Miyazaki's Spirited Away
Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi
review by Carrie Gorringe, 20 September 2002

27th Toronto International Film Festival

The zenith, to date, of master animator Hayao Miyazaki's directorial potential.  Working within his trademark theme of children who recognize their potential in the face of sometimes unbearable adversity, Miyazaki has expanded its reach to encompass something far more otherworldly than he has yet attempted.  

In more tentative hands, the story of a ten-year-old girl named Chihiro  and her struggles against a crone named Yubaba (the sorceress who holds her parents hostage) might have become little more than yet another mediocre recounting of a fairy tale.  Instead, Miyazaki takes the story and with it crafts a world of unbelievably elegant mythology:  so finely-tuned and multi-faceted is Miyazaki's skill-set in crafting this narrative that the story seems as if it were a descendent of tradition rather than of the present (it's a style that he worked with to good effect in My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service, although the visual anachronisms in the latter film often threatened to unbalance the strategy).  He then takes animation to a level of quality that can only be described as audacious, blending the latest computer-generated possibilities with traditional animation to produce a world so richly textured and exquisitely detailed that it transgresses the sumptuous (as in the scrupulous detail afforded to the "quilting" that adorns the bedroom of Yubaba's baby);  you don't want to reach out and "touch" the film so much as the film's images reach out and envelope you in their sensuous, hyper-saturated jewel tones and exacting details. Miyazaki also provides his audience with a hero and heroine whose self-growth, as in the best fairy tales, grows from self-sacrifice, but it's not simply a case of their wanting to do good deeds for others.  They don't operate unthinkingly;  for them, self-sacrifice is a task to be undertaken with a full knowledge of the consequences, one which the story does not allow them to commit to nonchalantly. With this mixture of finely-crafted elements always in play, it is hardly surprising that Miyazaki is then able to use it to generate a film full of immense strength and beauty. Nevertheless, Miyazaki never allows things to get too serious;  the film always remains grounded by a sense of humor that ranges from slightly self-referential and gently cheeky (watch for several characters who bear more than a slight resemblance to those from Totoro) to outright over-the-top.  thereby preventing it from becoming too pretentious. A caveat:  after the lights go up in the theatre, you'll understand more than ever the wistful ruminations of Marius Goring's angel in Powell and Pressburger's A Matter of Life and Death on the topic of his black-and-white Heaven: "One is starved for Technicolor up there." 

Note:  The print screened in Toronto was in Japanese, with English subtitles

Toronto International Film Festival Coverage:




Read Dan Lybarger's review.

Written and
Directed by:

Hayao Miyazaki

the Voices of:
Rumi Hiiragi
Miyu Irino
Mari Natsuki
Takashi Naitô
Yasuko Sawaguchi
Tatsuya Gashuin
Ryunosuke Kamiki
Yumi Tamai
Yo Oizumi
Koba Hayashi
Tsunehiko Kamijô
Takehiko Ono
Bunta Sugawara

English Version:
Daveigh Chase
Colleen O'Shaughnessy
Jason Marsden
Suzanne Pleshette
Michael Chiklis
Lauren Holly
John Ratzenberger
Susan Egan
Tara Strong
David Ogden Stiers

Written by:
Steven Shainberg
Erin Cressida Wilson

PG - Parental
Guidance Suggested.
Some material may
not be appropriate
for children.







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