Prayer Focus
Movie Review

Spirited Away also known as “Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi”

MPAA Rating: PG for some scary moments

Reviewed by: Jonathan D'Souza
CONTRIBUTOR

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Older Child to Adult
Genre:
Anime
Length:
2 hr. 4 min.
Year of Release:
2002
Copyright, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures click photos to ENLARGE Scene from “Spirited Away”

Starring: Daveigh Chase, Michael Chiklis, Susan Egan, Lauren Holly, Jason Marsden | Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki | Produced by: Toshio Suzuki | Written by: Hayao Miyazaki | Distributor: Walt Disney

Following his great work of “Princess Mononoke”, Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki has done it again—breaking all box office records in its country of origin. And Disney has done a good job of dubbing the film for its limited release on North American screens.

Being an anime fan, I was impressed and enjoyed a film like this which isn’t as violent or profane as most anime. In fact, “Spirited Away” is made for kids. Questionable material present include the presence of mythical gods, spirits and magic. It is like a Japanese version of “Alice in Wonderland”. The most violent scene features a dragon who is being attacked by paper birds and coughs up a lot of blood, as well as a scene where a spirit swallows a bunch of creatures (spitting them out unharmed later). Some of these scenes could be scary for smaller children. There are no satanic or occultic signs visible aside from two witches—one of which runs a resort for spirits. So if you’re not offended by fantasy movies involving strange creatures (a cross between Disney’s “Hercules” and “Alice in Wonderland”), then “Spirited Away” may be enjoyed greatly by adults and older children.

The story follows a young girl who wanders into a strange place with her parents and must rescue her parents after they get turned into pigs for being too greedy. There a lots of lessons to be learned from the film, including love, forgiveness, and courage. Some of these may be lost on younger viewers but older audience members will pick up these things right away.

The quality of the animation for simple cell drawings, rather than the American way of combining computer animation, is simply remarkable and beautifully done. The film has its hilarious moments and, in my opinion, can be enjoyed by almost everyone.

Viewer Comments
Positive—1. I think that this movie was well made, with good storytelling and beautiful artwork. Some of the best I’ve ever seen.

2. I think there were many positive morals here. The overwhelming stance against greed and selfishness is lovely, praiseworthy, pure, and of good report.

3. I think that people should take a little bit of time to stop putting up walls against anime. I’m tired of people with comments like “Most anime has a lot of violence/sex” because that’s not true. What gets released over here is what people want, so often times that is the super-sex, super violence. Well, this movie and ones like it are a test by potential anime releasers, to see if people will go for the cleaner stuff. I HAVE seen a lot of cleaner stuff, by the way. Stuff filled with morality and issue tackling that is RIGHT.

It hardly ever makes it over here because the people that like anime generally don’t like that, and the people that want the family friendly tales reject everything that’s figuratively laced with sakura (cherry blossoms, a symbol of Japan…)

Of course, the religion that is prominent in Japan is present in a big way, much the way our favorite religion, secular humanism, permeates our own movies (even the ones that got thumbs up from the Christian world .)

So, was this movie good? Yes. Did it have problems? Yes. Does that completely restrict us? No, it merely makes us more cautious. Despite the presence of the mythological beings, the story and purpose remain good.
My Ratings: [Average / 5]
—Luke, age 20
Positive—Wow!! I had heard just a little bit about this movie in a newspaper’s review. I knew of the director, and people calling him the “Disney of Japan.” I read up a little online, and found a place it was showing. This is one of the very rare movies where I couldn’t wait to go see it again, and I was in the middle of the movie.

Visually, this movie is one of the most beautiful animated movies out there. Detail upon detail is used, from individual pedals in a rose garden (used only for a few seconds in the movie), to the train ride over what seems to be water. Many odd, funny, or strange characters are in the background, adding authenticity to the movie.

Others have talked about the plotline of the movie, which is much more difficult to tell than to witness. However, what happens in the movie is much, much more than a straight forward story. Much of the joy in this movie comes from the deepening character of Chihiro (aka “Sen”), who starts out as something of a whiny, self-centered child. She grows and is pulled into a mature, selfless and dilligint child.

In fact, Chihiro quickly became my favorite kid character in the movies. She is not Disney-cute, nor is she full of marketable catch-phrases. She is simply a little girl stuck in a world she knows nothing about, and learns to adapt. Other high points include the odd “No-Face,” which seems to have no personality (“face”) of its own, but rather is heavily influenced by those around it.

This movie, with its implied Eastern Religion bent, may confuse some and even anger others. River Spirits, Radish Spirits, Animal Spirits, and others all come to take a bath at Yubaba’s. However, I view this like looking at constellations of stars and reading works like Odyssey and Shakespeare: they may be based on incorrect religions, but when read as fiction they are good art.

Miyazaki, the director, call this a movie about a 10 year old girl, for a 10 year old friend of his, and everyone who was once 10 year old girls. Due to the confusing and sometimes scarry themes in the movie, 9 or 10 may be a good age limit. However, expect to talk about the movie afterwards and look for Biblical allegories, because there are a lot.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 5]
—David Poe, age 25
Positive—Some Scriptures—“Whenever the evil spirits saw Him (Jesus), they fell down before Him and cried out, ‘You are the Son of God’.”—Mark 3:11

“Calling the Twelve to Him, He sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits.”—Mark 6:7

“All the people were amazed and said to each other, ‘What is this teaching? With authority and power He gives order to evil spirits and they come out!’”—Mark 4:36

“Those troubled by evil spirits were cured”—Mark 6:18

“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”—I John 4:1

… There is a growing appetite in our country among the youth for the Japanese style of animation (Japamation). Our culture has been saturated with this art form through Saturday Morning cartoons, videos and video games. Many video rental outlets are now dedicating sections in their stores for this growing genre.

The huge success of “Metropolis” has furthered interest in the Japanese culture and how they approach filmmaking. There are some negatives for parents to be aware of and not be fooled by the fact that these are just cartoons. Many of the titles from Japan that have flooded our market contain unrestrained violence, soft to hard-core pornography, veiled child pornography and strong doses of the Shinto and Buddhist faith. “Spirited Away” is the latest flic from Japan to reach some our theaters.

It has already received critical acclaim both hear and abroad. 99% of the National Critics that reviewed this film liked it. The film director/writer Hayao Miyazaki is the Hanna/Barbara of Japan. This film has broken all the box office records in Japan and recently won the Golden Bear award at this year’s Berlin Film Festival. That makes “Spirited Away” the first animated film to win this coveted award in 50 years.

Disney studios are hoping to cash in on some of the movie’s popularity and broad appeal. They have bought the rights to this film and have dubbed into English. I do give Disney credit for selecting some outstanding and note worthy talent behind the studio microphones. The ten-year-old girl in our story named Chihiro is voiced by Daveigh Chase (Lilo and Stitch). The lead woman that Chihiro must contend with named Yubaba is voiced by well-known TV star Susanne Pleshette. Chihiro is befriended by a multiple armed character named Kamaji who is voiced by David Ogden Stiers of “M.A.S.H.” fame and also was a part of the film “Lilo and Stitch.” “Spirited Away” is very imaginative.

The story of Chihiro is one of a young girl is struggling over the fact that her family is relocating. She is fearful and does not look forward to the move. Just as the new home comes into view, Chihiro’s father takes a wrong turn. The path leads the family to an abandoned amusement park. Mom and dad get caught up in an adventure and try to encourage their daughter to join in the fun.

What our unsuspecting family doesn’t know is that this area is place where the Spirits of the land come to be renewed and replenished. Chihiro goes off to explore while her parents indulge themselves in an unattended buffet. Mom and dad fall into the temptation of gluttony and when their daughter returns they have been turned into pigs. As night falls upon the scene, the ghosts and spirits begin to arrive and turn this harmless adventure into challenging quest.

Chihiro is quickly helped by a young man who calls himself Haku (Jason Marsden). Haku explains to Chihiro how she can survive in this otherworld and maybe one-day rescue her parents. Chihiro must work hard in difficult circumstances, discern her friends and overcome several temptations to set her parents free.

On the surface, I liked the parabolic content of this story and I can understand its obvious appeal. The film certainly presents several excellent discussion points. I attended a screening of this movie with my 11-year-old son. We had a most amazing discussion about scripture after viewing this film. He observed many sound spiritual lessons. I would not recommend this film to family with children under the age of 10. The movie is saturated with the deep symbolism of the Shinto faith. This belief system is a unique blend of nature worship, fertility cults, divination techniques, hero worship and shamanism.

Shinto has no real founder, no written scriptures, no body of religious law and a very loosely-organized priesthood. It is the embodiment of Lennon’s song “Imagine” and the total sum of the idea captured by those who champion the cause of religious tolerance. Hayao Miyazaki does an excellent job at presenting this faith and blending in many of the common myths of his culture.

The movie focuses on several “spirits” aiding our heroine in her journey. We know that there is only one Spirit that can truly guide us in this world. I hope this review will give parents some discernable information to “choose wisely.” It is not my desire to mislead our children in any way. I also think that for the Christian who is well grounded in their faith, this movie can underscore some vital lessons through the powerful language of film.
My Ratings: [Average / 5]
—Douglas M. Downs

Positive—To call “Spirited Away” a masterpiece is to reveal your filmic affiliation for the world to see. Some will walk out of the theater with tears in their eyes because of the grandeur of spectacle while others will wander out dazed and confused. But there is no one who will be able to leave this film untouched by the fantastic images contained therein. My affiliation is with the masterpiece crowd.

Those who are given to flights of fancy and spectacular visuals should not spend another minute mulling over which re-hashed sequel to see this week but instead indulge their creative impulses by going out to see this film immediately. “Spirited Away” begins with a family’s discovery of an abandoned theme park.

Soon, the young daughter, Chihiro, is separated from her parents and finds herself trapped in a spiritual resting place as darkness descends upon the park. She makes a friend of a kindly denizen of this world named Haku who helps her get a job so that she can buy time to help her parents, who have been turned into pigs through the magic of the ruler of the park, an elderly hag named Yubaba.

Did you catch all that? I will admit, this film winds through a complex maze of characters, but is able to do so because of the extravagance of each character’s personality. It is possible that a film this rich with interesting characters will not be made for many years to come. Chihiro is the soul of this film around which the other characters swirl and dance in their colorful eccentricities.

The most fitting comparison for “Spirited Away” is with the classic Disney production “Alice in Wonderland.” For every colorful being in Alice’s journey, “Spirited Away” has an equally enthralling character. This collection of personalities can be overwhelming, but fills the film to overflowing with intrigue and emotion. The movie subtly professes an eastern spiritual worldview which may be offensive to more stringent on the worldview front, but it is played out in the background of the film instead of pushed upon the viewer as it is in “Star Wars” or “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.”

Chihiro, on the other hand, exemplifies Christian qualities of love, patience, compassion, and sacrifice while solving every quest she undertakes without an ounce of violence or vengeance. Aside from some mildly frightening images (nothing worse than “Beauty and the Beast” or the “Lion King”), this is the most wholesome family film to come out in many years.

“Spirited Away” is easily the best animated film this year and possibly on the greatest of all time. It provides plenty of visual spectacle for both adults and children as well as a sincerely uplifting message. Expect this film to win the Oscar for “Best Animated Feature” this year while steering clear of the crudities and language found in last year’s winner, “Shrek”.

Those sensitive to the impact of eastern religions may want to enter with a grain of salt, but there is no better film to recommend to families than Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece, “Spirited Away.”
My Ratings: [Good / 5]
—Matthias Shapiro, age 21
Positive—Simply put, this film is quite astonishing. Without a doubt, it’s one of the deepest and most interesting animated movies ever made, and a must for anyone who cares about animation. Made by the highly acclaimed Japanese Studio Ghibli, the animation standard is simply astonishing. Remember, this was a film made for the cinema, not direct to video or TV like much anime that makes its way to the west.

In fact, for those of you who think that Anime is all giant robots hitting each other, or Pokémon type stuff, this will open your eyes. Ghibli make gentle, warm and emotionally moving films such as My Neighbor Totoro, Whispers Of The Heart, Porco Rosso and Laputa—All of which are well worth watching. The story is gentle and interesting, with many subtly made effective moral points.

Note, for example, the way greed manages to turn sympathetic characters ugly. As pointed out in the review above, there ARE some moments in the film which younger children may find scary, but then there are scary moments in some of the Winnie The Pooh films too, and I would personally rather my four year old niece got into this film than them! There are a few bloody moments, and a few grotesque moments too—but these are normally intended to display a moral folly.

Look at the scene where the parents lose all concern for their daughter when confronted with large amounts of free food, and turn into pigs. A disturbing image yes—But a clear message. Note also at the end what happens when the daughter is asked to pick her parents out from a selection of pigs. Some may find the partly animistic nature of some of the spirits in the film a concern, but the world the young girl is in is very clearly pointed out to be a different reality to our everyday world.

There IS a Shinto influence in certain areas of the mis-en-scene, but the director has gone to great lengths to indicate that this is a dream reality. The film is an excellent fantasy movie, and one that deserves many viewings, in my opinion, but I know some will feel that they would rather not watch anything with “magical” elements. It’s a fair point, but as someone who has studied Japanese religions as part of his university degree, I personally did not find anything too dangerous in this film.

Personally I would class this as a great family movie, but I would advise parents with younger children to check the film out first before showing it to them.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 5]
—Dagon, age 29