Monday, November 27, 2006


This week's masterpiece:

Have you ever heard of this film? Probably not, if you get your movie info from TV, or from magazines, or from newspapers, or from friends, or from neighbors, or from movie trailers, or from your local Blockbuster Video. Yet, this is considered, by many around the world, to be the best animated movie from the greatest animator/storyteller of all time – Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli. And that’s saying quite a lot.

I’ve heard this movie described as a kind of “Alice Through the Looking Glass”, and I’d say that that’s true. The young girl in the story unknowingly enters the world inhabited by the woodland spirits. The premise is similar, in that sense, to “My Neighbor Totoro” that I recommended a few weeks ago – also by Hayao Miyazaki. However, in SPIRITED AWAY, the spirits are not as “cute” and benign. Unlike Totoro, SPIRITED AWAY has sense of real danger.

Ten year old Chihiro, at a stopover on her family’s move to the suburbs, wanders through a gate and into a mystical and enchanted spirit world. At the center of this world lies a bath house for creatures and spirits. She must serve there while she tries to find a way back.

Here is a film that challenges the imagination at all ages. It provides adventure and excitement, and some scenes, especially near the beginning, may frighten young viewers. But the risk is worth the rewards. What rewards?

  1. This is an epic adventure on the order of anything from Spielberg.
  2. Don’t let the fact that it’s animated fool you into thinking it’s a kids-only movie. Kids will love it – yes, but so will you ………… I hope.
  3. Ranks #51 in IMDB's top films of all time, between The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Das Boot.
  4. Miyazaki came out of retirement to make this film. It will take you only a couple hours to watch it.
  5. I would say that this is light years beyond what Disney Studios would put out, except that since Disney bought the distribution rights to the whole Studio Ghibli catalog, this technically IS a Disney movie.
  6. As of this writing, this is the highest grossing non-American movie.
  7. The hand-drawn artwork has a certain charm that doesn’t exist in computer animated cartoons. There aren’t too many people who still do animation this way. Take advantage of it while you still can.
  8. This film can be strange and enigmatic, and may put off many movie-goers. It’s more enjoyable if you just accept the madness and go along for the ride. After-all, isn’t that what movies are supposed to do?
  9. Film critic Roger Ebert wrote a particularly good review of this film – much better than I am able to. You can read it here.
  10. Aren’t you tired of Hollywood anthropomorphic kid’s cartoons, where animals are the heroes, everything revolves song and dance numbers, and there are action toys galore to buy to insure that they extract every last possible dollar from you. Here is an animated film that compares favorably with the best non-animated movies, where the hero is an actual human child, and no action figures to buy (just movie rental fees).

Put SPIRITED AWAY on your family’s “must see” list – even if you don’t have kids.



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