It feels trite to call Spirited Away “beautiful.” Most Studio Ghibli movies are beautiful. That’s like calling a gorgeous sunset “beautiful.” And it’s especially true of Hayao Miyazaki‘s movies. He’s an artist who put so much painstaking detail into each frame of his art. But it’s worth acknowledging nonetheless; if one ceases to appreciate the beauty, and it goes unrecognized, then that’s a shame. You don’t stop saying someone’s cooking tastes good if it still does, after all—and if you do, maybe you stop getting fed.
Spirited Away takes place primarily in a magical world filled with spirits and talking animals and deformed individuals. It follows Chihiro, a 10-year-old girl who is traveling to a new home, away from her school and friends. A wrong turn leads them to what looks like an abandoned carnival—but with a working food stand. Her parents eat like pigs; Chihiro explores and meets a young boy named Haku. When she returns to her parents, they’ve tranformed into literal pigs. Chihiro finds herself unable to leave this land, which she sees now is populated by all sorts of odd characters. Haku acts as her friendly guide, but there’s something peculiar about him, too.
Chihiro eventually finds work at the bathhouse, which seems like the hotspot for this spirit world. She has adventures and learns some lessons during her time here. They are all fun and there is never a dull moment. Spirited Away keeps us engaged regardless of what it’s doing. Even minor plot threads or distractions are enjoyable.
Part of the reason for this is because of how great it looks, sure, but aesthetically it also has creativity on its side. Almost all of the characters look different from everyone else, and that creates a visceral visual delight. With the rich backgrounds, the interesting setting—especially for non-Japanese viewers who will be less familiar with bathhouses as a concept- and these characters, you’re always going to have at least one of your senses engaged.
Anyone can enjoy Spirited Away and everyone should.
Chihiro’s adventures and lessons will remind viewers of Alice in Wonderland. They’re not identical but would play well together. Spirited Away is likely thematically richer, while Alice in Wonderland is weirder. I don’t know if that makes either one better than the other.
It’s always nice to come across animated films that can be enjoyed by both adults and children. Disney movies usually can, and that can be said of those from Studio Ghibli, too. It’d odd that this is the exception, not the rule. The films from these studios demonstrate that animation can be deep, gorgeous, and engaging not just for children but for their parents and their parents’ parents. You can watch a movie like Spirited Away with your children and your parents and everyone will get something out of it—even if that something is different, brought out based on your life experiences, or lack of them. So often you see these movies in theaters with parents who pay as much attention to the floor or their phones as they do at the screen.
That won’t be the case with Spirited Away. It’s too gorgeous, too magical, and too entertaining. With its rich, detailed, and beautiful animation, it sucks in viewers and doesn’t let go until the credits roll—and even then, you’ll want to stay sitting until the screen becomes black. It gives us a girl, transports her to a supernatural world, and allows her adventures that we get to go on, too. She learns things, we reflect upon our own lives, and we have a good time for a couple of hours. Anyone can enjoy Spirited Away and everyone should.
Conclusion: Spirited Away is a tremendously enjoyable movie.
Recommendation: Everyone should see Spirited Away.