SPIRITED AWAY (SEN TO CHIHIRO NO KAMIKAKUSHI), the brilliant new motion picture
by writer and director Hayao Miyazaki (PRINCESS MONONOKE, one of my all-time
favorite films), is so richly textured that it's hard to know where to begin to
describe it. An animated movie that broke all box offices records in Japan, it
tells a timeless story for adults that kids will also enjoy. Blending equal
measures of ALICE IN WONDERLAND and THE WIZARD OF OZ with just a bit of PRINCESS
MONONOKE, the story is a feast for the mind and the eyes. It's a beautiful
story that's complex yet reasonably easy to follow.
The movie starts rather like the Treasure Island part of PINOCCHIO. Chihiro
(voiced by Daveigh Chase, Lilo in LILO & STITCH) and her parents (voiced by
Lauren Holly and Michael Chiklis) come upon an abandoned amusement park.
Although it's a colorful ghost town, the restaurants have huge plates of
wonderful smelling hot food. Chihiro, an initially timid ten-year-old girl,
refuses to eat, even though her parents, who are pigging out on the free food,
urge her to enjoy it with them. One of the movie's many messages involves the
consequences of gluttony. Suffice it to say that it's not pretty and that
Chihiro endures the first of her many scary tests.
Haku (Jason Marsden), a mysterious boy with magical powers, comes to the aid of
Chihiro before she can be turned into an animal by Yubaba (Suzanne Pleshette),
the evil owner of the bathhouse in which Chihiro ends up working. Literally
stealing Chihiro's name from her, Yubaba, a hideous figure who looks like an
enormous stuffed witch, tells Chihiro that henceforth she will be known only as
Sen. Chihiro's tasks then are to recoup her name, free her parents and find her
way back home. (There's no place like home.) As best she can tell, no one has
ever succeeded in leaving Yubaba's employment.
Along the way, our eyes are dazzled by an amazing cornucopia of fantastical
characters and sights. From soot ball characters that eat colorful star-shaped
food to triplet heads without bodies that bounce around like balls, the
characters are all unique and incredible. One of the best of these is an aptly
named stink spirit who arrives one day for a bath. How do you bathe a stink
spirit who looks like a huge mound of walking sludge? Very carefully. When
animators go to animator heaven, they will probably view drawings of the caliber
of those in SPIRITED AWAY.
As the story unfolds, Chihiro stays vulnerable but gets braver and more
persistent. An endearing female heroine, she has a mission that she means to
accomplish. The story, which is frequently quite funny and cute, is mainly
serious and mesmerizing. Expect to stay glued to your seat as the movie makes
two hours fly by. Will it do the box office it did in Japan? Probably not.
Should it? Absolutely.
SPIRITED AWAY runs 2:04. It is rated PG for "some scary moments" and would be
acceptable for kids around 8 and up.
My son Jeffrey, age 13, went wild over the movie, giving it ****. Heaping
praise upon praise, he talked about how imaginative, creative and original it
was. He loved the drawings, the characters, the story and everything about
Copyright © 2002 Steve Rhodes