|Fig 1. Spirited Away (2001)|
It is hard to get people to fully understand how time consuming and labor intensive animation is unless they have made animations before. It is not a fast process and it is not an easy process even if computers are used. Good animation takes time, patience and practice, and it can be difficult to make the person or thing that is being animated to feel real and alive - to give it weight and true emotion. Miyazaki does this and more in Spirited Away, "animation is a painstaking process, and there is a tendency to simplify its visual elements. Miyazaki, in contrast, offers complexity...it would be easier to suggest vaguely moving presences, but Miyazaki takes care to include many figures we recognise. All of them are in motion. And it isn't the repetitive motion of much animation, in which the only idea is simply to show a figure moving. It is realistic, changing, detailed motion," (Ebert, 2012). Even in crowds of people, you can see faces that you recognise but are not needed for that specific scene. Them being there doesn't always have significance but it feels more realistic. The more you look at the surroundings the more little details you see going on. The personalities of the characters can be seen in their actions and movements at all times, nothing feels like stock or generic animation, everything is there to enhance the atmosphere - even if it is not part of the actual story. This gives realness and depth to the world that is absent from many other animated films.
|Fig 2. Crowd of Familiar Faces Wave Chihiro Goodbye|
Even if the audience doesn't always understand (most likely the western audience) why things happen, why there is a giant talking baby, why there are little fuzzy puff balls with eyes moving coal around, or why a spirit called No Face is so intent on becoming friends with a human, the story is still impactful. Spirited Away contains an array of themes that moral lessons that tend to be important values in Japanese culture. This includes caring for others (especially your family), respect (especially for your elders), working hard, and dedication. All of these themes are in Spirited Away and is shown as we see the main character, a 10 year old girl named Chihiro, grow up as she learns to overcome different obstacles. Initially she is stubborn, sullen, and relatively impolite. However, as she becomes more determined to save her parents and help her friends, she matures and achieves her goals, showing the audience that respect, dedication, and love are all important when it comes to growing up.
Interestingly though, it is not just the young Chihiro that is seen as somewhat unfavourable in the beginning of the film. One of the other main themes - if not the main theme - in Spirited Away is about greed and how greed has a negative impact on everyone. "Chihiro's parents fall eagerly upon the counter jammed with food and stuff their mouths...they eat so much they double or triple in size. They eat like pigs, and they become pigs. These aren't the parents of American animation, but parents who can do things that frighten a child," (Ebert, 2012). However, this is not the only example of how greed is expressed as toxic. Everyone in the bathhouse, where the film takes place, is obsessed with gold. It leads to the evil witch, Yubaba, to steal the names of her employees so they're locked into work due to the loss of their identity. The greed of the employees within the bathhouse corrupts No Face, who absorbs the emotions and energy that surrounds him. It also caused Haku, a river spirit who can shapeshift into a dragon, to steal a magic golden seal from Yubaba's sister which caused him to be gravely injured/sick. The main lesson is simple and obvious - do not be greedy.
Another interesting aspect of this film is the hinted jabs at pollution and urban expansion. While it isn't necessarily as direct as the other themes, once you look deeper into the film it can be seen hinted at throughout the story. "There is a malodorous heap of black slime, a river creature whose body has sopped up piles of pollution. Shape-shifting, so common in Japanese fantasy, takes place here, and the Haku, who first befriended Chihiro is revealed as a lithe sea dragon with fierce fangs," (Ebert, 2012). Both of these - the 'heap of black slime' and Haku - express the negative environmental impact that humans have. When the black slime first shows up at the bath house, everyone recoils in disgust and the job of serving the slime is thrust upon Chihiro. The little girl takes on the task, and then realises that something is wrong with the creature. Everyone works together and pulls all of the garbage and pollution out of the spirit, which is revealed to be a powerful water spirit. Chihiro is rewarded for her efforts. Similarly, Haku has forgotten his name after he sold himself to Yubaba, and cannot find his way back home. However, eventually Chihiro discovers that his name is actually the Spirit of the Kohaku River. The reason why he could not figure out his name was partially due to the fact that his river was destroyed by humans to make room for apartments. Perhaps this is partially why Chihiro is initially met with hostility as she is a human.
|Fig 3. Helping the River Spirit|
Bradshaw, P. (2003) Spirited Away At: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2003/sep/12/spirited-away-review Accessed on: 28/1/2017
Ebert, R. (2012) Spirited Away At: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-spirited-away-2002 Accessed on: 28/1/2017
Mitchell, E. (2002) Film Review; Conjuring Up Atmosphere Only Anime Can Deliver At: http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9504E0DB1030F933A1575AC0A9649C8B63 Accessed on: 28/1/2017
Peters, P. (2014) Spirited Away Review At: http://www.empireonline.com/movies/spirited-away/review/ Accessed on: 28/1/2017
Figure 1. Spirited Away [Poster] At: http://www.impawards.com/2002/posters/spirited_away.jpg Accessed on: 28/1/2017
Figure 2. Crowd of Familiar Faces Wave Chihiro Goodbye [Film Still] At: http://caps.pictures/200/1-spirited-away/full/spirited-away-disneyscreencaps.com-14105.jpg Accessed on: 28/1/2917
Figure 3. Helping the River Spirit [Film Still] At: http://screenprism.com/assets/img/article/spirited-away-full-402308.jpg Accessed on: 28/1/2017