Tour de Miyazaki: Spirited Away
Released: 2001 (Japan), 2002 (United States)
Brief Synopsis: A young girl gets lost in a strange world populated by funny and dangerous spirits, and must adapt in order to make it home.
Themes: Unlike Totoro, which was all about the pleasures of being a kid, Spirited Away focuses on growing up. Chihiro begins the film as a whiny young girl who is absolutely opposed to any change. The film begins with her and her family moving to a new town, which greatly upsets her. But once she is separated from her parents in a strange new world, she has to learn to accept that things will change and must adapt accordingly. The film also touches on greed and temptation. In her travels, Chihiro sees people undone by their inability to resist greed or temptation, and she learns how to be a better person because of it.
Animation: The world of the spirits is incredibly realized, with incredible designs for the various spirits and lush, detailed environments for them to inhabit. The colors are vibrant in the light, but the shadows and darkness are also very effective and foreboding.
Sub vs. Dub: I slightly prefer the Japanese over the English, but unlike some of the films, I do enjoy the English and think it has a few advantages over the Japanese. The most important difference is that, in the English, Chihiro comes to a conclusion much sooner than she does in the Japanese, and the plot point works better with her not making the conclusion until later in the movie. I like Chihiro’s Japanese voice actress better than her English one, and there are some scenes that are over-cluttered with people talking in the English track. Still, I’d recommend watching it in English first because there are some explanations of things that are so common in Japan that they needed no explanation in the original track. And, all things considered, the English dub is very good.
Verdict: Spirited Away is just barely edged out by Princess Mononoke for title of “My Favorite Miyazaki Movie.” Everything about it works, from the story to the visuals to the themes. It is the perfect combination of sweet and scary, with an uplifting story that doesn’t surgarcoat some of the scarier aspects of life. This is definitely a must-see for everyone.