February 17, 2003 -- "Spirited Away" (Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi) is another classic movie from the master of Japanese animation, Hayao Miyazaki ("Princess Mononoke"). This is a story for adults and children alike, although it is aimed specifically at 10 year-old girls. It is charming, sweet, life-affirming, wildly imaginative, and filled with positive values, but it also has a dark edge. This film is a lot more like a traditional Disney animated feature than most traditional Japanese animated films due to the lack of violence.
The story is centered on a 10-year-old girl named Chihiro, who, together with her parents, becomes trapped in a magical kingdom after passing though a strange tunnel on their way to their new home. Chihiro's parents are turned into pigs when they eat some magical food. She must figure out a way to turn them back into humans and discover a way back to the world they came from. Along the way, Chihiro is helped by friends she meets along the way, including a young boy named Haku. He tells her she must get a job, or she will be turned into an animal and will never be able to escape. Taking his advice, she gets a job at a bath house for spirits run by a woman with an enormous head named Yubaba. There, she is befriended by a man with six arms named Kamaji and Lin, a woman who is her boss. She also becomes friends with a mysterious masked, ghostly creature named Kaonashi ("no face") and with the kindly Zeniba, twin sister to the obnoxious bath house owner. In this magic kingdom, Chihiro learns the value of work and friendship. She is helped by her friends and she helps them in return.
The artwork in the film is very imaginative. There are all sorts of strange creatures, including frog people, flying serpent-like dragons and ghosts. The film follows the old mythology of Japan in which all things are living. A couple of the film's characters are river spirits. This mythology is cleverly woven into an environmental ethic which forms one of the film's subtexts. Although, like any good fairy tale, the film does have a dark edge, this is essentially a very gentle tale, well-suited for children. The story is quite coherent, unlike some anime films, and it is pretty easy to follow. It unfolds like a dream, with a kind of dream-like logic to it. The film makes the argument that children are better suited for survival in this kind of environment because they can more quickly adapt to a world where a whole new set of rules apply. The American soundtrack, with Disney voice talents (some of the same actors who lent their voices to the Disney film "Lilo and Stitch" appear in this film) is very well done with appropriate voices and easily-understood dialogue that appears to be in keeping with the original dialogue written for the film. This is comparable to the American soundtrack for "Princess Mononoke," also done by Disney.
The animation also appears smooth, not jerky like some anime movies, indicating more cels per second of film projection. Some anime movies, especially the older films, had far fewer cels per second than the best American feature animated films. The best American animation features run from 12 to 24 cels per second. Using 12 unique cells per second is called running in twos, since every cel is repeated once to make up the 24 fps movie speed. The top animation detail of 24 cels per second is used in films like "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" and "Space Jam" where cartoon characters appear on screen with real life characters. It is also used where finer kinds of motions are depicted. Cheaper American animated films also use fewer cels per second. Voice talents for the Disney English dub of this film include: Daveigh Chase (Chihiro), Suzanne Pleshette (Yubaba, Zeniba), Haku, Susan Egan (Lin), David Ogden Stiers (Kamaji), Lauren Holly (Chihiro's Mother), Michael Chiklis (Chihiro's Father), John Ratzenberger (assistant manager), Tara Strong (the baby Boh). It rates an A.
Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.