Year of Release: 2001
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Screenplay: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: Rumi Hiiragi, Miyu Irino, Mari Natsuki, Bunta Sugawara, Yumi Tamai, Tsunehiko Kamijo, Takehiko Ono, Akio Nakamura,
Running Time: 124 minutes
Genre: fantasy, animation
This is one of the best loved films from Japan's celebrated Studio Ghibli. Ten year old Chihiro Ogino (Hiiragi) is not happy at all about moving home and leaving her friends behind, on the way to their new house, her parents take a wrong turn and the Ogino family find themselves in what at first appears to be an abandoned theme park. However, Chihiro soon learns that it is much more that that, when her parents start eating some food that has been left out, and become transformed into pigs. Trapped in a bizarre fantasy world, Chihiro's only hope of changing her parents back and returning them all safely to their own world is to take a job in a bathhouse for spirits and other creatures, run by a dangerous witch, Yubaba (Natsuki).
This was the highest grossing film in Japanese history when it was released, and won Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards. Hayao Miyazaki came up with the idea when he spent the summer at a mountain cabin with his family and some of his ten year old daughter's friends. During the vacation, Miyazaki read through some of the manga that the girls had brought up and was disappointed to find that it mainly focused on crushes and romance. Feeling that this was not what the girls "held dear in their hearts", Miyazaki made Spirited Away specifically for these girls, witha heroine they could look up to.
The animation in the film is stunning, mixing traditional hand-drawn animation with computer technology, to dazzling effect. The animation creates a world that has texture and life to it, the food looks like it has taste and the objects look like they have weight and solidity to them. It creates a world that is truly a self-contained fantasy world with it's own rules and laws, but that also feels strangely familiar, with such strangely haunting aspects as the lonely trains that occasionally run through the water-logged landscape. Chihiro is an affecting lead character, initially seeming quite sullen, and whiny, she relies on her courage, intelligence, persistence and kindness to survive.
There are several themes recurring Miyazaki themes in the film: a strong heroine, environmental awareness, ambiguous villains, the conflict between tradition and modernity in Japan, and criticism of greed and corruption.
While not Miyazaki's best film, this is a wonderful fantasy and a classic of animation.