Friday, 3 February 2017

Global Animated Film Review: Japan- Spirited Away

Fig 1: Theatrical Poster for 2001's Spirited Away
Spirited Away is a 2001 Japanese Fantasy Anime film directed by Hayao Miyazaki and produced by Studio Ghibli. The film is the eleventh film to be created by the studio, following after such films like My Neighbour Totoro (1988), Kiki's Delivery Service(1989) and Princess Mononoke (1997).
It was a worldwide success, being critically acclaimed and winning an academy award for best animated film in 2003. It is among the eight Studio Ghibli films to be world widely successful with Spirited Away being the highest grossing of them.

Fig 2: A Frighten Chihiro who doesn't want to follow her parents through the corridor to the Spirit World
The plot revolves Chihiro, a 10 year old girl who was moving into a new town with her parents who finds herself in the spirit world after her dad attempts to take a shortcut through the woods. While in the spirit realm, her parents eat some food and transform grotesquely into pigs, so in an attempt to save them from being eaten Chihiro decides to become an employee at the bath house as the boss of the house, Yubaba the Witch controls the entire area and is the only one able to break the curse, given up her name as payment. In the bathhouse she mets a series of characters, Kamaji who works the boiler room, Lin a worker in the bathhouse, No Face a faceless spirit that Chihiro shows kindness too, letting him into the bathhouse were he then suffers from the greed of the place turning him monstrous and Haku, Yubaba's assistant who recognises Chihiro from his past and is willing to help her through out her adventure starting with giving her the idea of getting a job at the bathhouse.
While the film is downright stunning, the environments from the bathhouse to the train stops across the river, the second act to the story feels rushed, like there was too much build up in the first half that the later part of the story couldn't provide what the film needed so it fell a little. However all of the characters in the film were enjoyable, seeing Chihiro's growth in both her maturity and her confidence was nice to witness as well has her impact on the people she's around leads to Spirited Away being an interesting character piece.

Fig 3: Yubaba's Bathhouse
The film plays out a bit like Alice in Wonderland, with a young girl going to a world of magic by accident, meeting the strange residences of the world, growing up and maturing as she goes. Chihiro starts the film as a sullen girl who's left everything behind her to go to a new town with her parents. Initially she doesn't want anything to do with the spiritual world the family finds themselves in, wanting to go to the new house instead of engorging herself on the plentiful food like her parents. Through the meeting of Haku and the other residences, Chihiro matures, she learns to act less childish and takes on the responsibility to save her parents from Yubaba and to stop No Face from destroying the bathhouse. This is comparable to Alice's story from the Lewis Carroll story who falls into a world of fantasy and through her trials she is able to come back to her world and mature along the way. In this instance Spirited Away is also a Coming of Age story for Chihiro.

Fig 4: A monterous No Face offering Chihiro his Gold
Greed is another major theme of the film, it what the bathhouse represents, its income and wealthy guests blend itself to money hungry residents from the frog, Aogearu, to Yababa herself and she inspect her jewels in the highest floor of the establishment. This greed is a big part of the No-Face storyline where the spirits lust for money and acceptance is challenged by Chihiro who refuses to accept any of the gold he conjures up, this leads to the consumption of some of the bath house employees and for No-Face to go into fit of anger. Environmental issues is also brought up in the film mainly through the destruction and pollution of rivers, Chihiros first big client, after she gets a job and loses her name to Yababa, is a polluted mess of a spirit which is then revealed to be a river spirit that was full of its rivers pollution. As a gift to for cleaning it the spirit gives Chihiro some medicine which she then uses to cure No- Face to make him spit back up the people he's eaten and Haku who wounds up majorly injured from a fight with Yababa's twin sister Zeniba.

Fig 5: Chihiro coming back to the bathhouse on Haku's back
While being one of the most influential and successful animated film from Japan, the countries animation history is long standing and fruitful, with the oldest surviving piece of animation from Japan dating back to 1917 with Namakura Gatana (Blunt Sword). Animation during this early period from the 1910's through to the 1930's generally revolved around Japanese folklore and animation was also used during wartime to spread about Anti-American propaganda a notable example being MomotarĊ: Umi no Shinpei made in 1945 as it was the countries first full feature film. The more modern style of animation from Japan, one that is commonly recognised as anime came along in the 1960s with Osamu Tezuka's Astro Boy being the first animated television show, it has been a major influence on the genre, alongside other animations like Cyborg 009, Kimba the White Lion as well as the longest running anime Sanae-san (1969) which is still on air today and has over 7000 episodes under its belt awarding it a Guinness World Record. From then on anime has become a staple of Japanese media, moving from films to television and the increase of animation studios. Anime is now a so varied and popular that new shows are put into set seasons and can run for 12 to 24 episodes plus. With the subculture of Otaku, merchandising is now an important part of conjuring up a profit for animes. As a whole Japanese animation is now well known around the world, thanks to its iconic and diverse appearance and its uniqueness in relation to its country of origin's culture.

Fig 6: Chihiro off to find her parents back in the Human World

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