Review: Sen To Chihiro No Kamikakushi (Spirited Away, 2001)

My review of this one has been a long time coming, I actually put it off numerous times because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do it justice, and now it’s time to see if the wait was worth it!

Written By: Hayao Miyazaki
Directed By: Hayao Miyazaki

I would hope by this point in time that anyone who knows me personally or simply reads my blog would know that while I have certain directors I love, there is one director I place on a pedestal above all others. That director is Hayao Miyazaki, and said pedestal placing is the exact reason why I put off reviewing Sen To Chihiro No Kamikakushi for so long. Many view this as his magnum opus, the film that highlights all that Miyazaki is about as a filmmaker. I can go along with that viewpoint, although I view all of his films so highly that it is a constant battle in my head over which one is actually his magnum opus and finest work. Still, as much as I may love Tonari No Totoro, I’m not foolish enough to believe that among the masses that particular Miyazaki effort is given anywhere near the amount of attention and praise as Sen To Chihiro No Kamikakushi. It is because of all the attention, and aforementioned pedestal placing, that Sen To Chihiro No Kamikakushi has received since its release that I waited until now to review it, and I only hope that my minuscule words can come close to describing this master work.

Picking out a place to start my review of Sen To Chihiro No Kamikakushi is proving rather difficult, I have all of these powerful emotions waiting to gush out of me and on every facet of the film. Heck, picking out a screenshot to use for the review was hella hard, pouring through the beautiful imagery of Sen To Chihiro No Kamikakushi and trying to choose just one that encapsulates the film is a Herculean task I would never wish upon another living being.

That’s where I shall start then, the imagery and animation of Sen To Chihiro No Kamikakushi. Saying that something is stunningly beautiful may be redundant, but sometimes one adjective isn’t enough, sometimes two glaringly positive adjectives are necessary to get the point across. Whether we are talking about each and every frame of animation or the image creation that takes place throughout Sen To Chihiro No Kamikakushi, two adjectives are most certainly needed for a proper review. A good friend of mine, well I think we are at least, Jeff said in his review that Sen To Chihiro No Kamikakushi left him with his jaw wide open for the entire run time. That describes the gorgeousness of the imagery and animation found in Sen To Chihiro No Kamikakushi in a far more succinct manner than I could ever muster.

Next up in my whirlpool of a brain are the small details that make up Sen To Chihiro No Kamikakushi. The tiniest of actions are given full weight in Sen To Chihiro No Kamikakushi, from Chihiro stomping her shoe on the ground to make sure it has gone on all the way to the glint of light off of either Yubaba or Zeniba’s rings. These effects may not seem like much, they may sound rather trivial, but it is the attention to the tiniest of details that have always pushed Miyazaki to another level among animators and in the case of Sen To Chihiro No Kamikakushi they round out the film.

The pool has been drained a bit and rising to the top of the murky waters are the themes found in Sen To Chihiro No Kamikakushi. Miyazaki touches on some of his favorite themes, modernization, the environment and the changing of the times, but the theme I want to talk about is that of a young girl coming of age. There isn’t another director in the history of cinema who understands children, specifically young girls, as well as Miyazaki. Chihiro’s change isn’t just believable through her actions, but it believable visually and in our hearts. She is learning life lessons every step of the way in Sen To Chihiro No Kamikakushi, but Miyazaki knows that a film full of life lessons could be preachy so he turns her learning into an adventure. And what a grand adventure it is at that, it is very possible to forget about every theme Miyazaki wants to impart and simply become lost in Chichiro’s adventures in this magical world.

You know what, I think I’ve gone on long enough about all of the technical reasons why I love Miyazaki and find Sen To Chihiro No Kamikakushi to be a master work. It’s time to get into the nitty gritty, the real reason why Sen To Chihiro No Kamikakushi has remained with me through countless viewings throughout the years, my personal reaction. Sen To Chihiro No Kamikakushi beings out a warmth in me, or maybe it’s that the film covers me in warmth like a favorite comforter on a cold winter evening. From its onset I am drawn into what is happening and my heart continues to feel that warmth, to want to be at this place, to become lost in the fantasy and take this journey with Chichiro. It is a deeply personal reaction, one that hopefully you can understand, but it is our personal reactions that make film so wonderful. And, my personal reaction to Sen To Chihiro No Kamikakushi is that of love, of taking in something wonderful, something that will enrich my life and the lives of those around me. Sen To Chihiro No Kamikakushi touches me in the way that all great art should, in the way that so few pieces of art can manage.

I think that about does it, and even with so many words having been typed I don’t think I came close to describing the majesty and wonder of Sen To Chihiro No Kamikakushi. You’re just going to have to read what little I was able to impart and take the plunge into the fantasy land of Sen To Chihiro No Kamikakushi for yourself. Is Sen To Chihiro No Kamikakushi Miyazaki’s magnum opus? Maybe, maybe not, but it is a terrific movie either way and a one of a kind experience, so if you haven’t already seen it then you need to, let the warmth of Sen To Chihiro No Kamikakushi draw you in.





11 responses to “Review: Sen To Chihiro No Kamikakushi (Spirited Away, 2001)

  1. If this took a damn long time to write because you wanted it to be perfect. It was fucking worth it. This is great. I want to see this more than ever. It’s just that I can’t find a lot of Miyazaki where I live.

    Once I get the urge to watch films with no hesitation and with more joy than ever. I will definitely do some Miyazaki.

  2. Thanks Steve, and whenever you do get around to it, I hope you love the Miyazaki you do watch.

  3. Great review, but I would have preferred you calling it “Spirited Away”. Much easier to type, too!

  4. Sorry bro, I always stick with the actual film title, not the translated title, it’s kind of my thing.

  5. Jordan Richardson

    One of my all-time favourite movies. Nice review, man.

  6. Eh, seems pretty pretentious, but whatever. Its an incredible movie, no matter the name.

  7. Not pretentious, just calling a movie by what it should be called. I’m not going to start calling Guillermo del Toro, William del Toro just because that’s the English translation, and that’s the way I view movie titles when it comes to something more official like a review.

  8. Jordan Richardson

    I’ll chime in on the titles thing, just for kicks.

    I’ve never had a problem calling things by their English names or even translated names. I don’t run around calling Война и мир or Voyná i mir and I don’t really do that with anything else either.

    It isn’t so much a matter of what a movie “should” be called, really. It’s a matter of language and/or common usage in particular regions. If you wanted to be accurate, you’d cite Spirited Away as Sen and Chihiro’s Spiriting Away in English. Same goes for countless other pictures, but we tend to use the North American titles because that’s where we live. If we want to be understood commonly as talking about Spirited Away, we’d use the regional title.

    Consider that Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs became Cloudy with a Chance of Falafel in Israel, for instance. Or Army of Darkness becomes Captain Supermarket in Japan. Or Air America became Crazy for Danger in South America. Altman’s Short Cuts went through a slew of other titles for international audiences, including Life’s Crossroads for Chinese audiences.

    These chances are, by and large, adaptations of foreign or regional concepts to help generate a broader understanding of the picture. Or, as they say, “when in Rome…”

  9. I agree with that in regular conversation, however in official circles, such as an IMDB listing or any review, I think the actual title should be used. But, like I said, using the actual title is sort of my thing and my quirk, it always has been and outside of the concession of including the translated English title in the review header, I don’t plan on ever changing up that quirk.

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