Director Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli were already somewhat known names globally before the release of “Spirited Away” in 2001. They had found success in other anime films (“My Neighbour Totoro” and “Princess Mononoke”), but it was “Spirited Away” that really kickstarted their success streak in the West. “Spirited Away,” also known as “Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi” in Japanese, was a movie way ahead of its time.
It transcended cultural and geographical barriers, reaching heights that even Hollywood movies of that time were unable to come close to. As Time puts it, “The movie arrived at a time when animation was widely perceived as a genre solely for children.” The film became a sensation not just for its beautiful storyline and animation but also because it was the one film that changed the world’s perception of anime and Japanese culture forever. Let’s find out how it was able to do that.
It Has That Signature Studio-Ghibli Animation
Studio Ghibli is known for its striking artwork in all of its films. Almost every scene in the film has some sort of defining feature in it in terms of art. But the standout feature in “Spirited Away” (as with most of Miyazaki’s films) is the melancholic undertone it carries. Miyazaki himself calls this feature ‘Emptiness.’ He also stresses the fact that constant action in films just makes the viewers numb. This is why he prefers to have ‘Emptiness’ in his scenes, to make the story more buildable.
Studio Ghibli also keeps to the traditional animation format. They hand-draw their scenes and try to stay away from CGI, and this is exactly what they did for “Spirited Away.” The magic of hand-drawn visuals, in addition to a very compelling story, makes this movie a complete masterpiece.
It Had a Beautiful, Tear-Jerker Plot Following a Young Girl
“Spirited Away” has a unique storyline. It follows a 10-year-old girl, Chihiro, as she tries to come to terms with moving away to another town because of her parents’ jobs. On the day of the move, Chihiro and her parents come across a ‘cursed’ amusement park. Due to a chain of events, her parents get turned into pigs, and she gets taken to work at a bathhouse reserved for spirits. Chihiro has to find a way to bring back her parents and leave the amusement park safely.
Hayao Miyazaki Pulls His Inspiration From Japanese Shinto Folklore
“Spirited Away” is also heavily influenced by Japanese Shinto folklore. Most of the movie circles around Japanese deities and Gods — the bathing scene included. The term “spirited away” in Japanese literally translates to “being taken away by gods.”
Spirited Away Had an Excellent Reception at the Box Office
“Spirited Away” is still the second highest-grossing Japanese film and was only recently dethroned by “Demon Slayer: Mugen Train.” Its total box office gross is approximately $395 million, with “Mugen Train” having a total box office gross of $507 million.
“Spirited Away” is also the first hand-drawn Japanese film to win an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, which it did in 2003.
Hayao Miyazaki’s genius and brilliance are evident in all of his work. However, “Spirited Away” has left a mark on history that perhaps no other animated film, including his own, can match.
“Spirited Away” is available to stream on Netflix. Miyazaki’s latest work, “The Boy and the Heron,” is also coming to theaters all over the US on December 8, 2023.