Spirited Away (Miyazaki, 2001) truly represents a vision of one person – its director, writer, producer, and animator Hayao Miyazaki. Miyazaki, the most prolific creator at Japan’s Studio Ghibli, was inspired by the 10-year-old daughter of a friend to bring to life a young heroine whom other young girls could look up to.
We follow Chihiro’s magical journey through the world of the kami (spirits) as she grows from a vulnerable girl to a very capable and brave one. She must remember who she is and retain her identity to free both her parents and herself to return to her own world. All the qualities that Chihiro embodies are ones that make her a protagonist for the ages. This film has rightly earned all the love and accolades that have been heaped upon it.
And then there’s the animation! Chihiro’s home in the spirit world is the bathhouse, and what a world it is. Inspired by the Obon season when kami are welcomed to come home and rejuvenate, the film and its characters are a feast for the eyes. We meet the many-limbed boilerman, dragons, river spirits, daikon, giant babies, stink spirits, and industrious soot spirits.
Miyazaki and company have always brought quiet spaces and moments of melancholy and reflection to their films. Miyazaki said, “If you stay true to joy and astonishment and empathy you don’t have to have violence and you don’t have to have action.” As Chihiro is told gently throughout the film, “you’ll be all right,” we instinctively know that Miyazaki will make that come true.
What you’ll find in this episode: our favorite spirits, my trip to an onsen, and whether this is the greatest animated film of all time.
Links and Recommendations:
Check out Spirited Away on IMDB.
Ericca’s further viewing pick of Kiki’s Delivery Service.
Cole’s further viewing pick of Tokyo Godfathers.
Take a virtual tour of Studio Ghibli.
Check out Obon season in Japan.