Make no mistake, Spirited Away is a great film – in any genre. Hayao Miyazaki is held in the highest esteem by film-makers. This is his masterpiece.
Do not imagine that because it is animated it is a “cartoon”. Do not imagine that because it is animated that it is simplistic escapism. Do not imagine that because its protagonist, Chihiro, is a 10 year old child that it is a film for children.
From its opening sequence – a car journey through an accurate suburban Japan – Spirited Away is engrossing and involving. Visually, it is stunning. Although there is some computer-generated footage, for the most part it is hand–drawn animation at its best. It is two hours in length, but this time rushes by.
Most of the action takes place in an R&R bathhouse for gods which is run by a ruthless businesswoman. It has a wealth of characters, many bizarre, many drawn from Shinto and Japanese tradition, who are not allowed to fall into stereotypic roles. Characters are not two-dimensionally good or bad, the plot allows them to change and develop. Sometimes, the action is furious, at others it is calm and reflective. The train journey which Chihiro makes is hauntingly beautiful.
The musical accompaniment, by Joe Hisaishi, is not used just to underline the action but to complement and enrich the emotional experience.
As with much of Miyazaki’s work, our treatment of our environment is an important theme, but this film is really about personal growth, self-belief, courage and love. It is not a film for children, it is for everyone.