Another in the list of the amazing movies created by Studio Ghibli and director Hayao Miyazaki is Spirited Away. It is the story of Chihiro, apathetic young girl in the process of moving to a new town, hating everything about the move and already missing her old home. On the ride to the new house, her father takes a wrong turn, and looks to find a shortcut up the hill to their house, since he could see it from the bottom of the hill. He drives through the woods, and stops just short of a moss-covered shrine. The Shrine is in front of a building with a long tunnel. Chihiro’s parents are curious and want to explore the tunnel, despite Chihiro’s protests of the place looking creepy. She decides to join them after realising the woods are just as creepy.
They come out of the tunnel into what looks like it might be an abandoned theme park, but after some looking around, they find the restaurant row is open, and there is a huge, piping hot spread laid out. The parents indulge, and Chihiro is suspicious, telling them they shouldn’t do this. This is the catalyst that begins the change in Chihiro. After some time of eating, Chihiro’s parents become pigs, and are rounded up into the pigpens. Chihiro feels helpless, not knowing what to do, as she has tried to go back in the way she came to find help, but there is now a huge river blocking the way, and she has no way to cross it. A boy who looks to maybe twelve, Haku, comes to her aid, and tells her to she needs to get a job in the bathhouse in this land to turn her parents back into humans. This is a resort where spirits from the human world come to refresh themselves when they need a break from humans.
The bathhouse is run by an overbearing greedy witch, Yubaba, and her employees are frogs and nymphs. The old boiler caretaker is Kamajii, and he has a tiny army of soot sprites that run coal back and forth to keep the bathwater hot. Haku sent Chihiro to Kamajii to get a job, and she is to not take no for an answer. She is sent to Yubaba for approval, and Yubaba has a contract that she must give a job to anyone who wants one. In return, Yubaba takes Chihiro’s name, and replaces it with “Sen”. Having lost her true name binds her to a contract. Being human makes “Sen” a target for discrimination among the other employees, and she is treated unfairly by some of the management staff. She is looked after by Lin, a fair, but firm staff member who trains her in how to do things. She learns that things aren’t always as they seem when it comes to the spirits she meets in this job. Haku is not a boy, but s shape-shifting river dragon that saved her when she was little. he has a reputation for being abrupt and rude because he is Yubaba’s apprentice, but “Sen” is not swayed by stories.
Sen also meets other odd spirits, the “stink spirit” who is not a stinker, but instead the essence of a heavily polluted river. No-face, who seems like a demure, cloaked figure in a mask, but thrives on emotions of those whom he gives gifts to. There are so many odd personalities in this place, it seems difficult to focus on one. As with Ghibli films we have discussed before, the detail and scope of Spirited Away is breathtaking, and even if you have bit of trouble dealing with some culture clash, a few minutes in this world will have you understanding how things are in Japanese fantasy stories, and how much nature spirits influence the media and arts on the Pacific Rim.
I’ve carried on long enough, so no more spoilers. Just know that in indulged in the 125 minutes of this masterpiece is well worth the time, and that it will encourage you to see more Studio Ghibli movies. Expect to see them all reviewed here at some time on Musings.
I give this film a Musing review of