It is so ironically tragic that many great movies such as Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away are often overlooked by the public, suggesting that commercialism is the way of reflecting the possibility of achieving blockbuster status in the box-office, even as if most of these recycled products receive poor reviews (remember Shark Tale? It's horribly cliché but millions of viewers still watch it). Is it because of technology that drives its influence to the public without providing any necessity that is its substance? Or is it because Spirited Away is considered another ordinary 2D cartoon that should be suitable for little children and not the rest of us? Sadly, this is reality and we all see as it is right now (providing that we live in a topsy-turvy world with unfair paradoxes) but it doesn't mean that Miyazaki's masterpiece has a chance to change our reflections on life. In fact, there are doses of good reasons on why this movie is so special to us, aside from its family-friendly context.
Hayao Miyazaki, who has directed many of the most acclaimed animated movies in animation history (under the banner of Studio Ghibli), has stated that Spirited Away is 'for the people who used to be ten years old and the people who are going to be ten years old'. Perhaps, he really knows how children see things in their own eyes, as he might use to face during his childhood times (that's why most of his movies feature flying ships/creatures, tons of imaginative elements derived from Asian/Western cultures, some preferences from classic fairy tales, etc.) Most importantly, Mr. Miyazaki uses this tagline as an essential plot device to show the innocence, the bizarre, the horror and the wondrous revelation that the main protagonist (Chihiro) sees, feels and experiences throughout her spiritual journey, a path that we all had crossed as children before the madness of the world overwhelms our innocence. Fortunately, movies like Spirited Away succeeds in regaining our former consciousness, pulling us into his imaginative world where our childhood memories have never died; they are merely hidden inside our hearts and Mr. Miyazaki is enable to reshape them with everything this movie has to offer.
Instead of the cliché-ridden plots that mar state-of-the-art-animated films of today, Mr. Miyazaki refers to his personal experience in Japan as another plot device while maintaining the classic storytelling technique to create an entirely refreshing concept based on real-life situations. If you think Spirited Away features some of the most incomprehensibly bizarre characters you've never seen, fear not! Like all good movies, despite their oddity, they all are no different from us in terms of how they adapt to life and their functions to keep the company going. That also leads to the fact that Spirited Away is really not a good vs. evil show (like Star Wars); despite its scary images, powerful spells and evil-looking monsters, they are all surprisingly ordinary with mere characteristics of maids, bosses and customers. So don't expect a Darth Vader-like antagonist to cover the whole world with darkness while unleashing a large army of robotic troopers to destroy everything in their sights.
The overall animation is simply breathtaking. Even as they are all hand-drawn, the characters' expressions and body postures are all wonderfully done in a very natural way, the same applies to these beautiful background settings painted painstakingly by some of Ghibli's most talented artists in Japan. Speaking of animation, when watching it up close and personal, it does bear some resemblance to Disney's Snow White as well as his classic movies (unlike the new, recycled Disney movies of the early 2000s) in terms of its cel-shaded look and the way most characters move and interact (strangely, though, Mr. Miyazaki is not a big fan of Disney. Ironically, Disney is the only company that understands his movies' significance to moviegoers around the world, so it serves as a distributor to Ghibli's animated movies in North America.). Unlike most current anime that requires CGI to excite the audience, Mr. Miyazaki fortunately decides not to rely much on fancy digital applications (there are some subtle CGI effects, which are cleverly implemented on certain parts of the movie).
Disney, in its other matter, has done a good job in translating the movie's original Japanese context to its English counterpart without radically changing the flow and theme of its entire story, thanks to Pixar animator and executive producer John Lasseter (however, Disney's marketing power fails to attract more moviegoers). Despite the audience's varied reactions on English and Japanese tracks, in my opinion, I find both of them outstanding and seem to have a natural pattern to influence the mood of the movie. Once again, Joe Hisashi, the composer of many of Miyazaki's movies, has provided some of the finest and most memorable cues ever to bring grace to the screens (one of my personal favorite is a cue in which Haku finally remembers his original name, shedding its scales in the sky). Without these important audio elements, Spirited Away could have been another uninspiring, lifeless show.
It is no doubt that Spirited Away has indeed changed the way we look at animated movies, similar to the way the original Star Wars trilogy, the first two Godfather movies and films by Steven Spielberg did. It is also true that whatever I write in this review, a single picture tells a thousand words; you still need to watch it with your own eyes, feel it as you are still a child and you will understand a thousand reasons why this movie should receive an Oscar for Best Animated Feature. However, like many artistic filmmakers, Mr. Miyazaki is not interested in such glamorous spotlights and moneymaking propaganda, as he continues to inspire newer generations with his latest waves of masterpieces, starting with Howl's Moving Castle.
Thank you, Mr. Miyazaki for proving once again that childhood memories will forever endure within our hearts and souls until the end of time.