Japanese Name: Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi
Translates To: Sen & Chihiro’s Spiriting Away
Directed & Written By: Hayao Miyazaki
Production Company: Studio Ghibli
Distributed By: Toho (Japan) Walt Disney Pictures (America)
As I had said previously for Summer Wars, the hardest part about picking a favorite animated film from Japan is finding one that isn’t based on a manga or anime series. In the case of films made by Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki, that choice is made even more difficult. To date, of each and every film that I have seen with the Studio Ghibli logo or the name Hayao Miyazaki attached, I can call it no less than a work of art and dedication of extreme magnitude. In the spirit of that dedication, my choice for the top Studio Ghibli film, and one of my personal top five, is the film Spirited Away.
The basic summary of this film goes as follows: Chihiro Ogino, a sullen ten-year-old girl, and her parents unwittingly enter the spirit world while moving to a new neighborhood. After partaking in the enchanted food, Chihiro’s parents are transformed into pigs and so Chihiro takes a job working in the witch Yubaba’s bathhouse to find a way to free herself and her parents and return to the human world.
There’s far more to it than just that mind you but that is the basic summary of Chihiro’s adventures and her “coming-of-age” tale that is the one common theme of most Studio Ghibli films.
Though I do not believe that he calls it as such, I am firmly of the opinion that this film was Hayao Miyazaki’s magnum opus and I don’t say that lightly. The film was directed, written, and storyboarded entirely by Hayao Miyazaki himself!
Well, actually, “written” is a bit of a stretch as, by his own admittance, most if not all of his films begin firstly with illustrative storyboards so grand and artistic it’s an insult to call them mere sketches. It is during this process that a story begins to form followed shortly by the script, a reverse order of what is atypical of most films never mind those of animation. There is also a keen attention to detail towards everything in this movie, from tiny movements like Chihiro putting on her shoes and tapping the toes to make sure they fit right to how an Asian dragon might soar through the air like a serpent does through water.
Spirited Away has won a total of five awards with the most illustrious having to be the Academy Award for Best Animated Picture. It is, thus far, the only animated film from Japan to win this and might I also add that only Studio Ghibli films have frequented the nominations in recent years. Of course, this was hardly unexpected considering this film broke the record for the highest grossing film Japanese history.
Not “animated” but film. No other has come close in Japan and they’d be hard pressed to do so as the film earned 30.4 billion yen, which converts to 330 million American dollars!
Of course, if there’s one thing in particular about this film that I should note and impress upon all of you it’s that it would never have come to American shores if it weren’t for John Lasseter all but lobbying outside the doors of Disney to get them to outbid the competing Dreamworks for the rights of the film. Then again, Disney and by extension Lasseter, did the right thing by agreeing to the only two things that Hayao Miyazaki cared about with his films.
No cuts and they would take not just Spirited Away but all films prior and after.
The last one might have been added to sweeten the pot as it were but the first one I’m sure was what sold it to Hayao Miyazaki. We are talking about the same man who, upon hearing that Miramax Films wanted to make cuts to Princess Mononoke, sent the chairman a katana with two words attached.
Moving on to the film itself… What can I say about it when my opinion is already more than obvious at this point? Was there anything that I disliked about it? Honestly, I wish that there were a guidebook of some sort that came with every copy of the film that explains some of the more subtle Japanese customs and themes that we Westerners are obviously missing. Lasseter and all those involved in translating this movie did their best with what they could, and even went so far as to try their best to get lip movements matching to the words, but it’s hard to explain what is common to one person and unheard of to another without breaking the flow of the story.
Not to say that there’s a lot of that in Spirited Away but… well, one scene in particular has the foreman of the bathhouse dancing a little jig to words that… Frankly could not be translated into English and fit with what his mouth was moving to let alone in a way that we could comprehend. Another scene of similar cultural differences occurs when Chihiro happens to crush a slug that was making her draconic friend Haku ill and fearing that she would too be infected with a similar curse, the boiler man Kamaji did a “evil begone” swipe of the hands that is obvious to Easterners but not so much so in the West.
As to what I loved about this movie… Good God Almighty, the backgrounds… There are moments all across the entirety of the movie where I almost wished that some of the characters would kindly move themselves aside so I can take in more of the scenery! Especially in the case of… Actually, I’ll save that one for when I review my favorite character from this film though I will give the hint that it is just one of many common themes that occur in a Studio Ghibli film in one way or another.
Overall, this is a must watch movie and one that I can sincerely promise to be one to watch again and again. After all, how often can one see what is well and truly a story about growing up, and featuring a girl, a heroine, without any of that romantic nonsense? Which is rather hypocritical coming from me but my point still stands!