I was Spirited Away, but I wish I wasn’t

A quick note before we begin that I will be releasing a Play Pick Tuesday. Also, there is the possibility of me doing a video review sometime in the future. Stay tuned, and enjoy this Pick.

Let me give you some background on Studio Ghibli, or what I like to call the Japanese Disney.

Studio Ghibli is an animation film studio that is known for its anime films. Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata founded the company in 1985 and it has been producing high-quality animations since.

I can safely say that I enjoy anything with so much as a reference to the studio. Why do you think Toy Story 3 was so popular?

This reference happens to be the source of the first film I watched from Studio Ghibli, My Neighbo(u)r Totoro, following a family moving into an old house, discovering a ‘keeper of the forest’ behind the house. From this, I began to appreciate their work as I was pulled into their magical and mysterious world.

Since then, I have watched many films surrounding the company, including The Secret World of Arrietty, The Castle of Cagliostro and My Neighbo(u)rs the Yamadas. I have been pleased by all their works, but the one that evaded me was Spirited Away.

Spirited Away is renowned for being one of – if not the best – animated feature film of all time. It won many awards in Japan, including an Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film at the 75th Annual Academy Awards Ceremony. It was this weekend that my search finally ended in CEX, and I proceeded to buy it on the spot.

In truth, as I sit down to write this part of the review, I have not actually watched the film yet. It is Monday and I’m hoping to watch it tonight in English translation. I wanted to write this part of the review to show you that the film already precedes itself in being a great in my eyes without even watching it. Is that a good thing to think? Let’s find out.

I can say right now that no, it was not a good thing to think.

Spirited Away tells the tale of Chihiro, who is moving house and discovers an abandoned theme park with her parents. There, she realises she is in another world, and must find away to reclaim her name and family back from the witch Yubaba, while working at Yubaba’s bath-house for spirits.

This film has taught me a few things. Not from the film itself, but how I watched it. On the Monday afternoon, I came home from school tired, and over-hyped. I had been thinking about the film all day, and I rushed back home to watch the long-awaited film.

The only reason I can put to my disappointment of the film was that I expected too much, and it was not that the film didn’t meet and probably exceed expectations, but my expectations were too specific and high. I was expecting “the perfect film”.

I want to round off on this quickly so I have some time to actually review the film. What I am trying to say is that the film wasn’t what I expected. It wasn’t aiming to be “the best” and I was almost in a drunken state, my mind fixated on this film waiting for it to amaze me. No film should be watched like that. For a film, book or any kind of entertainment to succeed, it must amaze you from unbiased viewing and draw you into its story on its own. I was too engrossed to begin with, where I should have been just enjoying the film from a calm and interested refrain. Now that I have had a few days to think about the film, it is only now that I can review it in an unbiased way, not saying “it didn’t meet my expectations” or “it was the greatest film of all time”.

In truth, looking back on the film, it was a magical adventure. It reminds me a little of Alice in Wonderland, with Chihiro being drawn into an absurd and slightly dangerous world meeting strange and enchanting people within this world. The plot also reminds me of Alice’s adventures by the plot. Chihiro is trying to make sense of this new world she has been put into and in the process experiences weird situations everywhere she goes. There is never a dull moment in this film.

What I liked about this film is that it jumped straight into the story. They are moving house, they take a short-cut and get to the abandoned theme park. Simple. I have heard that a lot of full scenes were cut from the movie due to the length of it, so it’s obvious to see why they had to get into the spirit world quick. However, it doesn’t seem rushed, and neither does any of the other scenes throughout the movie.

What makes this start so good, is that you are level with the main character in what you and she understands. You get a sense of confusion as to what is going on, and a real sense of danger as she is urgently given instructions of how to survive without being given the full-picture of where she is and how she can save her parents. Characters like Yubaba and No-Face are truly formidable without being so scary as to frighten the child target audience.

Studio Ghibli take a very ambitious route in regards to the animation. While most is in typical anime form, there are moments of 3-D animation that are used to create eerie atmosphere and expansive scenery. While most of the film takes place in the bath-house, beautifully animated scenes like Yubaba’s magic at work and Haku’s transformations from dragon to human. Another gutsy move was the use of blood in some scenes. For a film with a large portion of its target market being children, there is one particular scene where blood splatters and bleeding takes place. It was a bold move, and one that really does pay of in regards to adding a real sense of grit and adding to the animation as a whole.

As the days have increased between me watching the film and the present, it really has grown on me. The originality of characters and scenes and how important morals are subtly added throughout (e.g. don’t take what isn’t yours, DO NOT take what isn’t yours, be polite whenever possible, stand your ground, keep your morals) it really does seem like the perfect film.

I would definitely recommend this film, and I would give it my very own Re-watch Award: a film that you can re-watch again. I frankly dislike watching films again, but some of my favourites I overlook.

With my biased viewing behind me, I shall be watching the movie again in Japanese with my brother whenever he feels like watching it, and this time, I’m going to enjoy the film without the pressure of having to love it. Thank you all for reading!