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Spirited Away (2001) Review

I’ve got a really bad habit for committing to films that have no real relevance in modern day culture. With a disregard for what is popular and what is niche, I find myself awkwardly swaying from side to side every now and then, wondering what I’ll watch or review next. Sometimes you can knock it out of the park with a nostalgia trip review, other times you’ll jump into something you’re really passionate about and receive a lukewarm response at best. Perhaps it’s best to focus on what is still popular, and there’s nothing more popular to fans of animation than Studio Ghibli. They create wonderful films, and Spirited Away is more than probably their most popular product. Generations will grow up regarding this as one of their favourites, a true achievement in the work of animation. 

So, it comes as no surprise that such a high praise from everywhere else leaves me saying that it’s pretty good. It’s not the masterclass in storytelling and animated prowess that I had been promised, but it’s far from their worst offering. Spirited Away follows the story of Chihiro, a girl who finds herself working at a spa for otherworldly creatures after her parents take a wrong turn on the way to their new house. It makes a lot more sense when you actually settle in and watch the film, but for the purposes of this review, I don’t really have the time to tell you about why there’s a man with eight arms working a furnace, or a big nosed witch running a spa for spirits, monsters and mythological creatures. 

One credit I can always give Ghibli is that they have no issue whatsoever with making the superbly outrageous just another piece of reality. How willing an audience is to accept the great lengths the animators go to is extremely rewarding. Spirited Away is a visual cluster, full of vibrant characters, iconic pieces of Ghibli animation and as ever, filled with an enjoyable amount of energy. The consistent set pieces found throughout are some of the most viable and engaging pieces the studio has to offer, yet the personal disconnect between myself and the characters is a barrier that can never be broken. I can sing every praise in the world for the crucial and amazing story development, but there are few characters that really left their mark on me and me alone. 

I do struggle somewhat to see why this is a favourite of everyone though, and I still prefer the likes of Porco RossoMy Neighbour Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service, especially if you’re looking for a comfortable film that won’t be too taxing on the mind. At the same time though, Spirited Away offers up a story rich world full of inventive, creative and colourful characters that will immediately settle in your mind. Miyazaki has never had any trouble controlling the creative process, and here it’s as free flowing as you’d expect. Maybe even more than usual, and that in of itself is a bit of a problem. That over saturation, the need to be better than the rest when in actual fact Spirited Away is far from the peak of what Studio Ghibli has to offer. 

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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