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Toon Talk: Spirited Away
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by Kirby C. Holt (archives)
October 16, 2002
Kirby reviews the recent Anime release Spirited Away.

Toon Talk
Disney Film & Video Reviews by Kirby C. Holt

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Spirited Away
An Anime Newbie’s Honest Opinion

Confession time: Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away was my first experience of watching a Japanese Anime film.

This was partly due to lack of availability and, quite honestly, lack of interest on my part. Frankly, the bulk of my exposure to this unique Japanese animation style has been such poorly dubbed television efforts as Battle of the Planets and (shudder) Pokemon, which I’m sure hardcore Anime fans don’t even consider ‘true’ Anime. But the examples I have seen of Anime films have never really drawn my curiosity. Personally, the animation lacks fluidity for my tastes and the stories, steeped in the Japanese culture, never quite bridged that cultural gap for me.

But that is not to say that I don’t admire and respect the artistry of Anime nor those who embrace it. Far be it from me to pontificate on something I show little interest in or (again, being brutally honest here) understanding of. And, to be clear, I don’t hold any bias against Anime or foreign films in general (subtitles: no problem); their passionate following speaks volumes as to their popularity and appeal.

So with my position as the film critic for this website, and with the Disney Studios backing the American release of this film, I finally had the opportunity to see a full-length Anime film. I would be lying if I didn’t say that I was a bit daunted by the task, but eager to accept the challenge and the opportunity to experience something new.

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The reason I am making such a confession is that, with its advance word-of-mouth and delayed release in my area, Spirited Away has already become such a revered motion picture, garnering rapturous notices from both the media and audiences alike, that for me to review it would be akin to a novice of American cinema watching Citizen Kane for the first time and stating “what’s with the sled?”, or, to extend that association to the Toon Talk milieu, saying of Beauty and the Beast, “why all the dancing teacups?”.

That stated, I viewed Spirited Away with a clear mind, yet with my required critical eye, and my official stance is that mine was not quite the religious epiphany that others have experienced.

The story of Spirited Away (original Japanese title Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi) centers on the aloof pre-teen Chihiro who, along with her parents, stumbles into a mystical land with no easy escape. Her parents are transformed into pigs for violating the place, and it is up to Chihiro to endure the demands of the self-proclaimed ruler of the locale, Yubaba, mistress of the bathhouse Aburaya (where the spirits of our world go for relaxation) in order to rescue her parents and return to our mortal plain. To control Chihiro, Yubaba steals her name and renames her Sen.

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