Spirited Away

Spirited Away

****1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

People don't think of Lewis Carroll as a children's writer, or Alice In Wonderland in the same category as the works of Hans Christian Anderson.

There is a place in the imagination for mythical journeys, encompassing the whole of human experience, that have nothing to do with age, class or nationality. Such a one is Spirited Away, Hayao Miyazaki's first full-length animated feature since Princess Mononoke in 1997. There are similarities with Carroll in the sense that the heroine is a 10-year-old girl, called Chihiro, who enters into a looking glass world of talking animals and magical beings, except, in her case, fear is never far away.

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Alice viewed her adventures with a mixture of curiosity and irritation. Chihiro begins as a spoilt, demanding child, sulking because her parents are moving home and she doesn't want to go, to finding herself isolated and alone in an alien environment in which she has neither control, nor understanding, forced to become reliant upon aspects of her character she didn't know existed, such as courage, sympathy and initiative.

When searching for their new house, Chihiro and her parents wander into what looks like an abandoned theme park, which revives as night falls and the streets fill with ghostly forms and her parents are transformed into pigs and she is saved by a boy called Haku who warns her that she must make herself useful and work or suffer a similar fate. Later, Haku changes into a silver dragon, poisoned by an evil spell.

This magical world, created by Miyazaki, is filled with danger and dark forces, which is where it differs from the benign eccentricities of Carroll's Wonderland. Ghosts and demons and unquiet gods disturb the autocratic rule of a hideous hag dwarf who morphs into a bird of prey.

The power of invention is strong and the visual imagery matches the plot's unique vision, defining all logic of storytelling. At the centre, unforgettable and deeply affecting, is the vulnerable figure of Chihiro, whose trusting innocence protects her from the shadow life's infinite cruelty.

Reviewed on: 11 Sep 2003
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Animated Japanese adventure of a 10-year-old girl in a magic world of ghosts and unquiet gods.
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Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Writer: Hayao Miyazaki

Starring: voices of Rumi Hiragi, Miyu Irino, Mari Natsuki, Takashi Naito, Yasuko Sawaguchi, Tatsuya Gashuin, Ryunosuke Kamiki

Year: 2001

Runtime: 125 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US, Japan

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