Welcome to the third Anime Review, where I shall discuss my first feature length movie, Hayap Miyazaki's Spirited Away.
If you want an example of a mainstream anime, look no further than a Studio Ghibli film, known for anime classics Howls Moving Castle and most recently Ponyo, neither of which I have seen but I intend to at some point.
Spirited Away is by far their most successful production, and probably one of the most famous anime movies of all time. This is a movie that grossed more than the first two Pokemon movies and Akira combined, and is currently the thirteenth highest rated movie on Rotten Tomatoes, with a 97 percent approval rate.
So why is Spirited Away so financially successful? It's a family film, through and through. This is not a movie for kids only though. This is a film that adults can watch and enjoy just as much as their children, unlike any of the Pokemon films.
There is a similarity in the plot which also chimes well with all generations, which is the films resemblance of the framework of one of the most popular western animated movies ever made, Disney's Alice in Wonderland. It is far more coherent than the Lewis Carrol classic, but it still resembles it in basic structure.
Spirited Away is the story of Chihiro, a ten year old girl who discovers a new world while moving house with her parents. Stopping at a deserted fairground, her parents begin to scoff food laid out on abandoned tables, and transform into pigs. Chihiro finds herself trapped in the Spirit World, and becomes determined to get her parents back. She eventually becomes a worker there, and slowly makes friends, develops bonds and learns.
The ending is pretty much what you expect, but it's what happens in between that really makes the film stunning. There is a beautifully animated chase scene through a bath house, and some very surreal moments involving a baby and a mouse. The film also has one of the most stunning scenes, muscially and visually, I've ever seen in an anime, when Chihibo rides the train. The music in this scene is astonshing.
In fact, the sound design in general is astonishing. The music is some of the highest quality, and truly emotional I have heard in any production, never mind anime or even simply animated movie. It really is superb. Voice acting too is good in both Japanese and English. In the Japanese everyone turns in a great performance, and I'm happy that in the English there was a little less use of English screen actors doing voicework than in recent Studio Ghibli films. It always bugs me when screen actors do voice over work.
Animation is.. Almost perfect. We're talking some of the smoothest, best looking animation in a long time. Every detail in the art is brought to life. You could genuinely watch Spirited Away with the sound off and still have a damn good experience just watching the thing move.
Unfortunately, I can't keep gushing forever. The film does have its flaws, and some of these flaws hurt the movie badly. The last 10 minutes or so in particular, are rushed, and I don't mean slightly. Key elements of characters are just pushed through with a few lines, with a moment that was hinted at and kept a mystery for so long throughout the film being revealed in about two sentances, and then never mentioned again. The final showdown between Chihibo and the antagonist is also stunningly anti-climactic, with the film being a bit too keen to push forward it's message of 'BE GOOD!!!'.
Should this deter you? No, because the 110 minutes beforehand are so good they almost erase the flaws of the films conclusion. The film is not perfect; Miyazaki is a bit heavy-handed with his themes especially towards the end, and it's also maybe a bit too long, pushing in at over two hours, for what is somewhat of a simple story compared to other, shorter animes.
Spirited Away is a landmark in anime. It turned many in the West towards the medium, and captivated audiences worldwide. In my opinion, Spirited Away made a bigger dent than Akira did and probably ever will. If you're an anime fan, don't let Spirited Away pass you by because you feel it's too childish or too mainstream. You owe it to yourself to watch this.
Remember, things are popular for a reason.