Chihiro, sulky and self-absorbed, is the unlikely heroine of Spirited Away. She feels very ineffective at taking control of her life from the adults around her and not too pleased with the direction they are sending her in. While her parents drive to the new town she will live in (far away from her comfortable life with her old friends), she does the only things she's prepared to do: whine, complain and be miserable.
Then, Chihiro's father gets lost trying to find their new home and drives off down a small road to explore. This, at first, is just another insult to her already terrible day as far as Chihiro is concerned. With Chihiro in tow, her parents lead her down a tunnel they find and (accidentally) into the spirit world. Amazed at what they think is an abandoned theme park, her parents decide to chow down on food they find in an empty shop. Chihiro shows good judgment and politely declines to scarf down someone else's food. Daddy's credit card limit, after all, doesn't quite cover eating food prepared for gods.
As night falls, the spirit gods return to their city and Chihiro (understandably) freaks out when her parents are turned into pigs. Luckily for Chihiro she is befriend by Haku, a servant of Yuubaba, who gives her hope that she can actually take control and remove the spell Yuubaba placed on her parents.
Chihiro, a typical 10 year old, starts out as someone who isn't yet a beautiful or a very likable person. Mr. Miyazaki, the director, has stated he worried for a while that he'd gone a little too far and made her too dislikable. But, Chihiro, despite her many flaws, shows she will become a beautiful person as she grows up by the end of the movie. Even though she won't remember the spirit world, there seems no doubt that she'll won't remain for long the self-absorbed and whiny child she started the movie as.
Spirited Away's setting, the overlapping mishmash between our world and the spirit world, is what makes Chihiro's transformation from brat to beauty so believable. A pure fantasy land like in Alice in Wonderland would have made any improvements seem shallow and non-permanent. If it had been set entirely in the real world then the huge advances to her personality would be impossible to justify.
Spirited Away is a movie that I would be hard put to find something truly flawed in it. It is simply a beautifully crafted masterpiece that appeals to a wide range of audiences and ages. I've never seen the English version but I'm pretty sure it captures most of the original's dialogue. I give it a full 5 out of 5. If you haven't seen it then stop making excuses and go rent or buy what many reviewers, Ebert included, picked as one of the year's top movies.
Success and Acclaim
Spirited Away was released to critical acclaim around the world. It became the first movie to make over $200 million (US) dollars before opening in the US and went on to win best animated feature at the 75th Academy Awards. Its success in Japan was unprecedented: it sold more tickets than Titanic in less than four months with over 20.15 million viewers. Unsurprisingly, The Japanese Academy gave it the best picture award.
North American Distribution:
Spirited Away is available on DVD around the world.
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