2001 - PG - 124 Mins.
|Director: Hayao Miyazaki|
|Producer: Toshio Suzuki, Donald W. Ernst|
|Written By: Hayao Miyazaki|
|Starring: Daveigh Chase, Jason Marsden, Suzanne Pleshette, Michael Chiklis, Susan Egan |
|Review by: James O'Ehley
Sometimes movie critics can get themselves all worked up into a frenzied froth. Perhaps it is because they have so little clout really: no matter how bad they say the latest Adam Sandler comedy is, people will still go and see it. The reverse is also true: no matter how good they say a particular movie is, people will still not go and see it.
Which, in the case of last year’s “Spirited Away”, is a darned shame because audiences in the States definitely missed out. First, for the uniniated: “Spirited Away” may be distributed by Disney, but it is not a Disney movie. It is in fact directed by one Hayao Miyazaki.
Miyazaki will probably be best known outside Japan for his “Princess Mononoke” effort a few years back. This is a shame because he also directed “Kiki’s Delivery Service” and “My Neighbor Totoro” (reviews of both which can be found on this site) – two of the best children’s movies I have seen in a very long while.
Kiddy stuff then? Well, yeah. But they’re really good and enjoyable. Perhaps what is best about them is their sheer lack of nastiness, always a bonus in a popular culture that seems awash in unpleasantness. Even if you do not like Japanese animation and think that it is just a bunch of giant robots beating the crap out of one another, then checking out Miyazaki’s movies is a good idea.
But what is it about? I can hear you scream. OK, OK. That is a difficult one really. “Spirited Away” can at best be described as a surreal blend of “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Wizard of Oz”. A small girl and her parents check out what seems to be a deserted theme park near their new home. Soon the girl is separated from her parents and is whisked away to an alternate dimension, a realm where magic rules, spirits exist and dragons fly through the nigh air.
No, this isn’t some Tolkienesque kingdom though: rather think the like of Dali, Brunuel and other surrealist artists and you might have a better idea of what to expect. Soon the little girl finds herself working for a witch who runs a holiday resort of sorts for spirits and magical creatures.
Miyazaki is much revered by Disney and Pixar animators and they probably threatened a sit-down strike or something if Disney didn’t buy up Miyazaki’s catalogue and reworked it for the American and European markets. (Pixar is the folks responsible for the “Toy Story,” “Bug’s Life” and “Monsters, Inc.” movies.)
Perhaps what they like most about him is that his animation serves the storytelling and not the other way around. Make no mistake, “Spirited Away” has one of the most original, engrossing and unpredictable stories in a long time. Even though the movie runs for two hours – half an hour longer than your usual animated feature, you won’t really notice.
And neither will your kids. (Heck, they sat probably sat through those even lengthier and unimaginative Harry Potter movies a while back!) However, be warned: this movie is probably not suitable for very small children. The little tyke behind me begged his parents that “I don’t want to see this” during the first ten scary minutes or so. They left. However, while there are some scary bits and characters in it, things improve and by the end, you will find yourself in that Miyazaki world I told you about: one without any malice.
Take my word on this: your local movie critic may have recommended that talky costume drama during which your bum grew numb, but on this one, they are right - “Spirited Away” may be weird, but it is quite good too.