Thursday, 2 February 2017

World Cinema, Film Review: Spirited Away (2001), A World of Adventure




Figure 1: Spirited Away (2001) Poster
This film review will focus on the film 'Spirited Away' (2001), this animated tale follows a small girl known as Chihiro Ogino, who is on her way to move into a new home in a new country with her parents. On the way, they discover what they at first believe is a theme park but is quickly revealed to be a gateway to the spirit world. Upon discovering her parents have been captured and turned into pigs, Chihiro teams up with multiple characters along the way on an adventure of love, fear, and redemption.

The film was released in 2001 and was created by the legendary, Studio Ghibli, and was directed by Hayao Miyazaki. The music was composed by Joe Hisaishi and the cinematography was done by Atsushi Okui. This film for its time also the highest grossing of 2001, the film's budget was $20,000,000, but the film grossed in profit with a whopping $280,000,000 worldwide.

Spirited Away is a good example of Japanese culture being brought into a piece of media, by these Japanese, for the Japanese. Fortunately, there was an English version created so everyone can understand it. The most interesting thing about this film isn't its story or its art style (Even though they are both excellent) but how well people can see that the film is of Japanese origin. Even down to a lot of the design elements, this film is a relic that lets us peer into the world of Japanese animation. It lets the viewer delve and experience the Japanese culture and remind everyone we all live on the same planet, and even though we are separated by grounds and oceans we so different and similar.

Spirited away is a film that can only really be made once, the fact that the creators of the film would be the equivalent of Disney says enough in itself. However, despite its origins, this is something that everyone can appreciate for what it is. "Magical is a word used casually about films like this, films about fantasy and childhood. Yet this one really does deserve it: an enchanted and enchanting feature from the Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki which left me feeling lighter than air. It is a beautifully drawn and wonderfully composed work of art - really, no other description will do - which takes us on a rocket-fuelled flight of fancy, with tenderly and shrewdly conceived characters on board." (P Bradshaw. 2003)


Figure 2: Haku, Dragon
Right, so to begin with the main Japanese influence that can be seen is the art style. Now from the start of the film, it's easy to see how its Japanese, and that's through the use of anime. Most of the human characters in the film are based on the art style, anime literally meaning Japanese film and television animation. Other influences in design can be seen in some of the other characters, for example, Haku as the dragon, his design revolves around the idea of a Japanese Dragon (Specifically an Ao Guang), a very serpent-like body, a wolf/dogs head and floating whiskers. However, a dragon in the UK could be compared to a horse, with scales, the head of a reptile and huge great wings, (Also sometimes known as a White Dragon). So it's easy to see the cultural differences in these designs.

Also, the way the animation is presented is very important, for example, compare the film 'Lilo and Stitch' (2002) to 'Spirited Away' (2001). Now granted Lilo and Stitch came a year after Spirited away, but you can easily see the differences in animation technique, color choice, composition management and animation presentation. Touching upon this a little bit lets take the whole film of Spirited Away as an art piece, artistically it is visually stunning, its character designs are wacky and insane, but the most important point is the quality of its actual animation.

Now the animation used in spirited away is in no way less superior than Lilo and Stitch, but there are clear techniques used in Spirited Away that differ than Lilo and Stitch. The main example of this is how sometimes the animating in the scenes stops entirely and either a pan, zoom or pitch is used to show animation rather than an animation technique.

Figure 3: The Bathhouse
A good example of this technique in action is 'Figure 3: The Bathhouse', in the film at about roughly the 40-minute mark there is an exterior shot of the bathhouse. You can see the full image is just a picture, however, a smoke animation has been layered on top of the painting, giving the scene life without actually having to animate the scene. This is also a common tactic even with most Japanese animation, take for example most anime's, the scenes are drawn before, and are then drawn on after. This process would be like using a matte painting inside a 3D scene, except it's a 2D painting with a 2D effect.

Now the actual tale of the movie can be compared to 'Alice in Wonderland' (1951), not in terms of pacing, but rather in terms of journey messages and ideals. In Alice in Wonderland, Alice is thrown into a magical world where she has to find a way to get back home after falling down the rabbit hole. Now Spirited Away follows a small girl who has to save her family, as time goes on she makes friends and memories, and by the end of the film, we can see how Chihiro has grown as a character. Both films have a similar start, both are thrown into a crazy world, they embark on a quest and they both end their journey becoming different people.

Another note for the story is that most of the areas in the film are based off a place called Jiufen "While the story of Jiufen, its gold rush, its POW gold miners, and its rise to tourist popularity has nothing to do with the actual story of Spirited Away, many parts of the film do tear off some huge Jiufen chunks as inspiration for the characters and places that Miyazaki created. Unfortunately, having not seen the film recently, I was relying on some pretty shaky memories, so below are some pictures that I took as well as some pictures others took (these are the ones with a citation). I've broken it up into sections too, to help you to see exactly what parts of Jiufen made it into the film. Hopefully, someday you can visit this place too and be able to say "hey, wait, that was in Spirited Away!" (Koichi. 2013).

Something interesting to take from this quote is not only that this was that place that partially inspired Spirited Away, but it also how he states that the town was ripped straight out of Spirited Away, rather than being the other way around. For a town to be compared to a film, when originally the town and some of its qualities are what inspired some parts of the film, just shows how powerful the film's design was.

Figure 4: Chihiro Ogino
Now the Hollywood structure isn't in spirited away, but signs of  Freytag's Pyramid do show throughout the film. There is an Escalation, Climax, and Ease out, what also interesting to take note are both endings. With a large number of films, the Ease out has a tendency to end abruptly, leave loose ends for sequels or take way to long to end. With both of these films have a very similar end, wrapping up all loose ends, ending reasonably quickly, but not too fast to confuse the viewer.

The music in the film is meant to compliment the film, rather than some soundtracks being inserted because they either suit a scene or it just sounds good. All the music suits the film, mainly for two reasons. The first it the kind of music which is played, inserted to emphasize a scene not reinforce is, but the second reason is probably the more interesting. It's worth taking a note of some of the instruments in the film, whilst there are drums, violins, and pianos used in the music, there are specific instruments, usually only known to Japanese culture that is used, like Shamisen's and Koto's. Now, these sounds can originate from Japan, China or Korea, but the reliability to the film is still there, this is what can give the films soundtrack a, cultural feeling.

Overall this film is a one of a kind, stand alone masterpiece, it gives audiences a look into the Japanese culture without seeming too alien, too ridiculous or too complicated. This film can be enjoyed by everyone, if given the chance. "Miyazaki's Spirited Away" has been compared to "Alice in Wonderland," and indeed it tells of a 10-year-old girl who wanders into a world of strange creatures and illogical rules. But it's enchanting and delightful in its own way, and has a good heart. It is the best animated film of recent years, the latest work by Hayao Miyazaki, the Japanese master who is a god to the Disney animators." (R Ebert. 2002)



Bibliography

Bradshaw, P. Spirited Away.
At:
(Accessed on 1 February 2017)

Ebert, R. (2002) Spirited Away.
At:
(Accessed on 1 February 2017)

Koichi. (2013) ‘Jiufen: The real life spirited away’.
At:
(Accessed on 1 February 2017)


Image Bibliography

Figure 1: Spirited Away (2001) Poster

Available At:
https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/4f/d0/0f/4fd00fcfc910fbf3a2f6f083cea103a1.jpg
[Accessed: 2 February 2017]

Figure 2: Haku, Dragon

Available At:
https://myanimelist.cdn-dena.com/s/common/uploaded_files/1456814004-172c7fc353af2e5037db9fb86b7ce100.jpeg
[Accessed: 2 February 2017]

Figure 3: The Bathhouse

Available At:
http://www.watchanimemovie.com/sub-dub/spirited-away.html.
[Accessed: 2 February 2017]

Figure 4: Chihiro Ogino
Available At:
https://myanimelist.cdn-dena.com/s/common/uploaded_files/1456813663-8726b8776e18020342165014925c438c.jpeg
[Accessed: 2 February 2017]

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