Oscar Blindspots: Spirited Away

It might be 20 years late, but I’ll be catching up on all the Oscar nominees and winners I have missed from the year 2002 through the month of November

Inventive and magical, Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away is an animated classic for a reason. Filled with beautiful imagery and resonating themes, the film’s reputation as one of the best animated films of all time is well founded.

Ten-year-old Chihiro and and her parents are traveling to their new home following a move. The family stops to explore a tunnel leading to an old abandoned theme park, which Chihiro’s father insists on exploring. The parents find food to each, but Chihiro discovers they have turned into pigs. She meets a boy named Haku who implores her to return to the tunnel.

Unable to escape, Haku attempts to help her. Chihiro asks for a job from the boilerman Kamaji and eventually the boss Yubaba. Working in the bathhouse, she encounters spirits, dark forces, and different personalities in order to survive, rescue her parents, and get back home.

There is a lot going on outside the realm of reality. Nothing really makes a whole lot of sense, but once you accept the realities of this world, the film becomes much more coherent. There is a Alice in Wonderland feel to the film, where Chihiro is on this fantastical journey that there is no way for her to understand, but she still has to navigate. She very quickly adapts successfully to the rules of the world.

Chihiro’s journey is mirrored in the uncertainty of her family’s move. She doesn’t know what to expect and has to rely on those willing to help her to navigate this new reality. Some people treat her with relative kindness, some with apathy, some with disdain. It doesn’t matter how she’s treated, she needs to be able to adapt to her new reality. More than anything, her kindness and humanity are the keys to her survival.

Each character is not characterized as strictly good or evil. Some characters are extremely complex. The spirit No-Face is greedy and eats people, but still has shades of humanity and goodness. Even Yababa has things she cares about outside of keeping a little girl hostage. It is never as simple as “they are good,” or “they are evil.”

Miyazaki animates like few other directors. The action is clean and inventive, while the character design is one-of-a-kind. I have little doubt there is deeper meaning to a bulk of the film, but not understanding that meaning doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. Just sit back and let the film wash over you.

Next week: Through I’ve seen them before, I’ll hit a few refreshers on some big Oscar films from 2002

1992 Oscar Blindspots
Review: Good Luck to You, Leo Grande

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