Appreciation: Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away Sets a Standard for All Storytellers

Having recently gone back in time with From Up on Poppy Hill and enamored by Whisper of the Heart, I decided to revisit the film that first introduced me to the world of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. And that film is Spirited Away.

Now actually, Kiki’s Delivery Service was my first ever experience with Studio Ghibli and the genius that is Hayao Miyazaki. When it first began airing on Disney Channel, I loved it. I thought it was fun and exciting and different from any Disney movie I had ever saw. But back then, I had no idea it was actually an English-dubbed Japanese film. I never heard of a Hayao Miyazaki.

Neither did I know Castle in the Sky‘s background either when we popped it into the VCR during a rainy day lunch at school.

Maybe because I was a couple of years older (and the internets more readily available), it was Spirited Away that introduced me to names Miyazaki and Ghibli.

Popping my DVD in this time around, I realized I have never watched the film with the original Japanese dialogue. So putting it on now and reading along, the film is just as magical and amazing as it was the first time I watched it.

It’s easy to see why many call this Miyazaki’s masterpiece, the greatest film he’s made so far. While other characters have been more commercial (Totoro!) and other films more mainstream (Kiki), it is Spirited Away that has all the pieces that truly make it great and complete.

Its young heroine, Chihiro, leads a wonderful and strong cast of characters that are written with depth and care that in turn help solidify the quick moving and intricate story.

At its heart, it is a coming of age story about a passive, cynical young girl who matures and learns about her own strength as well as that of those around her.

But Spirited Away is much more. It is a fantastical adventure full of romance. It is funny and witty, but also frightening and scary. It is a personal journey as well as a fantastical adventure. It’s metaphorical and thought provoking. It is poignant, touching and full of heart, many times when you least expect it.

It is a film where a spider man runs the boiler room of a bathhouse and a giant baby threatens to break bones. It’s a film where a spirit terrorizes (and eats!) the people before endearing itself with cake and sewing. There are plenty of surprises and an entire film of breathtaking animation.

Quite simply, it is an epic. An absolute epic.

Wanting to watch every film they’ve made and eagerly anticipating the new adventures that await, it is thanks to Spirited Away that I’ve become a fan of all things Hayao Miyazki and Studio Ghibli.

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