Film Review

Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away

Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away is a masterpiece of artistic creation and a wonderful piece of filmmaking in every arena of the medium. It’s also one of the best examples of dream logic I’ve ever seen in cinema, and ‘logic’ is really the key word here. Let me explain: many, many films strive to replicate the feeling of a dream, the maniacally detailed disarray of the subconscious mind and where many end up faltering is just by making their dream logic a series of random abstractions without an undercurrent of logic and sense, however far removed from that which we are familiar with. Apparently Miyazaki more or less made this story up as he went along, using little in the way of script and allowing naturally formed ideas to spontaneously jump from the creative process of that and his team directly into storyboard form. This shows, and helps the film achieve effect wonderfully because you get this stream of consciousness series of dream world vignettes that although are sublimely weird and abstract, have their own set of coherent rules and surreal ‘logic’ that makes sense even if one can’t quite articulate it as we see young girl Chihiro swept up in a magical, otherworldly journey bookended by two scenes that are just down to earth enough to take place in our world. When her and her parents meander through a mysterious tunnel in a lush, overgrown area of rural Japan, she loses sight of them and ends up in a bizarre, metaphysical bathhouse that serves the needs of a nearby town of celestial spirits, beings and life forces from the astral realms beyond our own. This operation is run by a nasty old witch spirit named Yubaba, who makes enterprise out of stealing people’s names and imprisoning them as her own free labour force, which Chihiro soon finds herself right in the middle of. The narrative skips along and is very light on its feet but hugely dense and filled with so much incident, spectacle and visual bedazzlement that explaining it here would sound like I’m making it up, but in the film itself it feels assured, confident in itself as a story and grounded in its own logic, full of virtually boundless imagination and not to mention gorgeously animated and symphonically scored by Joe Hisaishi. Brilliant film.

-Nate Hill

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