Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Screenplay: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: Rumi Hiiragi, Miyu Irino, Mari Natsuki, Takeshi Naito, Yasuko Sawaguchi, Tsunehiko Kamijō, Takehiko Ono, Bunta Sugawara
Runtime: 125 Minutes
Original UK Release: 2001
Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece - inspired by elements of his own personal life - Spirited Away carries with it the kind of wildly imaginative and bizarre story elements and characters that wouldn’t be out of place in a Lewis Carroll story, but also feels like if it were a product of a different time, it may even be considered in the spirit of 80s cult classics like Labyrinth. At once mystifyingly magical and soothing, it houses this subtle sense of discomforting worry that the young Sen (Rumi Hiiragi) just doesn’t belong in this world and should desperately try to escape.
There’s a painstaking and luscious attention to detail in the animation, which fills in the cracks of its construction to make the world of the Bathhouse feel as believable and tangible as possible. Every figure feels honest and real, and Sen is a wonderful lead character, played beautifully in a way that epitomises every reaction a child could possibly have to entering this familiar, yet alien, world. There are an abundance of hilarious and awkward set pieces and moments of real excitement and tension, but it’s not afraid of finding the calm in the spaces of its busyness, such as Sen’s mesmerising train journey across the landscape with No-Face.
This is a film in which the theme of change and growth takes on a physical dimension, as characters throughout constrict and expand in different forms throughout the narrative due to differing circumstances of gluttony, hubris and untamed unruliness - allowing Sen to visually process her ongoing struggle with her parents and her identity.
There isn’t an insincere bone in its body, and it’s ultimately a film that cherishes the concept of kindness, patience and friendship being the tool to tear down barriers – from etiquette and class to the morally grey boundaries of what constitutes good and evil behaviour.