Movie Review: Spirited Away

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Mix every Disney movie that you have seen, two cups of bizarre, Japanese culture and what do you get? You get Spirited Away, and not that other thing involving tentacles that you probably weren't thinking about until you read this sentence.

Listing both "Japanese culture" and the word "bizarre" may be redundant, however it accurately describes my feeling towards Spirited Away. Its a bizarre movie and it knows it. Actually, that's one of its main strengths and it serves to captivate you, making you wonder about what you will see next in the world of Spirited Away. In fact, this captivating quality has lead Spirited Away to become the highest grossing movie in Japanese film history, surpassing such blockbusters as James Cameron's Titanic. So what is so captivating about Spirited Away?

So They Are Pigs
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Well, the number one thing that jumps out at you in Spirited Away are the number of different spirits that a little girl, named Chihiro, meets along her journey. The story follows this whiny 10-year old brat when her family becomes trapped in a spirit world of sorts. Through a series of poor choices, her parents are transformed into pigs for eating spirit-food. Right, so these spirits left good, hot food just sitting out unattended for an unknown reason, and yes, these spirits that live in a spirit world prepare and eat human food. So naturally the spirits punish them by transforming them into (spirit?) pigs, and so Chihiro must live and work in a lavish spirit-world bathhouse to save them.

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Yup, that's the set up for the entire film. I can partially dismiss how baffling that set up is only because Spirited Away is a movie aimed at children, and as we all know, children are stupid. But surely Japanese Colonel Sanders, Hayao Miyazaki, could have come up with a less dumb way to involve Chihiro and her family within the spirit world. I acknowledge that I am being harsh here, but understand that most of what this movie has to offer is so good that this initial set up is just silly in comparison. That's right, the talking frogs, giant babies, and No Face (Shown in the above image) make more more sense than premise of the entire movie.

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Oh To Be A Stupid 
Kid Again
As I said before, the different spirits that you will see in Spirited Away will grab your attention. Sure, there's an interesting story about Chihiro hardening the hell up in order to save her parents, and sure there are some ham-fisted themes about greed and love and other B.S., but what makes me remember this movie is that sense of wonderment I felt whenever a new character was introduced. It's a sense that my reality-shaken, flabby body hasn't  felt since I discovered bike riding as I kid. All of a sudden, with the help of a relatively simple tool, I could venture beyond the borders of my parent's home and explore the world around me, discovering new sights, smells, and trees that will inadvertently hurt me terribly. Spirited Away gives you a feeling similar to that. Seriously, just look at that frightening witch character, Yubaba. Her odd proportions, terrible make-up, and the frightening condition of her skin immediately jump out at you. Tell me, how does one simply turn away from that? Her mere presence grasps your interest by the throat and never lets go, throttling your imagination, encouraging you to explore the wonders of this fantastic new world.

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You Will Enjoy the Exploring, Too
As you have figured out by now, Spirited Away has fantastic art direction. Don't let it's Japanese origin turn you off from watching it, the art design is not your typical-anime-bug-eyed style. The character designs are not only capable of showing emotion, they have a relatively clean look to them that is very attractive. In other words, Spirited Away strays away from ridiculous clothing, giant swords, and overbearing dramatic dialogue in favor of an attractive look, vivid yet relatively simplistic in overall design.

This beautiful style is a big part of that childlike sense of wonderment feeling this movie will give you, because, as I remember it, as a kid everything was awesome. The empty field of decaying grass filled with potholes and snakes?  That was pretty much an awesome Powers Rangers base. So in it's beautiful art, Spirit Away doesn't a great job of capturing that feeling of childhood even without poisonous snakes.

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Is It Worth Watching? 
Spirited Away is the first Hayao Miyazaki film that I have watched, and I must say that I don't regret it. Although the characters and art direction outshone the narrative and plot for me, you will more than likely enjoy every bit of this one, especially if you're already a fan of Miyazaki films or if you are under 15 years old. I can easily see a lot of potential viewers being turned off by it's bizarre art, but if you give it a chance (Read: watch after the ridiculous "pig scene") you just may better appreciate the entire package. It's definitely worth a chance, I say. Add this one to your movie bucket list and mark it as a movie to watch when you want something refreshingly different. You won't be disappointed.

If you enjoyed this post, please share the love on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ by clicking the icons above this post, below this post, or to the left. You can also follow me on twitter @PlusMinusINF and on Facebook. Still in the mood for all things Japanese? Check out my Pokemon: Arceus and the Jewel of Life review and play some Super Mario Smash Flash 2 while you're at it.

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