Spirited Away (2001) – Hayao Miyazaki

The next big title in DK Canada’s incredibly entertaining and informative The Movie Book, is going to allow for a bit of a dive into Miyazaki’s films, which is going to be truly enjoyable as they are always so fully realized and beautifully animated. It’s time to settle in for the Academy Award winning film (Best Animated Feature), Spirited Away.

A young girl, Chihiro, is moving with her family to the suburbs, and she is less than thrilled about it. Before they can even arrive at their new home, the family gets distracted by what they think is an unfinished, and abandoned amusement park, but it’s actually a magical realm, where spirits, ghosts, strange creatures and witches are aplenty…

… and humans are transformed into animals. Her parents, in fact, are turned into pigs, and young Chirhiro, who isn’t changed (she didn’t eat any of the food) sets out on a quest to save her family, and find her way home.

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She takes work in a mythical bathhouse run by a with named Yubaba, and from there she begins to see a path to adulthood, acceptance of others, and the importance of family.

Filled with great character designs and stunning landscapes, the quest story is in able hands with Miyazaki as Chirhiro sets out with the eerie No-Face and encounters a wonderful mythology of creatures that may seem unusual to some Western eyes.

But it’s a beautiful watch that resonates with younger and older viewers. It took awhile for North Americans to remember, though Pixar and Disney do their best to remind people, that animation isn’t just for children. it allows for visits to realms and realities that could never be convincingly portrayed on screen, populated with imagination, and layered in relevance.

With her friends by her side, Chirhiro’s quest will be easier, and there are wonderful character moments, and a depth to them that isn’t often conveyed in a lot of family animation (outside the aforementioned Pixar). It’s wonderful to see a story that takes its time, builds its world, and paints a beautiful picture (or series of them) while it does that.

I think as I’ve grown older, I’ve grown to appreciate Miyazaki’s work all the more. When I was first introduced to it with Princess Mononoke back in 1997, I knew it was a stunning film, but beyond that I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Now, coming to Miyazaki, I wish I could tell my younger self to really pay attention to the story, the art, the arc. Miyazaki builds beautiful films, and thanks to DK Books’ The Movie Book, I have the opportunity to check out this one and others as I dig into the What Else to Watch list.

Check out Miyazaki’s films, or pick up a copy of The Movie Book and find something amazing to watch tonight!

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