Studio Ghibli's 2001 animated goliath Spirited Away, directed by Hayao Miyazaki, is widely credited as one of the first eastern animations to really take the western world by storm, captivating the hearts of foreign audiences with a charm and story that viewers adored and have lovingly kept relevant to this day. Countless characters and iconography have stood a serious test of time and remain in the mainstream even now, with characters such as the popular no face retaining iconic status sixteen years on.
|Fig 1: Movie Poster, Spirited Away|
The story follows that of Chihiro Ogino, a young girl who moves to a new area with her parents only to stumble across what seems to be an old abandoned theme park. As the long trip to the new area has taken its toll on the moving family they decide to venture into the forgotten area and stop for what seems to be free food, only for Chihiro to discover that the innocent family have in fact wandered into a land inhabited by spirits. As Chihiro's parents are punished by the spirit world for their greed, she finds herself trapped in this dangerous new land fighting for her parents freedom, meaning that she must make friends and enemies of all kinds to grow as a character and free her family.
|Fig 2: Screenshot, Spirited Away|
At its core, Spirited Away a film that focusses on growing up or rather developing as a person, with multiple themes centered on aspects of change or growth, both within the cast of characters and the environment. The film magnificently juggles a number of different social issues with a good hearted and gripping story line, managing to maintain its grounded core whilst the plot travels in a number of different directions. The entire plot of Spirited Away somehow manages to feel reserved and quite contained, possibly because of the way its setting physically contains its cast, whilst simultaneously feeling elaborate and complex. Because of this the film at times doesn't feel like a feature length animation (despite its 125 minute run time)but rather a soap opera or reality tv show, containing elements of the plot within a physical building has given the film a sense of inclusion that forces the viewer to rather look in and observe the events that change Chihiro instead of a linear plot that revolves around a journey.
An aspect of Miyazaki's animated masterpiece that never goes unmentioned is the almost silent masked character No Face, a spirit that literally drifts through the plot absorbing the emotional energy around him and learning the traits of the environment he is in. Throughout the entirety of Spirited Away No Face seems to be the physical embodiment of the idea of youth, a young spirit roaming the land taking in the traits and energy of those around him, some positive traits and some negative traits. This idea of a wandering youth further lends itself to strengthen the idea of the bathhouse seeming like more of a reality tv show setting rather than a filmic environment, almost shifting into a playground type set with the different spirits and characters existing within the house learning to adapt and deal with each others differences. No mask also posses' the ability to create gold from thin air, a currency that is extremely valuable within the spirit world, almost making him seem even more like a youthful character who is simply seeking a friend, mimicking the traits of those around him whilst trying to supply them items that could win their affection.
|Fig 3: Screenshot, Spirited Away|
This idea of greed is a theme that runs throughout every moment of Spirited Away, from the very first act which sees Chihiro's parents taken captive due to their own greed right through to the bigger scenes which see No Face destroying the bathhouse due to the greed of the employees that work within it. This is potentially a piece of commentary focusses at audiences within its homeland of Japan, possibly commenting on the state of financial market at the time of its release, another aspect of this film that causes it to be remembered so fondly, Miyazaki seems to be able to craft cinema that not only captures the hearts and imaginations of its audience but also carries a strong message that viewers need to take away with them.
Studio Ghibli's 2001 animated hit Spirited Away has certainly managed to retain a certain sense of timelessness that not many other features can boast, ensuring that its sense of origin was never lost whilst still capturing the attention of foreign audiences. From its roots that shine through its scenes all the way to the issues that it intends to tackle or at least comment on, Miyazaki has ensured that audiences wont be forgetting No Face anytime soon.
Fig 1: Movie Poster, Spirited Away, http://www.impawards.com/2002/spirited_away.html, Accessed on: 26.01.17
Fig 2: Screenshot, Spirited Away, http://metrograph.com/film/film/138/spirited-away, Accessed on: 26.01.17
Fig 3: Screenshot, Spirited Away, https://moviepilot.com/posts/2297900, Accessed on: 26.01.17