Spirited Away is about a young girl named Chihiro. At the beginning of the film, Chihiro and her family get lost on the way to their new home. . .only to discover an abandoned theme park in the middle of the road. Chihiro reluctantly follows her parents into the park but gets separated from them when she goes exploring and they sit down to eat mysterious food left out at a booth.
While she’s wandering around, she meets a boy who yells at her to leave the park. She tries to warn her parents—only to discover that they’ve been transformed into pigs. Now, stuck in what appears to be the realm of the spirits, Chihiro must try to save her parents while working for the frightening Yubaba at the bath house.
Spirited Away reminded me a lot of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. The plots and tones of the films are very different, but they both have epic stories with amazing female leads. Even after being nine films into this “Watch Through,” I still think Nausicaä is the best Studio Ghibli film (even if it was made before the studio came into being), and now, I believe Spirited Away falls in at a solid #2.
The plot of Spirited Away was solid and fast moving, but what impressed me most about it was how its heroine, Chihiro, was developed. Her transformation into a hero was the best I’ve seen in a Studio Ghibli film so far. She was a scared, sort of whiny kid at the beginning of the movie, but by the end, she was confident and courageous. That transformation wasn’t quick, but it was believable—especially since she did have good qualities all along. Chihiro was always kind—even if a bit rude—and not a bit greedy (unlike basically ever other character in the film). Her good qualities helped her survive in the spirit realm, but her gaining confidence made her a hero. I adored her for that, and while she’s not my favorite Studio Ghibli heroine, she’s right up there in the top three.
Second to Chihiro, my favorite bit of Spirited Away was its setting. Its spirit realm was gorgeous and strange, and the creatures that inhabited it were creepy and colorful. In the hands of another director, its world might have been gothic or, at the very least, ghostly gray, but Hayao Miyazaki created a spirit realm that managed to be rainbow-colored and yet still frightening (kind of like a modern day Wonderland). I especially loved the setting of the bath house and all the details that made up Chihiro’s workplace. There were the multiple elevators, tickets for water, soot spirits carrying coal (and star candies), competitive hierarchy within the staff, and just all the other tiny particulars that made the bath house and its surrounding world interesting and real.
As always, I was bit distracted by Spirited Away’s cute creatures (even though there weren’t any cats this time). I adored the soot sprites and the hamster, but what made me want to watch the film in the first place was the dragon. I saw it in the trailer and fell in love. I have to say that I wasn’t disappointed. The dragon was so beautiful, but it was even better that I adored the story that surrounded him! I’d say he was my favorite part of the film, but the setting and Chihiro beat him by a very marginal amount.
It was very hard ranting Spirited Away on my “Watch Through” list. I know I said it’s the second best Studio Ghibli film, but I’m rating the movies on how much I enjoy them and not how great of films they are. I loved it a lot, but I think I’m still more partial to some of the others I’ve seen (seriously, the lack of the Baron in any movie is a mark against it). It falls in at a solid five on my list, but it’s definitely a film I’ll be coming back to in the future.
My Current Studio Ghibli Movie Rankings
- Howl’s Moving Castle (Review)
- Whisper of the Heart (Review)
- The Cat Returns (Review)
- Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Review)
- Spirited Away
- Kiki’s Delivery Service (Review)
- Castle in the Sky (Review)
- My Neighbor Totoro
If you could live in any fantasy universe, which would it be?
Image Source: Disney Screencaps