. Chihiro’s father said that this must be an abandoned theme park, considering the 90’s era when theme park was a booming trend at the moment, even though most of them were slowly abandoned, and shortly, closed out due to monetary crisis which had happened all over Japan. Chihiro’s father then smelled a nice aroma, and decided to follow it to its source. They walked a bit more; passing a small, drying river, and eventually reached a cluster of stores which was entirely consisted of restaurant. Having found the restaurant, Chihiro’s parents were enticed to taste and eat the savoury treats presented in front of them, although there was no shop-keeper or any clerk in duty. They were sure they had quite a sum of money and credit card to pay the food, so they started to devour the treats savagely and greedily. Chihiro who blatantly refused to eat any of it, started strolling around the area and found an enormous building with lavish Japanese decoration; which was, in a closer inspection, happened to be a bath-house. She noticed that there was a train rail below the bridge of the building, for she heard the rhythmic thumping noise of train. She inspected the rail curiously, following the train’s movement with her eyes to the other side of the bridge when suddenly someone came from the bath-house. A weird looking boy with sharp eyes and simple outfit, talked to her in a demanding tone telling her to get out from this area and cross the river before the night falls. Chihiro, who was dumbfounded with this sudden panic, frantically came back to her parents at the restaurant. Then she was stupefied even more; both of her parents had turned into pigs! They were still eating the very same treats greedily, with saliva covering their mouth. Suddenly she heard a riding crop snapped, slapping her parents in such a force so they fell down. It was dark, and she was terrified; as dark, shadowy creatures started appearing all over the streets. She feverishly ran and turned at every corners until she reached the small river, or once the small river. For, alas! The river had turned into a giant one; she can barely see the tunnel across it, and to her utmost disbelief in the moment, a ferry comes and docked near her.

And then, as if these were not frightening enough, her body began to become see through. She was mad, panic, and starts to wish that this is just a dream. Then the same boy from the bath-house, whose name is Haku, approached her; comforting her and gave her a pill to cure her. Now, she confronted another misery; human is actually not allowed in this area, and people had been sent in search of her. The boy helped her, and begin to unfold the plan he had. He then told her to get a job to Yubaba; the bath-house granny, at the bath-house, which was his job-place too, so that she could gave him time to save her parents without her being chased as an illegal inhabitant. Will Chihiro succeed in her journey to help her parents? And how will the endeavour of Chihiro and Haku ended? Get up and watch the movie now to satisfy yourself with this extra-ordinary story.

Spirited Away is one of the few movie of Miyazaki Hayao which is fully compatible for teenagers (or 10-years old children to be exact, according to Miyazaki himself). This movie contains a lot of heavy-weighted messages, but they are packed with enough simplicity that can reach teenagers’ heart. His previous works are animation, too, such as Mononoke Hime, Nauusica: Valley of the Wind, and so on; but they contain some violent acts that may not be watched by children without guardian. Another works of his are more suitable for children, like My Neighbor Totoro, and Kiki’s Delivery Service. If we are to see the first reason of this film production, we will get a result that actually Miyazaki wants to criticize the upbringing of modern children; they are always spoiled, caged from the wonder of the world, and resulting a very narrow-minded and immature individual. It is shown at the beginning of the movie how Chihiro is a much indulged child; she is always sulking over, and has a very foul mood. She also at first refuses to go farther to satisfy curiosity, and more willing to stay in the car; a symbol of her comfort zone. Fortunately, she gradually changes in the latter of the story, by plunged into a great misery and realizing that she only has herself to be depended upon. But the directing process of this movie is an irony in itself. As quoted from Wikipedia, Miyazaki, who wants Haku’s altered form to be a dragon which resembles a lizard with some kind of dog snout for its mouth, couldn’t get the animators right due to their, in Miyazaki’s opinion, caged upbringing, resulting the limitation of their imagination.

Backstory aside, there are several motifs which are embedded in this movie. Miyazaki wants to give an allusion to the society for their over-longing to this momentary world, as we can see on the film how human is associated with greediness and impurity which only caused disturbance in the world of god, hence why human is forbidden in the area. We can also take notes when Chihiro’s parents cursed to become a pig, a very symbol of avarice, for its gluttony is the most remarkable amongst the animals.

Another motif that Miyazaki intensely implies in the movie is environmentalism, or pollution problem, which takes form in the scene as the river-god who came to the bath-house in order to cleanse itself. The god was at first mistaken to be a stink-god, and people were dying to forbid this god for coming to the bath-house. After being cleaned by Chihiro, this god purged out a lot of trashes which were resulted by pollution. Furthermore, -spoilers alert- in the latter of the movie it is informed that Haku was once a spirit of Kohaku River; who had lost his home, the river, due to apartment building. The first scene also proves the point; abandoned theme park as a result of poor land management. This motif is not a new thing in Miyazaki’s movie though, as it can be seen in almost all of his previous works.

There is also an interesting theory stating that actually Miyazaki made the bath-house as an alleviated version of a brothel, because of the way women were used in every aspect of entertaining the guests. They cleanse, massage, serve food, and dance in order to keep the guests contented. We can also see the outfit of women workers in this movie is a loose kimono, which can be interpreted as intentional sensuality. If I may add my own opinion in this matter, I think Miyazaki hasn’t any bad intention with putting women in such a degrading manner; considering his previous works which includes a lot of women as an influential characters, I can conjecture a guess that Miyazaki is a feminist. He only wants to show the world how strong a woman can be. While the debate is still on and there hasn’t been any solid statement from Miyazaki himself regarding this theory, we can conclude it temporarily as another motif that Miyazaki wants to imply, which is a shock to sudden move to adult-working life.

In the movie, Rin (Chihiro’s work partner) correctly suspects that Chihiro hasn’t been at work before in her entire life. It is proven with Chihiro’s clumsiness and untrustworthiness at the beginning of her work. She can finally show herself as a remarkable employee after cleaning the river-god, though.

The next motif imbedded in this work is how rules are playing a great deal in the world. Chihiro was chased as illegal inhabitant at first, but after signing her contract with Yubaba, nobody can harm her. Her name is also stolen and changed into Sen by Yubaba in order to have full command on her. It seems that rules have a solid supremacy here, but this doesn’t mean the rules itself are free from any contravention; like when Kamajii lies to Rin intentionally to protect Chihiro and giving her a job, while it is a rule that human is forbidden in that area. This implies that actually rules are never meant to be a solid, unbreakable one, but in one or many cases there should be a lenience and tolerance for the sake of goodness.

Then it brought us to the next point implied in this movie, which is the blurred line of good and evil. In this movie, almost all characters have their share of evil and good part. Haku and No-Face prove this; both of them were looked good at first, but still have their bad side also. Kamajii, Rin, and Zeniba who seems antagonist at the first appearance, turned out to have a lot of influence in Chihiro’s endeavour. This kind of disposition is uncommon amongst children story, as usually there is a stark line to show difference between the bad and good characters. Spirited Away’s blurred line gives accurate reflection upon the real world, where everything is not black and white but mostly greyish.

This also showed us the last value of the film, where actually a series of bad things occurred upon us is a chance to be more mature in facing the life. We should not let ourselves contaminated with badness albeit how bad the condition we must deal with. We need to always hold onto our own value, filtering the bad and accepting only the good and necessary, as shown by Chihiro when she utterly refuses things that she doesn’t need; protecting her against greater harm that would fall to her had she greedily take what is presented for her.

Analysing the character design of this movie, we will soon realize how they have distinctive outfit suitable for each role. It is shown in the movie how Chihiro’s outfit is simple, plain, and ordinary, suiting her 10-years old girl; Yubaba has a very rich aura, near to the arrogance, coming from her grandeur clothing; Haku’s is very simple, straightforward, and professional in every sense of word; and so on. Side characters which are mostly weird looking creatures also depicted greatly in this movie. As for the setting, there is a rough mixture of Japanese traditionalism and western lavish decoration, like we can see from the structure of the bath-house and Yubaba’s penthouse. From this, we can hazard a guess that the setting influence is coming from Japanese Meiji Period, the era when Japan opens up and influenced greatly by western nations. There are no great change of setting throughout the movie, as most of the story takes place in the bath-house. Nevertheless, the setting is illustrated beautifully due to Miyazaki’s supreme skill.

Lastly, there is another thing notable in this film, which is its music that companies all over the scenes. Composed by Joe Hisaishi, the track has a lot of palpable orchestra characteristics, contrasts with Japanese traditional ambience that dominated the movie. But they somehow matched the movie perfectly; accentuates every scene by scene and intensifies every emotion we feel during the movie.

Overall, aside from my biased opinion for this film, I conclude Spirited Away as a highly recommended movie. With its beautiful illustration, interesting plot, and all the messages embedded throughout the movie, it is surely worth your time and money to watch this awesome work of Miyazaki.