Travel to the World of Spirits with Spirited Away

Christopher Martires, News Editor

20 years later, rarely do you find a film that can truly tug at your heartstrings especially during times of sadness. For me, this particular film was Spirited Away by renowned animation studio Studio Ghibli and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. This Academy Award-winning film tells the tale of a little girl named Chihiro who is warped into an unknown world filled with spirits from various Japanese folktales and must find a way to free herself from this world while trying to rescue her parents who turned into pigs by a witch. A classic for the ages, Spirited Away defines why anime as a medium should not be underestimated for its art style and should be judged as a wondrous film that exceeds in all film-making departments from its soundtrack to its characters. 


The Music

Music is almost always done in an immaculate way that it tends to be overlooked and only is noticed when it’s placed in odd and jarring scenes that don’t fit the mood of the scene. With Spirited Away, however, it is not an issue at all as its soundtrack, composed by Joe Hisaishi, helps emphasize major scenes and make them memorable.

 Take the most iconic track from the soundtrack called One Summer’s Day. This is used in the opening sequence of the film and is used to subtly show the melancholy that Chihiro feels moving to a new home in a different city. It’s literally a way to show Chihiro reflecting on the last summer day she got to be with her friends from her school. It’s a beautiful way to encapsulate the themes of growing up and maturing by using this orchestral, bittersweet song to begin the journey of Chihiro. However, this song serves a new meaning by the conclusion of the film. We see the end results of Chihiro’s adventure and the experience she gains from it. She is not the person that selfishly wishes to be back with her childhood self and has become a mature and strong-willed character that takes risks for the sake of others. The melancholy piano of One Summer’s Day stops becoming a bittersweet nostalgia trip of childhood for Chihiro but now is a reflection of who she became in her journey through the spirit world and how she will reminisce about the great memories she had. 

Another great example is how impactful the soundtrack is to show the danger that Chihiro is in with the track “The Dragon Boy”. The exciting yet terrifying track illustrates the moments where Chihiro is in genuine danger and one wrong step can ruin everything for her. This is shown when the track starts kicking in when Chihiro is unknowingly venturing into the Spirit World and ends up trapped there with no practical way of leaving. While the movie is PG, the music helps signify to the audience that Chihiro could very well die in the Spirit World. The soundtrack to this film truly has withstood the test of time and rightly deserves to be considered as iconic as the movie that utilizes it.


The Characters 

There’s a reason why characters like Chihiro, Haku, and No-Face are still memorable today. Characters in Spirited Away have this air to them that makes them feel so lively and fun to see them interact with others. 

Chihiro can be regarded as a very whiny, childish, and selfish ten year old in the very beginning of the movie. Granted, what ten years old isn’t whiny or childish, but Chihiro is the main character after all. However, this all dissipates once the story begins to start. This movie’s major theme is about growing up and becoming a newly shaped person for the better of yourself as an individual. Chihiro encapsulates this to a tee. From the get-go, we can tell Chihiro does care for her family as she very easily could have left them as pigs and leave the spirit realm on her own, but she never does despite knowing the risks at stake for choosing to do so. Here we see that little glimpse of selflessness and care she shows, but it begins to bloom into the Chihiro that’s willing to go through the dangers and challenges of rescuing her family and friends. This scared, helpless little girl chose to face oblivion head on countless times without any hesitation. These moral dilemmas that the movie presents Chihiro with are what help evolve her into a brave and daring girl. 

The supporting cast of characters is what makes watching this movie fun and enjoyable. The banter, the arguments; they all feel so natural despite the characters being spirits and not necessarily human. For example, Kamaji, the six-armed man, has so much personality to him despite not appearing in the film that often. He just absolutely is indifferent towards Chihiro in their first encounter and all he does is tell her to stop sitting around and help him work.  He does eventually gain a soft spot for her and even tries to act as her grandfather so she can continue staying in the spirit realm. Lin is also another fun character that acts as a friend and guide to Chihiro during their stay at the bathhouse in the world of spirits. Lin has sass and makes great quick-witted remarks that fuse well with the curious yet confused Chihiro. It’s a fun dynamic that adds a lot of humor to a movie that’s quite dark when you brush off the childlike wonder of the movie. They’re minor characters, but they really do give charm and flare to Spirited Away and without them, it would be generic and forgettable.

Many movies come and go, but it’s movies like Spirited Away that can help shape a person’s worldview or bring them genuine love for the medium, especially a medium like anime that isn’t quite mainstream just yet. Spirited Away will remain as one of Studio Ghibli’s premier films and will be the reason why anime fans joke that anime didn’t exist until Hayao Miyazaki started directing films. You can watch Spirited Away (rated PG) on HBO Max and with that, I give this movie a stellar 9/10.