Next to My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away is probably animator extraordinaire Hayao Miyazaki‘s most popular film. In my experience, it’s the one people always mention first whenever talk of anime arises. It’s won a butt-load of awards, including an Oscar and a Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival, beating out such movies as Monster’s Ball and The Royal Tenenbaums. As it stands, the current critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes is 97%. So, saying this film is a must-see would be an understatement, right? Wrong.
While I admit expectations were pretty high upon entering the theatre, as soon as I sat in my seat I did what I do before every movie – especially highly regarded ones – I cleared my mind of all preconceived notions and got ready to let the film have its way with me.
Everything started out quite well as Chihiro, the young protagonist, and her parents are seen driving into the suburbs in route to their new home. After a wrong turn, that apparently can only be made in a car with 4-wheeled drive, the family soon finds themselves at an entranceway to what Chihiro’s father reckons to be the ruins of an old amusement park that opened in the 1990′s and shut down due to a plummeting economy. Against their young daughter’s wishes, her parents decide to take an exploratory stroll through the park. Not wanting to be left alone at their car, which is parked next to a creepy looking rock sculpture, Chihiro follows suit.
Shortly after this set up, Chihiro’s parents stumble upon food and start pigging out. While her parents make good use of the idiom “you are what you eat”, Chihiro apparently went stuffing her face too. Although she is never seen eating during this scene, one can’t rule out the possibility that off camera she was ingesting mass amounts of funkadelic fungi. It’s from this point on that Spirited Away turns into its own version of Alice in Wonderland. And just as with any Alice in Wonderland version (book, or film, with the exception being Jan Svankmajer‘s 1988 stop-motion entry) it’s at this point boredom began to take hold.
The primary problem I had with this movie was definitely not in its artistry, as the animation thus far was the best I have seen during my week-long immersion into the Studio Ghibli universe. No, my issue with Spirited Away is the same issue I have with most other films that establish the no rules credo of anything can happen, and consequences mean fuck all. There are exceptions of course, with Crank, Crank 2, Branded to Kill, or Hausu being a few of them. Those movies establish an “anything goes” reality from scene one though, whereas Spirited Away does not.
More power to you, if you are among that well-respected critical majority able to embrace the film’s message and relate to Chihiro through this dream-like narrative device. What else can I say, except I found this story-telling device more of a hinderance than an enhancement. To each their own, right?