SPIRITED AWAY (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001)

I have just added a new entry to my 100 Greatest Asian Films list, which you will find elsewhere on this site (see “Categories” at right). As a result, I had to delete one of the entries from that list to make room for the added one. Below, you will find the dropped entry.

A spirited genre of Japanese film is the anime—the animated film. Its premier artist is Hayao Miyazaki. A beautiful example of his work is Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi (The Spiriting Away of Sen and Chihiro). While it has been relegated to the bin of family entertainment and therefore exists in the States only in an English-dubbed version to accommodate those too young to negotiate subtitles, even in this dubious form it delights. A coming-of-age narrative, its protagonist is ten-year-old Chihiro, whose fantastical adventures proceed from a detour her parents take en route to their new suburban home. While the adults’ gluttony turns them into pigs (the film is rife with references to Pinocchio), Chihiro is off somewhat on her own (a boy helps, but she ends up having to save him), confronting various monsters—situations that teach her resourcefulness, composure, responsibility. This fearful, whiny, self-absorbed child becomes a capable, self-confident member of her family, helping to restore her parents to the human condition: a reflection of her own advancement. Sullen at the outset, Chihiro becomes, well, animated.
     The creatures with which Chihiro must contend often possess more or less recognizable forms, but others, indefinable, are beyond the stuff of familiar nightmares—a projection of the child’s fear of the real world that seems perpetually beyond her control. By coming to terms with these beasts, Chihiro masters her fear of the world, including the place, without urban conveniences, to which her parents had been taking her, and her fear also of that other unchartered territory: herself. Chihiro, who used to withdraw into herself rather than face herself, begins to define herself.
     There is little comedy in this film. By comparison, U.S. animated features tend to be full of jokes—often cruel ones, a friend has reminded me.

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