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Spirited Away

edited July 2006 in Anime
I've never viewed anime before. I've never had any interest in anime. However, I'm a big fan of animated movies. My lack of interest in anime was because I had always assumed that the quality was poor at best. Hoping to enlighten myself, I marched to the video store and returned home with a copy of "Spirited Away."

A movie that gets something like 97% positive reviews has got to be good, doesn't it? A movie by the most famous anime director. Sounds great. Into the the DVD player goes the disc. To make a long story short, two hours later my wife and I look at each other and say: "What the f*ck!"

Can someone explain to me what I am missing? I thought the movie was terrible. I don't mind the acid trip aspect as long as there is some meaning to the movie. All I could discern were random characters and random plot lines. A movie such as this has to have a real quest. The main character had a goal, but never went on a true quest. The plot was way too disjointed to have anything approaching a quest. At times it seemed that the main character totally forgot about returning home and/or freeing her parents. Most of the characters were totally unsympathetic. The characters that I wanted to learn more about were never developed. And to add insult to injury, we never did learn why this spiritual world existed, or any deeper meaning behind it.

I know that I don't have an understanding of Japanese mysticism and folklore. I'm sure that I was missing something because of that. That, however, doesn't make up for the fact that the story sucked.

Can someone explain to me just what I was missing? Or do others agree that this movie was lacking?


  • Yeah you are missing a lot to Spirited Away, and it's probably because you don't watch anime.

    See most of the time when it comes to Japanese movies, and anime, and whatnot things exist because... well they just do. No reason, that's just how things are. It's not like Western stuff where they feel the need to explain why things are such a way. I guess its a cultural thing, and it's something you see in a lot of anime, especially Miyazaki stuff (it's the same kind of thing if you watch Totoro or Porco Rosso.) Although the concept of being "spirited away" is a cultural Japanese thing, that they believe people can be taken by spirits (hence the name,) and in some cases they return, but not usually. Probably just an old piece of folklore to explain disappearances.

    The movie has a quest, and its not to this spiritual world, or to the hot springs, or to Ubaba's sister's. It's an internal quest of Chihiro. The whole movie is about her growing up, and becoming more adult, and independent. In the car in the beginning she's very sorta aloof, and sad about moving; then as her parents decide to explore the station-ish place she is latched onto one of them. By the time she gets her parents back she's no longer sad, she's far more confident, and she's not afraid at all.

    Now the criticism that she forgets her goal is a plot point of the movie. Haku clearly explains that when he takes her to the pig pens. That's how Ubaba keeps people there, she steals their names and gives them new ones, and by stealing their names she also makes them forget their pasts (ie. Sen/Chihiro's parents.)

    Also there isn't really anything random in this movie, that doesn't tie into the overall whole of the movie (I say almost since I don't know what the heck the radish guy was for.) But everything that happens has significance. Chihiro makes friends with No-face, who steals her the tokens she needs for the Stink-beast, who turns out to be a great water dragon that she cleans up and it gives her that medicinal ball, which she gives to Haku in order to heal him after he steals the golden stamp from Ubaba's sister, etc...

    I'd say that maybe Spirited Away isn't the best anime to start out with, it's probably best to start with something like My Neighbor Totoro if you want to watch Miyazaki, then probably Castle in the Sky, then Porco Rosso, then Nausicaa, then Princess Mononoke. That sort of goes from the less complex movies to the more complex ones, so it would get you used to it. Of course there are also a ton of other great anime movies, which you can basically pick out based on the genres you like.
  • I'd say the number one reasons that I enjoy anime is because it often does not follow a typical Western plot structure. If you watch Hollywood stuff your entire life you get used to depending on a few things, and you get used to entertainment that is dumbed down. I am not lying when I say that grade-schoolers in Japan perfectly understand and enjoy all of Miyazaki's movies. I'm not saying you have to like it, or that you're dumb for not liking it. I'm saying that the reasons you dislike it are the reasons we like it so very much. Also, before you pass judgement on the entire medium of anime, watch the first five episodes of Cowboy Bebop.
  • I have several comments. To keep things focused, I'll refrain from making most of them.

    I understand how the characters were connected, but that doesn't make up for the fact that they were random and weren't developed. Who was No-face? How did he get there? What was he in another life? Why was the stink beast in that form? Why did Yubaba and her sister have a falling out? And on and on and on and on...

    Just because there is a convenient connection does not mean that the characters had any meaning other than pure plot convenience. That was one of my main gripes.

    As to Chihiro's internal quest... I got that. However, it seemed way too contrived to me. It just didn't feel believable or human.

    There were also many loose plot points. Within hours of entering the world, Chihiro begins turning transparent. Eating the berry cures her. Yet we never see her have to eat anything with similar magic for the rest of the movie. This is just one example, although I could list a couple more.
  • edited July 2006
    In response to Scott,

    I actually enjoy movies that do not follow the typical Hollywood plot structure. My favorite movies are very anti-Hollywood, and many of my favorite movies have been Japanese live-action movies. That's why I really thought that I would like Spirited Away. The problem I had was that the movie did not evoke any strong feelings in me. If a movie doesn't move me emotionally, then I'm going to feel like a wasted 2 hours. Sadly, that's how I felt with this one. I guess anime may just not be my cup of tea.

    Oddly enough, the plot of this movie was very Hollywood. The details might not have been "Hollywood," but the plot was. Namely, marching along a set path to come to the inevitable happy ending. There was a happy ending for the girl, the parents and the water spirit. Some of my favorite movies are movies that, like in life, understand that not every story has a happy ending.

    By the way, did anybody see the movie "The Cube?" I saw it in France where it was very popular. It bombed here in the USA. This was a movie where a lot was left unexplained, but yet I still loved it. The reason I loved it is because I cared about the characters. That's what sucked me in. It's well worth a rental if you are a sci-fi fan. The sequels, however, are supposed to be terrible.
    Post edited by Kilarney on
  • edited July 2006
    I guess anime may just not be my cup of tea.
    This is what I tried to warn you against with my comment about Cowboy Bebop. Anime is a medium, not a genre. Saying that anime might not be your cup of tea is like saying music might not be your cup of tea. There are so many different genres of anime that there is almost certainly an anime out there that you will enjoy.

    Also, all those questions you asked in your previous post, those questions didn't come to mind when watching the movie. I don't think answering them is really necessary either. I'm also curious, did you watch the movie dubbed in English or did you watch it in Japanese with subtitles?
    Post edited by Apreche on
  • On the first post of the two, again things are they way they are, just because they are. I think the best way to think about it, is that anime tries to elicit emotion from the viewer, and explaining everything isn't emotional.

    Second post; like Scott said, you should blanket term anime and say that you won't like it because you didn't like Spirited Away. That's fine, different strokes for different folks. But not all anime is Miyazaki. Anime is done in every genre you can imagine, and probably a few more. So if you like action movies, watch the first 5 episodes of Cowboy Bebop like Scott said, if you want a more light hearted action watch Trigun, if you want something very dramatic and action then watch Gundam SEED. Comedy - Azumanga Daioh; Adventure - One Piece; and so on and so forth (since people can probably think of better stuff too.)

    Now those are all series' which you'll probably like more then anime movies since there is more character development, and probably more explanation as to why things are how they are.

    On a side note, someone really needs to come up with some sort of anime primer. Like if someone is interested in seeing anime for the first time they should watch x, y and z. I think you probably have to include Bebop in that, and maybe FLCL, other then that I'm not too sure.
  • Also, many of the things in Spirited Away are drawn heavily from Japanese myth and lore. They didn't need explaining because they're common knowledge in Japan. They'd be equally confused at references to "The Boogey Man" or "The Headless Horseman" in an American film.
  • I would personally think twice before including FLCL early in anyone's anime career. I loved the show but will be the first to admit that it can be freaking weird at times. I like Bebop, Fullmetal Alchemist and Ghost in the Shell for introducing someone to the genre. If they seem to enjoy those then you can delve into stuff like Fooly Kooly.
  • On a side note, someone really needs to come up with some sort of anime primer. Like if someone is interested in seeing anime for the first time they should watch x, y and z.
    YES! Please!
  • The Radish Guy is a known Japanese demon springing from giant white radishes. Not necessarily a bad guy, just a little unnerving when your food is bigger than you are and goes on walks at night.

    Why the Stink Monster was the way he was, and not in his true form of a Great River Spirit? That would be because he was coming to a bathhouse, for the purpose of getting clean, because the environment he lives in is such a polluted hell-hole.

    No-Face could simply be one of the myriad local spirits that inhabit the countryside of Japan in myth. He may not have had a former life at all, simply coming into being from the nothingness of the world.

    Also, I'd like to respond to kilarney's comment that most of the characters were unsympathetic. That is because Sen is a human, in a spirit's world. She is also the lowest on the social pecking order because she's the new kid on the floor. There isn't much reason for them to be sympathetic at all. It's only through her actions that she can get accepted and befriended.
  • edited July 2006
    Thanks for the comments, everyone. You've given me some interesting things to think about - both regarding this movie and anime in general.

    A question for Rym:
    If you have a girlfriend in Japan, why haven't you gone to see her? I've spent some time in Japan and loved it. It isn't necessarily as exotic as some other countries I've been to in Asia, but that does not make it any less special. For a geek like yourself, it should be akin to Mecca. I surprised you would pass the opportunity to go. Or have you gone?
    Post edited by Kilarney on
  • Pass on the opportunity? Far from it. It's just very expensive to travel to Japan. I plan to as soon as I am able, and I would certainly have visited had I the opportunity.
  • You couldn't stay with Emily? That's a big chunk of the travel budget right there.
  • Yeah I'd be there as much as possible just to "hang out" with her all around Tokyo.
  • Spirited Away was good but it was by no means the best Miazaka film. Totoro was the first anime I ever say, on a dodgy VHS in Japanese in Japanese class, but even though I couldn't understand what they were saying the story was so well animated and so simple that you could understand the whole thing. Princess Mononoke is weird but beautiful, Kiki's Delivery Service is brilliant, Porco Rosso is weird but charming. Grave of the Fireflies is the fucking saddest movie I have ever seen, most people go into it knowing it is sad, I hired it expecting a nice happy little Studio Ghibli film, oh my God, I wept like a baby. But it is brilliant, you should see it, but be warned of its sadness or it will break your heart.
  • I think that Miyazaki's best movie was the first one he did, Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro. I love this movie, and I can't wait for the remastered DVD thats coming out. It's amazing to watch this movie and see how beautiful it is, and then when you realize they did it in 4 months you go,

  • I'm not a big fan, but I'm somewhat of a fan. The reason being, because most of them are geared toward adults and not children. I'm not talking about Pokemon, Yugioh, and all that crap, I'm more on the side of Helsing, Cowboy Beebop, Samuri Champloo... and most kids can keep up with the plots. Me being 17, this is the next step up from Beauty and the Beast, one giant step.
  • Hey guys, sorry to resurrect this thread. I just watched Spirited Away with my kids this weekend. I think the characters may have been a little too scary for them (they're 3 & 5). It was a hard movie to follow, due to what has been mentioned in the posts above, but No Face really bothers me. I don't understand why he goes crazy in the bath house and wants to eat the girl, I'm even more confused why she wants him to follow her when he might snap again and eat her. She doesn't even know him, or did I miss something.

    By the way, Howls Moving Castle is next on our queue. Is it safe for 3 & 5 yr olds, and is there anything I should know about it before hand that would help me understand it? (I've seen Ponyo with the kids and we all liked that one).
  • edited March 2011
    Howl's is faaarrr more kid-friendly than Spirited Away in terms of disturbing imagery, which SA has kind of a lot of. It's also much easier to follow. The story is very much in the style of western fairy tales.
    Post edited by Sail on
  • Hey guys, sorry to resurrect this thread.
    Never apologize. You took the time to search for it and post and not create a new thread. ^___~

    Howl's Moving Castle should be fine for your children, imo. I don't remember anything that can be perceived as scary.
  • Did not like spirited away.
  • edited March 2011
    Spirited Away is one of my favourite Ghibli movies; it's up there with Princess Mononoke and Grave of the Fireflies for me.
    Post edited by lackofcheese on
  • Spirited Away is one of my favourite Miyazaki movies; it's up there with Princess Mononoke and Grave of the Fireflies for me.
    Spirited away is my #1 Miyazaki Movie. I actually don't like Mononoke all that much. I like it, but not as much as Porco Rosso, Laputa, Nausicaa, or Totoro. Grave of the Fireflies isn't a Miyazaki movie.
  • edited March 2011
    Yeah, I was thinking Ghibli, not Miyazaki. Personally, I didn't like Porco Rosso or Laputa as much.
    Post edited by lackofcheese on
  • Right on, thanks guys! I guess I can look forward to Howl's Moving Castle. Are the above mentioned favorites kid friendly as well?
  • edited March 2011
    Are the above mentioned favorites kid friendly as well?
    Not Princess Mononoke or Grave of the Fireflies. Definitely not.

    Stick with Kiki's Delivery Service or My Neighbor Totoro.
    Post edited by Rochelle on
  • Are the above mentioned favorites kid friendly as well?
    Not Princess Mononoke or Grave of the Fireflies. Definitely not.

    Stick with Kiki's Delivery Service or My Neighbor Totoro.
    Yeah, stick with those two. Let the others wait until they are 7 or 8ish.
  • I definitely have to go with Spirited Away as my favorite, too. As a general response to the negative opinions about the movie, I find that the movie feels very much like a western fairy tale. Things happen because they just do. For instance, with Chihiro eating the berries at the beginning of the movie, I think that event acts more to keep the imagination afoot, and establish the environment better. It's like when you're telling a fairy tale to a young child, how you have quick conflict resolution, with an overarching quest. This movie is a lot of that, utilizing a lot of Japanese folklore that western audiences aren't familiar with. As a result, watching this movie, even now for the 5th, 6th time, feels like I'm a young child being told a wonderful, detailed fairy tale.
  • Totoro and Castle in the Sky(Laputa) are as far as I can remember the others should be okay. Grave of the fireflies should probably wait until the teenage years.
  • Let the others wait until they are 7 or 8ish.
    Really? I was thinking maybe 10-13. Mononoke had beheading and arms being severed from a flying arrow. Don't forget scary empty pig skins and maggot type worms.
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