Review: “Spirited Away”

Arguably the most epic animated fantasy tale since “The Lion King” way back in 1994, “Spirited Away” is the latest work from master animator Hayao Miyazaki and proves just as much a treat for adults as for the young female audience its aiming for.

Combining both epic and complexly layered storytelling displayed in his previous and less cohesive effort “Princess Mononoke”, with an intimate child fantasy element utilised in all the classics from “Alice in Wonderland” to “The Wizard of Oz”, ‘Spirited’ is an endlessly imaginative feature that creates a rich visual world of wonder and fear in a way that will remind you of how you saw the world as a child.

From the six-armed Kamaji, the big nosed Yu-Babba, pale masked Kaonashi, and the River God of Mud – the creatures that populate this world are mysterious, ethereal and filled with a back history – characters who’ll behave in ways that you can’t predict and never fall into a mould.

The animation is superb – from simple hand drawn anime close-ups to richly moving sequences within walls of flowers or a train gliding over the sea. The flow between styles never once falters or disrupts the admittedly somewhat funky storytelling which may get a little too eccentric and obscure for some, but the sheer visual wonder combined with composer Joe Hisaishi’s fabulous score keep things flowing well.

As this was a Japanese language track its hard for me to judge the voices but all perfectly fit their characters. Downsides? Well things do head into the mundane at times admittedly, the element of her parents conversion into pigs doesn’t play as well as it should, and there’ll no doubt be confusion over the events in the last 20 minutes.

The quibbles are minor however, and this is one of the few anime projects with real crossover potential into the Western market. Previous attempts such as “Princess Mononoke” are a little too spiritual and/or obscure in their own way to have that pull.

This has no such problems however as the magical and mystical elements are new creations by Miyazaki and not reliant on such subject matter. The simple hand drawn animation may not appeal to all, but every minute or so something comes along that stuns you such as Yu-Babba’s quite effective creature metamorphosis.

Beautifully rich, engrossing and unusual filmmaking – a visual feast with a compelling purely escapist story and wondorous characters, what more could you want from a film – animated or not. An absolute treasure for the ages.