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Spirited Away

01/10/2003. Contributed by Frank Ochieng

Buy Spirited Away in the USA - or Buy Spirited Away in the UK

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Frank finds Spirited Away an opulent and emotionally moving Japanese children's animated adventure that's sure to capture the intrigue and imagination of moviegoers of all ages.

Spirited Away (2002) Walt Disney Pictures [Studio Ghibli film]
2 hrs. 5 mins.
Starring (voices of): Daveigh Chase, Suzanne Pleshette, Jason Marsden, David Ogden Stiers, Susan Egan, Lauren Holly, Michael Chiklis
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki (Japan), Kirk Wise (U.S.)

The powers-that-be at Disney has had a spotty track record as of late in terms of their recent film releases. However, they were astute enough to purchase the rights for Spirited Away for U.S distribution. Spirited Away is an opulent and emotionally moving Japanese children's animated adventure that's sure to capture the intrigue and imagination of moviegoers of all ages. Filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke) is Japan's reigning cinema king of the anime genre.

Miyazaki's spry vision behind this luminous project that is Spirited Away helped propel this dazzling gem as the highest-grossing film as far as Japan's box-office receipts are concerned. It is no fluke to say that Miyazaki had stumbled upon some cinematic gold with the joyous and surreal Spirited Away.

Spirited Away

After all, the esteemed moviemaker has been directing lively animated films for over thirty years. In any event, the English-language version of this glorious Japanese feature cartoon is solidly breathtaking and profoundly entertaining.

The premise follows the delightfully strange travels of a young and fragile girl named Chihiro (Daveigh Chase, Lilo & Stitch) who's thrown into a bizarre world where nonsensical images take on an oddly thought-provoking meaning. Chihiro's newly adapted surroundings may be chequered with peculiar visuals that beg for one scratching their bewildered head, but the experience is nevertheless amazing and wondrous in forethought.

The dreamlike "spirits" that are encountered rival anything that film fans may have witnessed in classic fare such as Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz. It wouldn't be uncommon for the impressionable Chihiro to come across off-kilter characters such as kimono-wearing frog people, icky-looking spidermen, an assortment of weird meatball-eyed creatures known as sootballs, masked misfits, winged dragonboys and wicked witches…just to name a few of the strange bedfellows.

For the most part, Chihiro was thrust into an illusionary landscape of a preposterous godly realm when she and her unbearable pushy parents (Lauren Holly and Michael Chiklis) were en route to their new home. Coming across a mysterious tunnel in an ancient temple ground while testing out a shortcut in directions, the family is whisked away into a spooky vacuum where there seems to be no point of return.

After unwisely chowing down on some suspicious edible treats, Chihiro's mother and father are magically turned into pigs! Sensing further harm, the harried heroine flees for safety with the assistance of newly discovered companion Haku (Jason Marsden). While her sow-swilling folks are being kept captive, Chihiro must regroup and figure out a way to rescue her loved ones. Thus begins the offbeat odyssey that will find this resilient gal up against sinister forces that will both challenge and empower her inner strength and emotional sensibilities.

Among Chihiro's chief adversaries is the treacherous diminutive-bodied witch Yubaba (voiced with convincing exuberance by veteran actress Suzanne Pleshette). This hell-raising tyrant has no qualms about making everybody shake in their boots since she controls the every move of this haunting and off-balanced nightmarish empire. Yubaba has a flair for the dramatic in the way she switches back and forth as a bat that swoops away at a moment's notice.

Haku alertly educates Chihiro about the finer points in staying out of the power path of the moody Yubaba. So the suggestion is put forth that Chihiro make herself busy and she does this by landing a job with the good-natured spiderman Kamaji (David Ogden Stiers). Again, Chihiro must use her time under Kamaji's care productively if she's to hatch a successful plan in freeing her parents from the clutches of the pig barn they're being held prisoner at.

Spirited Away is a sweeping journey that manages to suspend the mind. Inherently stimulating and frothy, Miyazaki's engaging narrative is a suitable lesson that teaches about self-love and finding self-discovery within one's lonely congested heart. There's something that's so refreshingly cavalier and intrinsic about the way Miyazaki helms this exerting fable. Granted that youngsters may be perplexed by the existential overtones of this unconventionally charming kiddie fantasy.

Still, the propensity for the insanity behind this film's vibrant visuals and soothing moral message compensates for any befuddling inquiries that kids may harbor toward this complex, soul-searching animation. Besides, there are some precocious tykes who would welcome Chihiro and her wacky world of sordid strangers as a way of shaping their sense of adventure. Too often there are tempted periods where Hollywood feels compelled to dump an abundance of big-budgeted, cerebral-challenged kiddie flicks in theatres for the sake of easy profit.

But Spirited Away dares to shy away from the fluff-coated and vacuous conventions of a vapid cheeky big screen cartoon. This family feature film is uniquely imaginative and adds a further distinction to anime flicks as a durable and dependable staple to the moviemaking experience.

Overall, the actors who have lent their voices to the characterizations in the movie are energetic as they invigorate the proceedings based on the fascinating storyline. The dialogue is impressively crisp and precise. Certainly the film's aesthetic appeal works favourably as it contributes a richness and attitude that reinforces the movie's mind-boggling mystique. Spirited Away is a sensationalistic venture that deserves the attention-getting accolades it has effectively garnered in Japan.

If there's any cinematic justice at all, then the commercial success of Spirited Away should become an infectious international hit. After all, much can be said for a three-dimensional family-oriented vehicle that's overly ambitious and thoroughly exciting in its ability to emote genuine feelings. Although anime features aren't all the rage in a majority of American movie theatres, Spirited Away should be a legitimate excuse to change this pending sentiment.

Frank Ochieng

(c) Frank Ochieng 2003

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