Monday, September 20, 2010

Day Eighty: Spirited Away

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #56
Year: 2001
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: Rumi Hiiragi and Miyu Irino

Disclaimer: Anime and manga nerds will probably find something to whine about below. Please know that I don't care, and am not interested in watching Neon Genesis Evangelion or anything else to educate me more about a medium I ultimately don't care about. Spirited Away is on the IMDb Top 250 because it is a great film, not because it's a genre picture providing fan service for Japanophiles. If you're offended already, stop reading, and don't comment. Thank you.

Okay, so I'm being a little misleading by showing the Japanese poster and listing the Japanese cast above. I watched the English dub of Spirited Away this evening. I rarely if ever watch dubs, and for every other foreign film on this list that I've written about so far, I've watched the original language versions with English subtitles. For Spirited Away, though, the consensus seems to be that the dub is very good and just as authentic as the Japanese version. Hell, the primary audio track on the DVD I watched was in English. It became immediately clear that it shouldn't really matter much what language one watches this film in; the universal visual language of Hayao Miyazaki carries every scene.

It should be noted that I don't really consider myself a fan of Japanese animation, either in print or on film. My experience is extremely limited, and I don't pretend to be an expert on the subject, but I have never particularly liked the way that people are drawn, and I've perceived that much of the Japanese animation that makes it across the ocean is lacking in detail. Spirited Away completely bucks these trends. The art is unmistakably Japanese, but the people aren't as bug-eyed as I expected, and the landscapes are far from undetailed. In fact, the current trends in American animation that can be seen on countless Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network shows are moving towards undetailed, unmoving backgrounds. Meanwhile, Miyazaki's work is some of the most lush, gorgeous, complete animation I have ever seen. Every corner of every frame is filled with little details to feast the eye on. The spirit world that protagonist Chihiro is thrust into is painstakingly brought to life by Miyazaki. Even though the world is bizarre and surreal and had to be built from the ground up, the attention detail makes it feel as real and familiar as any world I've seen.

I'm sure the story of Spirited Away – one involving two parents who accidentally go to a bathhouse for spirits with their daughter, who struggles to return home and rescue her parents after they're turned into pigs for eating food meant for the spirits – has numerous layers of meaning deserving of erudite analysis, but for me, it was secondary to the art. The writing is competent, the story is interesting, and the ending is satisfying, but none of that is the reason why this movie is so high on the Top 250, in my opinion. Most of the fun of watching Spirited Away comes from a visual standpoint. When I watch it again, I'll gather more about the story and unearth some of the symbolism, but I'll mostly be trying to gather more of the luscious scenery drawn so perfectly by Miyazaki. Either way, though, I'll be watching it again.

The Good: The beautiful, beautiful animation.

The Bad: The fact that I watched an English dub. I think I vindicated myself, but I'm still slightly ashamed.

The Skinny: #56 is too high, but right around #100 wouldn't be.


  1. Well, Brad, you can look forward to real life conversations with me in the future. We'll have to watch it together sometime and we can debate the finer points of analysis.

    I am really super glad you enjoyed it!

  2. Princess Mononoke is my absolute favorite Miyazaki film and I've only watched it once in its original language.
    The english dub fits better in my opinion.
    Not always the case.
    Totoro, Ponyo, Porco Rosso, and Castle in the Sky are all better in their original.
    But all the others (Nausicaa, Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, etc.) I prefer in English.

  3. Very different from America's animated movies, but very good nevertheless. Chichiro was such an adorable and life-like character. Her emotions and confusion was so real.
    I didn't get very involved in searching for symbolysm, ofcourse I saw some though.
    And of course, the picture is wonderful.

  4. I think hating this movie has got to be synonymous with soullessness. Seriously, if you can sit through these two hours, at any age, and be upset with the way you just spent your time, you should go die.