Spirited Away is over-rated. (That got you clicking).What is most interesting about it is its reliance on at least a cursory knowledge of the Shinto spirit world and Japanese culture. Consider this one line description of the plot from the Guardian: ‘Japanese girl gets work in a bath-house for spirits in order to rescue her parents who have been turned into pigs’. It does describe exactly how non-formulaic the film is, but also points out plenty of cultural differences. That is okay, Hollywood has been spunking its product over the world without any sort of explanation of their culture except that which is implicit in films for years.
I’ve been to a Japanese bath-house (avoid the bath that gives to electric shocks would be my only advice) but I that did not give me much of an advantage. True the film does not hinge heavily on the properties of bath-houses, or the spirit world ‘ though there are aspects of the film which go unexplained and are taken on some sort of cultural trust. Why is Chihiro so keen on making everyone in the film eat a bit of the Stink Spirit? Why is everyone down on Chihiro being a human when half the workers in the bath-house also appear to be human? Her journey from sulky know-it-all to upstanding better rounded girls seems all too arbitrary. Still, it’s a kids movie right, it doesn’t need to make that much sense. Surely this is a reason for it to make all the more sense.
There is plenty of enjoyment to be got from Spirited Away, it does look georgeous and the exoticism fools us into feeling we are getting a real insight into an alien world. More apparent is how the whole thing seems made up as it goes along, leaving us all over the place pacing-wise. And how original is it when it touches base on plenty of kid-lit sacred cows (kid saving parents by going through a number of trials, kid smarter than ‘rents). I felt it just lacked the kind of story logic that Alice In Wonderland or even The Phantom Tollboth had. In itself it makes the film deliciously unpredictable, the No-Face subplot appears to take up about half of the film for no real reason. Considering how long animation takes to do, it is surprising how little sense beyond the structure for this kind of story Spirited Away has. I would say this would never happen in a Walt Disney film, but then Walt Disney presents this cloying US dub of Spirited Away. Better than Disney for being astonishingly original, but Miyazaki should remember next time that original is a shower next to a perfectly balanced film’s full on Jacuzzi (with ‘leccy shocks).