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I was somewhat not happy at the Oscars when my favorite animation of the year "Lilo And Stitch" lost to "Spirited Away". I had seen all the raving reviews and all, but i thought it was all fashionable pretension. The previous Miyazaki i had seen, "Princess Mononoke", although technically superb, had left me with a touch of indifference. I simply never got involved into the film. Well, "Spirited Away" makes me want to watch that other film again.
I have now seen all the major animations of 2002, and i can say the critics were right. "Spirited Away" is by far one of the best animation i have seen in quite a while. It's beautiful, creative, and captivating. It's absolutely gorgeous, deeply engaging, fascinating, and once over, made me want to watch it again. For the first time in his life, my 3-year old son stayed glued to the screen, transfixed, from beginning to end.. That's almost 2 hours. I had never seen him that attentive before. We watched it in Japanese with subtitles, but he managed to understand all the core themes of the movie, and was very active, asking questions and commenting, all throughout.
This movie tells the story of Chihiro, a spoiled brat, who gets lost with her parents in some old temple. Searching for some food, the parents find a street eatery and start eating like pigs. Well, they suddenly become pigs, and the little girl gets catapulted in a world of fantasy filled with witches, spirits, ghosts, monsters and Gods. She must pull onto her inner resources to survive, and ultimately, save her parents from becoming a banquet.
Commenting on the contents of this film is hard, as it is high on symbolism, and Japanese culturalism. But i believe that the themes are universal enough that anyone will get engaged. Even if you do not understand all the terminology, or the spirits involved, anyone will be drawn to the pure imagination that every frame exhibits. It is truly a work of art.
On other fronts, the music is quite engaging too, but there isn't one theme that really sticks. It cannot compare to other great Animes such as "Akira" and "Macross Plus" which had impressive soundtracks. The overall character design are great, and full emotions transpire easily.
This is a great anime that should please a great number of people, while not compromising an instant on the complexity of the story, the richness of the visuals, and the inventiveness of the characters. It's a crowd pleaser, while remaining a great piece of art.
One note: the dubbed version is quite terrible. After having watched a few minutes in English (for my son), i felt it was so terrible that we re-started the movie, and watched it in its original Japanese. There is really no comparison.
- Laurent Hasson