Published Dec 01, 2002Although Spirited Away doesn't have the same earnest quality of Princess Mononoke, Miyazaki has created another elaborate and haunting film that is simply wonderful. It's hard to miss the cult that surrounds Hayao Miyazaki and the Studio Ghibli. When their names appeared on screen, the packed audience cheered and clapped. My knowledge of Japanese mysticism is pretty slim (so I know that I missed some important references) but that didn't detract from my enjoyment of the film. This is a beautifully animated, engaging story that pits innocence against unchecked greed. And guess who wins. Chihiro, a ten-year-old girl, and her parents are moving to a new town but they make a wrong turn and end up in the land of the gods. (Please remember that this type of thing happens in fantasy films.) Chihiro is left on her own to save her family. She becomes a servant in a bathhouse for the Gods giving up her name and identity to a sorceress named Yubaba. Chihiro's evolution from a spoiled, frightened girl to one responsible and capable is not sudden. At first she is aided by Haku, the sorceress' apprentice, but with each dilemma and confrontation, Chihiro gains confidence and experience. She listens, then learns, and then overcomes. Miyazaki's animation is extraordinary. There is such attention to detail: how a child sits up, how they walk up a set of stairs, slowly, dragging one foot. There are some unforgettable images in Spirited Away of people and spirits searching for a place to rest: for a home. I wonder if has been a bit Disneyfied (they produced the film) by including some cute sidekick animals but nothing in this film is saccharine. It's also wonderful to have a story with a girl at its centre that is more than capable of being the hero and not waiting to be rescued. Spirited Away is a well-written, exciting, beautiful story that kicks ass and the best thing I saw at this year's festival.