Spirited Away (2001)

“I’m sorry my sister turned you parents into pigs, but there’s nothing I can do. It’s just the way things are. You’ll have to help your parents and Haku by yourself. Use what you remember about them.”

‘Spirited Away’, an animated movie directed by Hayao Miyazaki in 2001, is a magical, witty and, at times, a profoundly unsettling film. A girl called Chihiro Ogino and her two parents inadvertently stumble upon a magical realm within an abandoned amusement park. The parents are turned into pigs and Chihiro has to battle against a witch and various unusual inhabitants of the land to restore them and return to the real world. It’s a deceptively simple story and episodic in nature, but the true power and charm of the movie comes from the immersive and inventive visuals. The landscapes are beautiful and give a real sense of fantasy, but the characters and creatures in the film are the focus. Weird frog-men, dragons, slime monsters, disembodied heads and witches with giant heads give the movie an uncanny sense that you are dipping into some kind of alien folklore. It’s steeped with the feel of otherworldliness, which may be a consequence of my lack of knowledge about Japanese mythology, but actually enhances the film. You also feel for the central character. For all the pyrotechnic characterisation of the monsters and liminal beings, the depiction of Chihiro as a very real and vulnerable, but still brave and inquisitive, girl is at the emotional heart of the film. It’s one of those films, a little like ‘Watership down’ that if I’d seen it when I was five I’d have been enchanted, if I’d seen it when I was twelve I’d have been terrified. Now, I find myself somehow terrified and enchanted at the same time.

Would I recommend it? Yes. It’s tempting to suggest in a contrasting double bill with ‘Akira’ to give a sense of the range of Japanese animation. Although, what is it with the Japanese and giant babies??

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