Thursday, February 01, 2007

SPIRITED AWAY: More Miyazaki Magic

As with all the Miyazaki films I've seen--and much loved--you start with some time in the protagonist's normal, non-magical world (whether a long time or short, depending on the film.) Here, we are in a car with Chigiro and her parents, as they are on their way to a new home. Chigiro is whiny and grumpy about the move, but her parents tell her she should look at it as an adventure, as all new places are adventures.

Oh, how prophetic.

They pass a plot of grassy land by the side of the road cluttered with tiny shrines to a host of spirits. Another bit of foreshadowing. The parents are skeptical as they explain to Chigiro what they are.

Then they park the car at a dead-end in the road, and enter a tunnel which takes them to an unusual, seemingly deserted place. Chigiro's papa says it's an abandoned amusement park. They explore this place that has echoes of Easter Island, with these partly toppled, partly buried huge stone faces. Then they find colorful streets crammed with restaurants, all empty. All but one. While no people are in sight, the restaurant brims with tempting delicacies (though, er, fishheads aren't my thing). Chigiro's parents begin to feast. She does not. She wanders...

And the adventure officially BEGINS!

This is no abandoned, mundane amusement park. This is the land of spirits, and a central point of action turns out to be a bathhouse where non-human creatures of all manner (some dreadful, some mysterious, some hilarious, all interesting) come to clean up and relax and feast.

Chigiro receives the help of some of these non-humans, notably Haku, who is a mysterious and powerful--though witch-bound--"boy," who has forgotten who he is. Chigiro is challenged and threatened by others, notably Yubaba, the witchy woman who runs the bathhouse and has a thing for gold and jewels and coins. Still, there is no obvious and fullly blackhearted villain. As in other Miyazaki works, characters are complex, with good traits and flawed parts. Even well-meaning deeds can go awry. But, Miyazaki's trademark philosophies shine through: compassion and bravery and hard work and sacrifice and, especially in this film, love all go a long, long way to fixing what is broken, freeing what is enslaved, and restoring what has been lost. Helping hands come when need is greatest. And a benevolent providence watches over the world at all times. This is what gives such magic to this work--as it does to Princess Mononoke or My Neighbor Totoro, etc. Fine characterization, extraordinary visions of the magical, magnificent artistry, and a gentle heart that runs throughout.

And there is always the too-too-too adorable or cute for words critter. In Totoro, it was the beasts themselves (especially chibi) and the cute soot critters. In Mononoke it was the tree spirits that made me laugh and laugh. Here, it's, yes, the cute little soot things again, but also the hilarious tiny bird with the mosquito-buzzing wings and the chubby, bouncy mouse with attitude. And even the radish monster was a hoot.

I love the manifestations of gentleness and generosity and goodness in Miyazaki's works. Here, Chigiro helps a Faceless Spirit whose loneliness is a palpable thing. The ride in the train at night is evocative and blends a sort of sadness and hope and resolve. The music chosen for this exceptional sequence is perfect--a haunting piano piece. The scene with the Stink monster who is not what he seems is at first remarkably amusing, then remarkably surprising--and yes, again, magical.

This is not a film you want to miss. It has strong family values (as does My Neighbor Totoro and Howl's Moving Castle), and hopefulness.

It's just a total, utter treat for the eyes and ears and spirit of children and adults alike. But I especially recommend it for adults who've forgotten what it was like to be young and see wonders all around.


Kathy Holmes said...

I love films like this. Will have to check it out.

Carmen Andres said...

this was my least favorite of miyazaki's films (one simply cannot "not like" them, heh), but my mom absolutely adores it as does my daughter. have you seen "kiki's delivery service" yet?

Mirtika said...

No, Kiki's on my Netflix Queue. I think the only one I won't see is GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES. It sounds really, really upsetting. :(


chrisd said...

Wow, Mir. I'm going to have to see this now. I didn't think it would be appropriate for the kids-


Jackie Castle said...

I have loved every one of Miyazaki's films I've seen. Spirited Away was the first, then I saw Kiki next and I've been trying to catch Howl's Castle on cable, but have only seen parts. I have it TEVOed, so I'll see it eventually.

They have all captivated me, and now I know why. Reading what you said about them, I just sat there saying, "Yeah, that's it...that's what's so wonderful about them."

Spirited Away was definately my favorite, though. The first time I watched it, the spirit world presented kind of bothered me. Guess that was "religioneese" tugging at me. (I'm saying this tongue in cheek and in fun.) But there was some undercurrent theme that really hooked me. You said it, too. The theme of love and compassion. Yes! Definately must sees.

I'm going to have to find the other two you mentioned and see them as well.

Thanks for sharing.

Mirtika said...

Delighted I could express what you were trying to get at.

I think when Christians close themselves off from anything non-Christian, they miss having a look at things with new eyes. Miyazaki, not Christian, films with nature religion and spirits of another worldview, nevertheless captures the essence of truth, and because he's not saying it in ways WE would say it in our culture, we can see it freshly. Truth will out and it will be powerful, no matter who is the truthsayer.