Spirited Away


Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Spirited Away I like anime when it is really, really, really well done. Which means most of the time, I don't like it all that much.

When I say Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi, 2001) was awesome, it's not because I'm inherently hot for anime like so many anime fans who can't tell crap from crayolas. This is quite simply a work of genius.

The story is set in a crumbling ruin of a failed & abandoned Disneylandesque tourist attraction which has become the otherworldly haunt of very strange ghosts & monsters, with an evil witch as overseer. Young Chiharo wanders about in this alternate reality trying to save her parents who have been turned into pigs.

Spirited AwayUpon this simply frame hangs a series of incredible encounters with fabulous beasts in crisis, who have turned to Chiharo to save them from the wicked witch.

Despite such borrowings & influences from Walt Disney's Pinocchio (1940) wherein boys were turned into donkeys, & the Wicked Witch of the West with her flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz (1939), the effect of this animated feature is thoroughly original.

And like those films that influenced Miyazaki, there is a thin line between horror & light adventure that might induce some very real nightmares for the littler kids, though fortunately it will captivate adults as thoroughly as children, so the more sensitive wee ones will be watching it in with the protection & company of adults nearby.

After sitting awestruck through this incredible piece of art, I immediately began watching the director's other animated films & have found some good ones & some mediocre ones, but never a second one as artful as Spirited Away, which is an almost impossible standard to live up to.

Howl's Moving CastleThe central image of Howl's Moving Castle (Hauru no ugoku shiro, 2004), is the chicken-footed wrecked-boat-like castle that walks across the landscape, looking very much like a Terry Gilliam creation.

The moving castle not only walks like a Baba Yaga house but its doorways open into various cities & places in the world. This is old-hat to fans of fantasy & science fiction literature, but it's rather new for animated feature film content.

Howl's Moving CastleIt's a story of a world at war & of wizards & sorcerers compelled to fight for one side or the other, except for Howl, a beautiful effeminate wizard who keeps his castle moving through space & place to avoid being caught up in the war.

The protagonist is a teenage girl whom the Witch of the Waste turned into an old hag, & who went searching for a way to undo the curse, being led to Howl's Castle by the scarecrow Turnip-head, where she becomes Howl's cleaning lady.

The characters include besides pogo-sticking Turnip-head (obviously someone under a spell) but also such figures as Calcifer the fire demon who is the power of the castle; & Howl himself who can turn into an enormous warlike bird but could get stuck that way & forget his humanity if he is a bird too long.

There's also Marco the little boy who is Howl's apprentice; Madam Suliman who is the power behind the throne & causes the wars as though it were only a game of chess; & Madam Suliman's elderly dog who joins teenage granny Sofie on Howl's Castle.

Howl's Moving CastleHowl will turn out to have the power to end the wars & the sundry curses, but Sofie must first end the curse Howl more or less put upon himself in order to possess the fire demon.

The ending gets rather mystical & any attempt to understand it rationally will fail, though it "feels" correct enough.

Those of us who keep hoping Miyazano will duplicate the story perfection of Spirited Away may well end up disappointed with everything he does for the rest of his life. Howl's Moving Castle was not originally his project, & he wasn't first choice to direct it. It is not a daring film for content or design, & the animation is not above average but is high-end commercialism.

The story, adapted from a novel by children's fantasist Diane Wynne Jones, is more than commonly captivating but still much more suited to children than adults, & as a "family" film the adults will merely bare it, unless already anime fans with their aesthetics button turned down to the eternal-kid setting. But for actual kids it will certainly exercise their imaginations.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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