Spirited Away (impressions - Reviews)

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This page lists reviews of the film Spirited Away.

The Japan Times

The following are representative quotes only; the full text is available online at: www.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/getarticle.pl5?ff20010725a3.htm

July 25, 2001

Lost and found in a dream

by Mark Schilling

Five out of Five Stars

While "Mononoke Hime" was unapologetically targeted at teenagers and adults, with graphic violence that would have never passed the first reader at Disney (though the Mouse House signed a deal with Studio Ghibli to distribute the film), "Sen to Chihiro" is aimed, says Miyazaki, at 10-year-old girls. Accordingly, it is simpler in everything from language to story line.

It is also a masterwork, my new favorite among Miyazaki's many masterworks; a film whose story -- of a girl's separation from her parents -- is the most primal of all. Here it is told with all the resources at Miyazaki's command, from the richness of his imagination and the force of his moral intelligence, to the superb craft of his Studio Ghibli animators.


International Herald Tribune

The following are representative quotes only:

August 10, 2001

Spirited Away

by Donald Richie

The creator of the famous "Princess Mononoke" returns with a new animated feature that is even better.


Hayao Miyazaki has voiced a distinction between anime and animation. He doesn't think much of the former - all violence and futurology and derring-do. Animation, on the other hand, comes from the world we know - it offers us an interpretation. This is what "Spirited Away" splendidly gives us - an insight into the troubled present and a sense of what we have lost in our neglected past.

The Straits Times

The following are representative quotes only; the full text is available online at: straitstimes.asia1.com.sg/moviemania/reviews/0,3946,93010,00.html

January 7, 2002

Zen master helms public anime No. 1

by Ong Sor Fern


This animated movie, the highest-grossing in Japanese film history, is written and directed by the best-kept secret of Japanese animation - the legendary Hayao Miyazaki.

His unique blend of restrained pastoral scenes, lushly rendered in traditional hand-drawn animation style, and stories flavoured with a strong social conscience, presents a more lyrical side of Japanese animation.


In a world brought up on the frenetic pacing and exploding shades of a Technicolored, Dolby-surround sound musical Disney world, Miyazaki's muted lyricism and gentle pacing takes getting used to.

But allow yourself to be spirited away, and there are great rewards in store. You will not regret this trip.


The following are representative quotes only; the full text is available online at: www.spiegel.de/kultur/kino/0,1518,178865,00.html

Translated from German by Hanno Mueller. Click here for the entire translation. (Spoiler Warning!)

January 28, 2002

Japanese Cinema: The Big Greed

by Wieland Wagner

"Sen to Chihiro" is the most successful non-American movie of all time: A little girl gives Japan redemption from the curse of materialism.


"Sen to Chihiro" is not just a reflection of Japanese fears; it promises hope, as well: Salvation is possible, but only through the next generation's help.


The adventure takes the girl deeper and deeper into the magic spell of its animated world. And this world slowly unfolds to be more beautiful than the concrete reality of the industrial country - as idyllic as Nippon used to be a long long time ago: Beautiful wooden houses, clean rivers. Here is everything that the country sacrified to its obsessive modernization. The drawn mythical land is almost as harmononious as the Japanese theme parks, those professional, arranged entertainment- and escape-worlds at the metropolis's borders.


Brave Chihiro has matured while her parents have kept their narrow minds. But once Chihiro has grown up - this is the hope Miyazaki gives his fellow Japanese - she will protect the nation from itself.

Reuters/Variety Reviews

The following are representative quotes only; the full text is available online at: story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/nm/20020220/review_nm/review_film_spirited_dc_1

February 20, 2002

'Spirited' Cartoon Charms

by Derek Elley

With the narrative drive of a live-action feature and the imaginative leaps of East Asian manga, Japanimation box office phenom "Spirited Away" is an out-and-out charmer.


Pic is very different in both tone and flavor from "Mononoke," with no eco-message hammered home, no dark violence and an overall lighter, more fantastic feel. In "Spirited Away" Miyazaki creates a whole spirit world that operates by its own natural rules.


Its look is frequently astounding, with a feel of traditional animation that humanizes the movie in a way pure digital animation never can. All drawings, characters and sets were first hand-painted before being digitized for animation and coloring.

"Spirited Away" can be enjoyed by sprigs and adults alike -- a fantasy with substance and developed characters, and a charmer that isn't just cute for its own sake.


The Financial Times

The following are representative quotes only; the full text is available online at this link

September 11, 2003

Cinema: Genius breaking free in a troubled world

by Nigel Andrews

Six stars. Exception must be made for the exceptional. Spirited Away is a feast of wonderment, a movie classic and a joy that will enrich your existence until you too are spirited away.


Like most Japanese animators he is pre-digital. But his handcrafted illuminated manuscripts can blind you with beauty. Spirited Away is about a little girl lost in a derelict theme park whose soaring main mansion is a weekend bathhouse for the gods. Her parents have turned into pigs, as parents sometimes will, and now she must befriend or bargain with the brain-boggling: a multi-limbed boiler tender, his army of soot-spiders, a mud ogre the size of a dirigible, a prince who doubles as a flying eel, and up in the penthouse a ruling gorgon with bouffant hair and harpie features. Imagine Mrs Thatcher seen through a hard-focus haze of hallucinogens.


This is just the tip of the chaos. Gods and monsters soon fill the screen, partying on as if pub hours had been abolished across the cosmos. The mansion itself is mapped, measured and explored with an intricacy worthy of Gormenghast. And Miyazaki supplies a coda - really a whole last act - so ravishing and imaginative that Keatsianly we want to give up and expire on the spot.


I don't expect ever to love a movie more. But then again, maybe I shall. This director's art tells us that transcendence itself can be transcended. For instance, there is always the next Miyazaki film...

The Guardian

The following are representative quotes only; the full text is available online at this link

September 12, 2003

Guardian film of the week

by Peter Bradshaw

Five out of Five Stars

Magical is a word used casually about films like this, films about fantasy and childhood. Yet this one really does deserve it: an enchanted and enchanting feature from the Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki which left me feeling lighter than air. It is a beautifully drawn and wonderfully composed work of art - really, no other description will do - which takes us on a rocket-fuelled flight of fancy, with tenderly and shrewdly conceived characters on board.

Before this movie, I was agnostic about Miyazaki and his world-renowned Ghibli studio; I couldn't join in the mass hollering of superlatives that greeted the release of his Princess Mononoke last year. That was striking and distinctive, but I found the kaleidoscope of visual images oddly depthless and psychologically uninvolving and the Japanimated moppet faces an acquired taste. Even now, my euphoria after seeing Spirited Away is soured a smidgen by reading comments by some of its more supercilious cheerleaders, who affect to adore it at the expense of "America" and "Disney": thus fatuously denigrating a great animation tradition to which Miyazaki is patently, and honourably indebted.


The scenes of Yubabu's palace complex seen at dusk across water, at sunrise through the mist, or in moonlight or sunlight made me purr with pleasure. And the compositions of Miyazaki's scenes in a bright flower garden are sublime in their forthright, untarnished innocence.


There is just so much going on in this story that it's impossible to sum up. But it had me utterly involved from the very start, and that's down to the mind-bogglingly superb animation that, for me, had a human and psychologically acute element to add to the expected dimension of hallucinatory fantasy. It's this that makes the claim of "masterpiece" so plausible - that, and the wit, playfulness and charm that Miyazaki mixes into the proceedings.


Spirited Away is fast and funny; it's weird and wonderful. Mostly wonderful.

BBC News

The following are representative quotes only; the full text is available online at news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/reviews/3100704.stm

September 14, 2003

Spirited cartoon is enthralling

by Caroline Westbrook

2-D animation has taken something of a battering recently, due to the onset of computer animated features, with the likes of Toy Story and Finding Nemo outgrossing more traditional cartoon fare.

But Spirited Away, which blends Alice In Wonderland-style storytelling and surreal imagery to winning effect, breathes new life into the format.


Quite simply, it is one of the most beautiful, original films for ages - and one of the best you are likely to see all year.

Roger Ebert's Great Movies

July 11, 2012

Spirited Away (2002)

by Roger Ebert

Viewing Hayao Miyazaki's "Spirited Away" for the third time, I was struck by a quality between generosity and love. On earlier viewings I was caught up by the boundless imagination of the story. This time I began to focus on the elements in the picture that didn't need to be there. Animation is a painstaking process, and there is a tendency to simplify its visual elements. Miyazaki, in contrast, offers complexity. His backgrounds are rich in detail, his canvas embraces space liberally, and it is all drawn with meticulous attention. We may not pay much conscious attention to the corners of the frame, but we know they are there, and they reinforce the remarkable precision of his fantasy worlds.

"Spirited Away" is surely one of the finest of all animated films, and it has its foundation in the traditional bedrock of animation, which is frame-by-frame drawing. Miyazaki began his career in that style, but he is a realist and has permitted the use of computers for some of the busywork. But he personally draws thousands of frames by hand. "We take handmade cell animation and digitize it in order to enrich the visual look," he told me in 2002, "but everything starts with the human hand drawing."

Consider a scene in "Spirited Away" where his young heroine stands on a bridge leading away from the magical bathhouse in which much of the movie is set. The central action and necessary characters supply all that is actually needed, but watching from the windows and balconies of the bathhouse are many of its occupants. It would be easier to suggest them as vaguely moving presences, but Miyazaki takes care to include many figures we recognize. All of them are in motion. And it isn't the repetitive motion of much animation, in which the only idea is simply to show a figure moving. It is realistic, changing, detailed motion.

Most people watching the movie will simply read those areas of the screen as "movement." But if we happen to look, things are really happening there. That's what I mean by generosity and love. Mikayazi and his colleagues care enough to lavish as much energy on the less significant parts of the frame. Notice how much of the bathhouse you can see. It would have been quicker and easier to show just a bridge and a doorway. But Miyazaki gives his bathhouse his complexity of a real place, which possesses attributes whether or not the immediate story requires them.

The story of "Spirited Away" has been populated with limitless creativity. Has any film ever contained more different kinds of beings that we have never seen anywhere before? Miyazaki's imagination never rests. There is a scene where the heroine and her companion get off a train in the middle of a swamp. In the distant forest they see a light approaching. This turns out to be an old-fashioned light pole that is hopping along on one foot. It bows to them, turns, and lights the way on the path they must take. When they arrive at a cottage, it dutifully hangs itself above the gate. The living light pole is not necessary. It is a gift from Miyazaki.

His story involves a 10-year-old girl named Chihiro, who isn't one of those cheerful little automatons that populate many animated films. She is described by many critics as "sullen." Yes, and impatient and impetuous, as she's stuck in the back seat during a long drive to a house her parents want to examine. Her father loses the way in a dark forest, and the road seems to end at the entrance to a tunnel. Investigating it, they find it leads to an abandoned amusement park. But at dusk, some of the shops seem to reopen, especially a food shop whose fragrances steam into the cool air. Her parents fall eagerly upon the counter jammed with food, and stuff their mouths. Chihiro is stubborn and says she isn't hungry. Her parents eat so much they double or triple in size. They eat like pigs, and they become pigs. These aren't the parents of American animation, but parents who can do things that frighten a child.

The amusement park leads to a gigantic floating bathhouse, whose turrets and windows and ledges and ornamentation pile endlessly upon themselves. A friendly boy warns her to return, but she is too late, and the bathhouse casts off from the shore. Chihiro ventures inside, and finds a world of infinite variety. She cannot find her way out again. The boy says everyone must have a job, and sends her to Kamaji, an old bearded man with eight elongated limbs, who runs the boiler room. He and a young girl advise her to apply to Yubaba, who owns the bathhouse. This is a fearsome old witch who exhales plumes of smoke and a cackling laugh.

This is the beginning of an extraordinary adventure. Chihiro will meet no more humans in the bathhouse. She will be placed under a spell by Yubaba, who steals her name and gives her a new one, Sen. Unless she can get her old name back again, she can never leave. One confusing space opens onto another in the bathhouse, whose population is a limitless variety of bizarre life-forms. There are little fuzzy black balls with two eyeballs, who steal Sen's shoes. Looming semi-transparent No Faces, who wear masks over their ghostly shrouds. Three extraordinary heads without bodies, who hop about looking angry, and resemble caricatures of Karl Marx. There is a malodorous heap of black slime, a river creature whose body has sopped up piles of pollution. Shape-shifting, so common in Japanese fantasy, takes place here, and the boy who first befriended her is revealed as a lithe sea dragon with fierce fangs.

Sen makes her way through this world, befriended by some, shunned by others, threatened by Yubaba, learning as she goes. She never becomes a "nice girl," but her pluck and determination win our affection. She becomes determined to regain her name and return to the mainland on a daily train (which only runs one way). She wants to find her parents again.

Miyazaki says he made the film specifically for 10-year-old girls. That is why it plays so powerfully for adult viewers. Movies made for "everybody" are actually made for nobody in particular. Movies about specific characters in a detailed world are spellbinding because they make no attempt to cater to us; they are defiantly, triumphantly, themselves. As I watched the film again, I was spellbound as much as by any film I consider great. That helps explain why "Spirited Away" grossed more than "Titanic" in Japan, and was the first foreign film in history to open in the U. S. having already made more than $200 million.

I was so fortunate to meet Miyazaki at the 2002 Toronto film festival. I told him I love the "gratuitous motion" in his films; instead of every movement being dictated by the story, sometimes people will just sit for a moment, or sigh, or gaze at a running stream, or do something extra, not to advance the story but only to give the sense of time and place and who they are.

"We have a word for that in Japanese," he said. "It's called 'ma.' Emptiness. It's there intentionally." He clapped his hands three or four times. "The time in between my clapping is 'ma.' If you just have non-stop action with no breathing space at all, it's just busyness."

I think that helps explain why Miyazaki's films are more absorbing than the frantic action in a lot of American animation. "The people who make the movies are scared of silence" he said, "so they want to paper and plaster it over," he said. "They're worried that the audience will get bored. But just because it's 80 percent intense all the time doesn't mean the kids are going to bless you with their concentration. What really matters is the underlying emotions--that you never let go of those.

"What my friends and I have been trying to do since the 1970's is to try and quiet things down a little bit; don't just bombard them with noise and distraction. And to follow the path of children's emotions and feelings as we make a film. 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. They'll follow you. This is our principle."

He said he has been amused to see a lot of animation in live-action superhero movies. "In a way, live action is becoming part of that whole soup called animation. Animation has become a word that encompasses so much, and my animation is just a little tiny dot over in the corner. It's plenty for me."

It's plenty for me, too.