Most of if not all of Miyazaki’s films have received universal acclaim but only one has received the film industry’s top honor. At the 75th Academy Awards, Spirited Away took home the Best Animated Feature award, beating out DreamWorks and Walt Disney Feature Animation. Does this make Spirited Away Miyazaki’s best movie? I’m not sure that’s a question that can be answered but I do know one thing, Spirited Away is my favorite Miyazaki movie.
Chihiro is a shy young girl who along with her family has moved to a small Japanese town in the countryside. Along the way, Chihiro’s father makes a wrong turn and takes the family to a mysterious tunnel out in the woods. Despite Chihiro’s opposition, the family goes through the tunnel arriving in an abandoned amusement park. Chihiro’s parents are drawn in by an alluring smell and soon find themselves gorging on an unexplained feast.
The day turns to night and visiting spirits arrive. If that wasn’t enough, Chihiro’s parents are turned into pigs after eating the food. Panicked, Chihiro meets a boy named Haku who wants to help Chihiro save her parents. Haku convinces Chihiro to find a job at a bath house for spirits, under the watchful eye of the mischievous witch Yubaba. Here she can bide her time before making her escape. Can Chihiro find the courage within herself to save her parents? Or will she be forever trapped in a world of spirits?
What amazes me the most about Spirited Away is how it’s unlike any or film I’ve ever seen. Even with a groundbreaking film like Princess Mononoke you can trace some influences from John Ford and Akira Kurosawa. Spirited Away is in a world of its own. The film’s premise is distinctly original, the look is fantastical, and the story is sweet but engrossing. Naturally, you can draw some of the spirits from Japanese mythology, but as far as I know, they’ve never been captured in a film like this.
Like many of Miyazaki’s narratives the film takes its time to develop characters. In Spirited Away I almost get the feeling that Miyazaki is just making it up as he goes along. Normally, I would criticize a movie for doing something like that but in this case it has a spontaneity to it that feels invigorating. All the magic aside, what Spirited Away does best is tell a story for children as well as children at heart. It can be difficult and scary to move away or be on you own sometimes. Spirited Away is inspiring because it shows a young girl rising above her fears on her own accord. Spirited Away stuns me with its beauty, which is probably why I don’t have much to say, just go watch it and let it take you away.