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Spirited Away
There was an Empty Spot in My Heart
That is Now Filled With This Movie
writ. & dir. Hayao Miyazaki

Before we begin, I have to admit something: I have a thing for animation. O.K. 'thing' is a little weak. I am obsessed, I have an undeniable thirst for anime. I watch these movies like I would smoke crack if I weren't already too busy watching animation to start.

What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is quite possibly The Cutest Movie Ever Made. Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi (or Spirited Away for those of you too lame to understand Japanese)won Best Picture at the Japanese Academy Awards and at the Hong Kong Film Awards. Additionally it has become the first animated movie to ever win the ultra-prestigious Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival. What is so shocking and delightful is that it is actually more clever than it is cute. The imagination behind this film is grand and sweeping.

The Pros

The animation is unbelievable. Spirited Away is absolutely beautiful. Every inch of the animated world is vibrant and alive and rich with detail. When you're watching a live action movie that has brilliant special effects so that the distinction between the real and the un-real is completely seamless, there is still that itch at the back of your mind saying "well that's nice and all, but it's obviously not real." With animation, you already know that nothing is real from the outset, not one ounce of the film is actual, or based on truth, and therefore you can believe anything. The willing suspension of disbelief never falters when you watch animation.

Making this movie as a live-action film would have been very possible, and it probably would have looked spectacular, and actually been less expensive to produce; but there would have been no magic. It would have been clever, it would have been cute, but it also would have been cheesy, and over the top. Animation gives you a lot more freedom, and power over the world of your movie. Absolutely anything is possible and Miyazaki knows how to wield this power deftly.

There is plenty of animation (both American and Japanese) out there that takes this privilege and abuses it terribly. It is the truly great animators that use their power to sculpt the world gently before the viewer's eye, rather than vomit up a Technicolor fiasco of blood and vampires and giant robots. The greats won't push their envelope too far, but they will also refuse to be confined by anything. At the center of Spirited Away is one of the simplest, most natural notions. The desire of an abandoned child to be reunited with her parents. Miyazaki runs with this as far and as fast as he can, but he never loses touch with this one absolute. He is, at heart, a storyteller; especially stories for the very young. He never once loses himself while wielding the vast power he is given.

The story that sits behind the animation is equally amazing. The characters involved, the depth of the world the simplicity of the story. The movie draws on many separate, classic, Japanese myths, pulling them into a new and totally unique story. And Miyazaki's imagination that is the root of the story is, as always, unparalleled. Every creature in this vast epic is unique and fascinating.

The Cons

I had to dig pretty deep for these. It's a week after I saw the movie, and I'm still riding its high… but here goes:

It's really, really long. Disney never takes up more than an hour and 15 minutes of your time. Mr. Miyazaki is a little more brash and egotistical. Be ready to chill out for over two hours on this one. The story doesn't really drag at all, but he does take a lot of time to show you just how clever and creative he can be, and how skilled at animation.

It might be too cute. If you though Amelie was a bit much then be warned this movie is about 10 times more endearing. In a really, really good way, but do watch out.


Action: Two-and-a-half Racers X
There is a good amount of action to Spirited Away. Or, rather, there is a ton of enjoyable eye candy, which is all action is, in the end. The movie is so entertaining to look at, you could probably see it in Japanese with no subtitles and still love it.

Adult Viewability: Three-and-a-Half Kids at Heart
Everyone give huge kudos to Disney for making movies that adults and kids can both enjoy. Their method for doing this is simple: throw in some jokes that will fly right over the kids' heads and make the adults chuckle. Miyazaki takes a very different path. He opts to make a movie for kids which is interesting enough, and complex enough, that adults will actually like it.

Tension: Two Plastic Knives, which can't really cut anything
It being for kids there is very little tension to Spirited Away. It isn't something you really miss, however. I mean everyone knows right from the start how it's going to end, so why bother trying to convince us that it won't. Better to know the destination and fully enjoy the ride.

Over all: Four Shiny, Golden Calves
Worship this movie like it is your god! Anyone whose read any of my previous review knows that two and a half whatevers is a perfectly good score. That three thingys means you definitely should see this thing, and that four is simply unheard of. 'Nuff said. Just go see the damn movie before it leaves the theaters!

We-Bergie Update

For those of you who don't know, the We-Bergies are Williamsburg's very own entertainment awards. Presently they're only being handed out for excellence in movies, but if anyone wants to start throwing some at musicians or mimes or whatever, go for it! There's no set date for when they will actually be handed out, or what they're supposed to look like or be made of, but I've started the nomination process anyway.

So far, The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys is up for "Best Opening / Credit Sequence" and has already received a special award for "Most Entertaining Use of a Ransom Note Ever."

Spirited Away is, without a doubt, the best animated movie in years. Out-doing even the wildly successful Princess Mononoke, also by Miyazaki. So unless Treasure Planet some how manages to pull miracles out of it's ass, just go ahead and give the award to Miyazaki. I'll put twenty bucks on some other animated movie winning the Oscar, though.

Spirited Away is also slated to receive a special award for being The Cutest Movie Ever Made, over throwing last years hands down winner, Amelie.

I'm giving a writing nod to The Good Girl (I was too lazy to actually write a review of it, but it's a damn fine movie). However Igby Goes Down is a very close second, and will probably pull into the lead once I get over my huge crush on Jake Gyllenhaal.

The Ensemble Cast leader right now is Full Frontal. I hated the movie, but the acting was impeccable. Mostly, though, there just haven't been any really remarkable casts this year.

The Front Runner for best picture right now is, Surprise! Surprise! Spirited Away.

B.C. Edwards
[email protected]


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[email protected] | October 2002 | Issue 31
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