For the first post here at the Review Heap, I wanted to jump back to a write up I did a fair few years ago – because if I’m going to review/highlight anime (amongst the other things I’ll ramble on about here) then I should start with the studio that really had an impact on me (though as a kid of the 80s I remember mostly Astro Boy :D).
So, up first it’s Spirited Away!
Miyazaki’s work as a director seems so warm and I guess I naturally gravitate toward his films. That isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy Takahata’s work, or the films of the other directors from Studio Ghibli, but I’ll probably end up reviewing the Miyazaki ones first.
Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi)
Perhaps like many Western audiences, this was my first exposure to Studio Ghibli and its wonderful films – though I didn’t see this movie until about three years after it’s English-language release.
I was actually at uni and had recently borrowed the impressive 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. Inside, I noticed Spirited Away and went straight to the university library where I borrowed the DVD and that was it. I was hooked.
Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, Spirited Away is the story of a young girl who has to work in a spirits’ bathhouse in order to save her parents, who’ve been transformed into pigs by their own greed.
A pretty simple description of the plot, right?
But it gives an idea of the main source of tension, I hope. What it fails to show is the stunning attention to detail found in the animation (common to Ghibli of course) and the great character arc at its heart.
The way protagonist Chihiro goes from being basically an annoying child to a person of resolve, and one who can turn those around her into friends, is one of my favourite aspects. It also provides an emotional core that’s a big part the reason I’ve watched the film a fair few times now.
But perhaps my favourite element of Spirited Away is the setting.
The bathhouse is located in an abandoned amusement park and it’s beautiful, detailed and vivid, both in terms of its social and physical structure. And part of that colour definitely comes from the variety of spirits who visit it, among the most memorable being the close-mouthed Radish Spirit and the old River Spirit, who also embodies the environmental themes Miyazaki often includes in his films.
Another stand out aspect of the movie (and most Ghibli films) is the music.
Provided by Joe Hisaishi, it’s a moving score, I reckon with so much of it feeling both magical and familiar.
An Academy Award winner and an amazing film, Spirited Away isn’t quite my favourite Ghibli movie, but I’m kicking off with it because it’s where I started and if on the off chance you’re looking to see what Studio Ghibli is like, you probably couldn’t find a better starting place.