For the first time, I have embarked on something of a personal movie quest – one where I log (in Microsoft Word) each and every film I watch throughout the year. In recent years, I have simply not watched enough film, having long been swept up by the easy access of box-set, binge-watchable television. Upon realizing how largely uncultured I was in the world of film in the fall of 2021, I took it upon myself to change that and, in January of this year, I watched 31 films in total – averaging one per day. Of those 31 films I chose to watch (many for the first time ever), there was one which really struck a chord with me: the Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki directed Academy Award winning classic, Spirited Away (2021).
A Beautiful Movie Unlike Any Other
I saw Spirited Away on January 11th and it was the twelfth film in my list. Following Hitchcock classics such as Psycho and Vertigo, as well as the recent masterpiece that is Mass, I was not expecting much from Spirited Away. Yet, much like the title of the movie, I found myself spirited away to another realm – one full of mystery, horror and beauty. The movie follows Chihiro Ogniro, a ten year-old schoolgirl moving to a new town with her parents. When checking out an old, presumed to be abandoned bathhouse, Chihiro and her parents are “spirited away” to a seemingly impossible world; one where animals can talk, spirits may dwell and where water dragons may breeze through the skies in scenes of miraculous, enchanting vision unlike anything we might see on earth. Ultimately, the film borrows largely from Shinto folklore and various other Japanese mythology and it creates an ultimate world not like our own.
Upon arriving in this world, Chihiro’s parents are turned into pigs which, as you might imagine, is rather traumatizing for a young girl of 10. However, she immediately encounters Haku – a mysterious character who, at first, you are unsure to trust. He guides Chihiro through this world; providing her with all kinds of advice (finding a job, so to not disappear from the world) and, thankfully, makes her feel safe. Their friendship grows throughout the film and it is Chihiro who saves Haku’s life when it is endangered by some of the darkness which lurks within this realm (it would be too much of a spoiler to reveal what said darkness is, or isn’t). With Chihiro’s parents turned into pigs, it becomes her quest to have them returned to their human forms; to be free of this strange, new world and to return back to her own world, with her parents to watch over her once more.
It is an excellent story of a child lost on her own, without her parents – providing said child with the opportunity to seize the day on her own quest where she, and she alone, is the sole protagonist. She makes many friends along the way – some in unlikely places – and ultimately learns that it is her love for her parents, as well as her own inner strength and determination (which she never knew she had) which will lead her to overcoming all the obstacles which stand between her and her main objective: home. The BBC wrote last year that, even at 20 years of age, Spirited Away remains as thought-provoking and as significant a movie as any; this is a fact likely to never change. At the end of the movie, when Chihiro has succeeded in her quest and is reunited with her parents back on what we know as earth, there is a moment where Chihiro looks on at the abandoned bathhouse, knowing that she may never return and although she is leaving the bathhouse behind, she will never forget the friends and stories she made along the way. They will stay with her forever, just as Spirited Away will stay with me.
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