In many ways this is a difficult review to write. This is because I’m clearly not the target audience, as Spirited Away is a film that is clearly targeted towards children. In the end, I simply decided to review the film as I normally do and leave a disclaimer about not being the target audience.
I first watched this film 5 years ago during my senior year in high school when a friend of mine was raving about it. Back then I found the film to be boring and feature a paper thin plot. Now 5 years later and a few hundred anime titles later I was compelled to review this. However, since it was 5 years since I viewed the film, I decided to re-watch Spirited Away in preparation for this review as my memory is a bit foggy. After watching it again, I discovered 2 things about Spirited Away. I now know why I forgotten many of the events, thus needed to re-watch it and my perspective about the film really hasn’t changed.
Spirited Away begins with Chihiro’s family moving to their new home. Like any normal 10 years old girl she is quite sadden and angry about leaving her old life (hell anyone would feel this way). Chihiro’s father makes a wrong turn somewhere and decides to take a short cut through the forest. Ok, perfectly normal but what gets me is when they see an abandon building they decided to go in and explore. Next, they go, “oh look food that’s sitting out with no-one around” let eat. The events leading up to Chihiro getting trapped in the fantasy world are way too plot devicy for my taste. However, this isn’t my main complaint about the film, it’s just that the rest is so shallow I can’t really analyze it with much depth. The rest of the story can be summarized by Chihiro get a jobs, does a job, returns something, get freed and goes home. In fact, I’m quite dumfounded as to how they created a 2 hour movie with this plot line.
Although, perhaps I’m being too critical with the story and story structure that Spirited Away takes. What I think Spirited Away tries to do is create a magical world in which the viewer can escape to. It tries to take us on an adventure to somewhere very different. That is does, studio Ghibli creates a worlds that is both imaginative and beautiful. I could go on and on about the world but words wouldn’t do it justice. However, something is very wrong when the only major praise I can give is about the fantasy world that is created. They spend way too much time creating and focusing on this world. When I analyze a few scenes I realize how drawn out Spirited Away makes each scene. They could have easily cut 30-40 minutes and have a more focused story. This is how they were able to stretch such a thin plot out for 2 hours.
When reviewing anime I put the most weight on the plot and characters. I’ve already talked about how thin and weak the plot is in the above paragraphs. Sadly the characters don’t fare too much better. Chihiro does grow over the course of the movie and in the end she is a bit stronger and can now face new challenges (i.e. new school, neighborhood, etc). After going through what she went through, I don’t think a new school will faze her. However, there really isn’t much to Chihiro’s character, she’s simply a random girl that happens to go on an inadvertent adventure and becomes a little bit stronger in the end. She feels a bit like an empty shell for the audience to live through. In general, the characterization for the movie feels a bit weak, I mean do we really know these characters? If that’s all there is to these characters, then I have no choice but to conclude that most of them are extremely flat.
Ok now on to the easy part of this review, the technical aspects. It should be no surprise that the animation and art is top notch. This is studio Ghibli and Spirited Away is also a movie so there should be no excuses when it comes to animation. The environments are beautiful and quite vibrant. Characters designs are extremely consistent but I don’t like the designs that Studio Ghibli uses. Not really a negative, just a personal preference. Music, really works to create and accent the magical world of Spirited Away. However, the music is nothing too note worthy, above average I guess. In contrast, the voice work, this is a meh for me in both the English and Japanese, nothing really outstanding or bad. However, there really wasn’t anything in the movie that would require the VAs to show their talent.
As with any Miyazaki films there are themes of environmentalism along with others in particular, greed. Thankfully, these themes and ideas never become the focus or become too blatant. Also, I have to add another audience that Spirited Away may have been targeted to. That would be nostalgic Japanese adults that long for a more traditional setting away from the modern world. In that respects it does a great job however, I’m neither a child nor a Japanese adult disillusioned with the modern world. So it should be no surprise that I’m not very fond of this film, as none of the positives really appeal to me. Those would be the imaginative/magical or nostalgic world of Spirited Away.
Spirited Away is an imaginative and magical world that child will most likely enjoy. In addition, its nostalgic feel will appeal to some Japanese adults. However, it also features a paper thin plot as well as weak characterization. Spirited Away is a nice watch if you want to get away for 2 hours and turn off your brain but it is ultimately shallow and forgettable. Even now after watching it a few hours ago I’m having a hard time remembering the details.