Spirited Away

Spirited Away DVD Cover
Email: NCS@NotComingSoon.com


5 stars out of 5 stars

Directed by:

Hayao Miyazaki


Rumi HiiragiChihiro
Miyu IrinoHaku
Mari NatsukiYubaba
Takashi NaitoFather
Yasuko SawaguchiMother
Tsunehiko KamijoChichi-yaku
Takehiko OnoAni-yaku
Bunta SugawaraKamaji


Hayao Miyazaki


From CD Japan but Poker Industries also has it.



Video Signal:


I'm supposed to review this film, and I feel like an idiot. Look, this a film by Hayao Miyazaki. So go see it. OK? I'll say it again. Hayao Miyazaki. You know, Mononoke, Totoro, Lupin, that guy. Anybody who reads this and knows what I'm talking about is already planning to go see it, and frankly I doubt anything I'm going to say to you other guys is going to persuade you. More over, where the heck were you people when Mononoke was in theaters? Thanks a whole bunch is all I have to say.

[conversation in strained voices follows]

My wife has pointed out to me that this sight is called NOT Coming Soon, and is, for one thing, to let people who aren't going to be able to see these movies in the theater get informed about them. That's not really the case with this movie. For one thing, it's supposed to be released over here in September 2002. But that makes a review more important than ever. I suppose people think Spirited Away will be a success like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. They are deluding themselves if so, because CTHD's success was a result of a meticulous and extended promotional campaign. That campaign moreover had the unique approach of letting people actually see the movie and then relying on them to tell people how good it was (and how many films would that work with?) Basically it was nothing but pre-screening after pre-screening, shown to the very people who ought to have been willing to go see it by themselves. Anyway it worked and I'm pretty damn sure that anything less for Spirited Away and it is going to sink like a stone. But maybe this review will help.

I'd rather not waste time on the plot. Plots in these movies are just empty spaces Miyazaki fills up with his own stuff. Tell him to do a series about Sherlock Holmes as a dog, and sure, he starts well, but get a few episodes in and you get biplanes and mid-air rescues. And sunken ships with rooms all on their sides. Still, the attempt should be made. The story of Spirited Away (remember this is supposed to be a review of Spirited Away. That's Spirited Away. Coming in September, 2002, in theaters. d.v.) is on the model of a Grimm's fairy tale. It's about a girl and her parents, travelling in Japan, who stumble across some kind of tunnel while Dad is trying out his 4-wheel drive. Going through, they find themselves in a picturesque but abandoned bunch of buildings that the father immediately identifies as an abandoned theme-park. (This isn't a bad guess really, as they explore and find a main street that is obviously designed to be the main street of a tourist resort.) Yada-yada-yada, there's a witch, the parents are enchanted into pigs, and the girl is put to work as a servant in the witch's house. Classic fairytale elements. The girl has to hold her breath to cross a bridge, but gasps at the wrong moment. She is given very precise instructions to follow and a phrase to repeat which forces the witch to spare her life. She follows the advice and things turn out OK. If she had two sisters, they would have been given the same advice but ignoring it, they would have come to grief, but she doesn't, so we skip that part.

That's about the first forty minutes and I'm not getting across at all the effect of the film. Everything is done on a huge scale. First of all, the witch's house is a bath-house. It is a bath-house where "8 million weary gods can come to rest" (a rest well deserved after all that running around in Mononoke) and it looks like there's about a couple of thousand staying there at any one time. There are just crowds of the strangest spirits wandering about the place. Sometimes the camera just starts wandering around, panning over it all. It is gorgeous. The bath house is a huge city of a place, with hundreds of employees. There are enormous warehouses with huge jars of wine, gigantic fish and an entire pig farm, all beautifully depicted in amazing detail. Then we have the boiler room. The boiler itself is fairly normal. It's huge, but it would have to be. The door to the boiler room is perhaps the most totally normal thing in the movie. The fact that the boiler is stoked by the soot-sprites from Totoro is a bit of a surprise. As is the guy running the boiler room, who I am not going to describe. Moreover, it is all drawn in the style of John Tenniel and Arthur Rackham. The witch in particular reminds me of the Duchess and many of the servants are very like the frog and fish footmen. John Tenniel was an editorial cartoonist and Miyazaki has included the same sort of exaggerated realism you find there. Except for the pigs. These pigs are real pigs. They're not exaggerated, because pigs don't have to be. We're not talking Charlotte's Web, not Babe, we are talking more the Mononoke sort. When the girl finds her parents in pig form it is truly scary.

Anyway the film is over two hours long and really at times the story get pretty lost and has to go off and lie down but things get back on track eventually and we have a classic fairytale ending. (Well, no red hot shoes or anything like that.) And let me say once more that this is a gorgeous film. Not particularly gorgeous for a Miyazaki movie, but by any other standard, a feast for the eyes. Just to examine one detail, there is a scene where the girl gazes up to the top of a building she is standing next to. It's a windy day, with puffy low clouds sailing across the sky. You get an illusion that the building is moving in the opposite direction. If you don't remember doing this as a kid and feeling this effect, well I do. This illusion is made all the more real in the movie because Miyazaki actually moves the building. I just went out and tried this, and sure enough, I felt like an idiot. Why? Grownup people do not go around staring up at the tops of buildings. Kids do, and they see things that we do not.

I could go on about how the elements of childhood are combined in this movie. God knows others will. What is childhood after all, but people with huge heads yelling at you and projectile vomiting, both of which are in this movie a lot? Themes of how we come of age and assume the mantle of adulthood, and crap like that. Much could be made about the atmosphere of greed and fear that dominates the servants in the house, but really I don't see it. They're just acting like people do. In fact, that's one of the great things about this movie; how all the characters, no matter how bizarre they look, really seem like normal people. I think the real message, if there is one, is "Hey kid! This is it! Have fun while you can, cuz' grown-up life stinks." Once you grow up, you're going to work for a witch and the people you work with are going to be mostly jerks and frankly your best hope is to hope not to be noticed. And just make a really kick-ass movie. Needless to say, this film made $200,000,000 in a country with a population less than half ours (USA), so I would say Miyazaki has succeeded.


Thumbnail of Chihiro finding her folks are pigs.

Pigs! (~28K)

Thumbnail of Chihiro and Haku crossing the bridge.

Chihiro and Haku crossing the bridge (~33K)

Thumbnail of Chihiro and some heads.

Chihiro and some heads (~30K)

Thumbnail of Yubaba

Yubaba (~28K)

Thumbnail of soot sprites and a rat.

Soot sprites and a rat (~31K)

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