(Sen To Chihiro No Kamikakushi)
People rushed to call Spirited Away a Japanese Alice in Wonderland (1865). This is more a comparison born of not knowing what else to compare Spirited Away to both stories are vaguely similar in featuring a young girl trying to find her way home through a surreal world of talking creatures. Where Alice in Wonderland has the rhythm of a nonsense rhyme, Spirited Away is more like an epic quest that draws upon traditional Japanese mythological elements. If anything, Spirited Away seems like a combination of the geisha drama Sandakan No. 8 (1975) and Japanese animal spirit fantasies such as Demon Pond (1979) or the first two segments of Akira Kurosawas Dreams (1990). What is certain is that Spirited Away is almost impossible to describe in richness of Hayao Miyazakis imagination. It is set in a spirit world but rather than an ethereal afterlife this is like an almost-familiar reflection of the present that combines traditional Japanese rural architecture and oddly incongruous modern touches this is an afterlife where there is electric lighting and telephone lines and trains run through the water-logged landscape. Miyazaki populates the world with a mind-boggling menagerie of creatures kimono-clad frogs; giant talking catfish and budgies; a hero who periodically turns into a water dragon and, at one point, is nearly killed by a flock of paper birds; a giant baby; the witchs retainers, which consist of three malevolent green severed heads; a wonderfully appealing one-legged hopping lantern; animated soot particles; and the scene-stealing duo of a fat mouse and a mini-flying thing companion.
Spirited Away is a film filled with a genuine magic. Hayao Miyazaki is a master animator and Spirited Away has an epically expansive feel that makes animated contemporaries from the likes of Disney, Pixar and DreamWorks SKG seem like empty eye candy. In comparison to these, Miyazaki emphasises a contemplative quietude. His animation is plain but stunning in its painterly detail and his emphasis on quietness of character. The journey that Chihiro takes by train with her three companions the simple images of them sitting in an empty carriage or of her face reflected against the window has an extraordinary lonely loveliness. As much for the big set-piece flourishes the appearance of the stink monster, Chihiros quieting of No Names rampage Miyazaki impresses with his small scenes the initial tenderness of Chihiros friendship with the mournfully lonely No Name, and especially the wonderfully bizarre dance of the soot creatures and their quaintly appealing deification of Chihiro and her shoes.
Spirited Away is an exquisite and extraordinary film from an animator who has no equal. There is a simplicity of story at the heart of it one where Chihiros child-like innocence and non-judgmentalness is seen as having a purity and truth up against everyone else who is blinded by greed or stupidity. The imagination of Hayao Miyazakis world, the detail it comes rendered in and the quiet power of Spirited Away is stunning. Occasionally toward the end, the film seems a little hurried Haku suddenly realises his true name, the twin sister who put a curse on him is quickly revealed to be a good witch and Chihiros final test is passed with amazing ease but Spirited Away has genuine beauty. It should be seen by everybody.
Hayao Miyazaki subsequently went onto make the epic fantasy Howls Moving Castle (2004), Ponyo on a Cliff By the Sea (2008) and The Wind Rises (2013), as well as to write/plan Arrietty/The Secret World of Arrietty (2010) and From Up on Poppy Hill (2011). The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (2013) is also a documentary about Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli.
Japanese language trailer here (English subbed):-