Hayao Miyazaki

Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi): Miyazaki's 2001 masterpiece

Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi): Miyazaki's 2001 masterpiece

  • Born: 1941
  • Rank: 42
  • Score: 596.00
  • Awards: Oscar / 2 Annies / LAFC (all for Animated Film)
  • Nominations: 2 Oscars / BAFTA (all for Animated Film)
  • Feature Films: 10
  • Best: Spirited Away
  • Worst: The Castle of Cagliostro

Top 5 Feature Films:

  1. Spirited Away – 2001
  2. My Neighbor Totoro – 1988
  3. Princess Mononoke – 1997
  4. Castle in the Sky – 1986
  5. Howl’s Moving Castle – 2004

Top 10 Best Animated Film Finishes:

  • 1985 – 1st – Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
  • 1988 – 2nd – Castle in the Sky
  • 1989 – 2nd – My Neighbor Totoro
  • 1992 – 2nd – Porco Rosso
  • 1998 – 1st – Kiki’s Delivery Service
  • 1999 – 1st – Princess Mononoke
  • 2002 – 1st – Spirited Away
  • 2005 – 3rd – Howl’s Moving Castle

For decades Disney was the leader in animated films. Even when other studios or independent producers tried making animated films they rarely approached the level of Disney films. But after Walt Disney died, the quality of the Disney films fell off and the quality of other animated films began to rise. Miyazaki began making feature length animated films in the late 70’s, but by the time his films began arriving in the States, Disney was in the midst of a resurgence (from 1989 to 1994, when they made in quick succession, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King). But then Disney fell off again (since 1994, the only great Disney animated film is Lilo and Stitch) just as others started arriving – Pixar, Aardman, and of course, Miyazaki. Luckily for Disney, they worked with Pixar (and later owned them) and released Miyazaki’s films in the U.S.. Because while Pixar has numerous creative talents, it is Miyazaki who is the premiere filmmaker in the world when it comes to animated films. He brings amazing new worlds, dazzling colors, subtle touches (Roger Ebert particularly noted the bottle in the stream in Totoro) and a kind of mythic storytelling too often lost today. Like my Best Picture nominees, to be considered for Best Animated Film at the Nighthawk Awards you must be at least a ***.5 film. The only Miyazaki film that fails to qualify is his first. While Pixar films creatively work in the same tradition as Disney (and so too do the Aardman films), Miyazaki is a world unto himself (though perhaps someday Satoshi Kon will begin to approach him). I can’t wait for his next film, Ponyo to finally get released here. The only bootleg DVD I ever bought was Howl because Disney was taking so damn long to release it.

Spirited Away – #3 film of 2002

Spirited Away was such a runaway success of a film that it became the first film to gross over $200 million worldwide without yet getting a release in the United States. Of course, because it is animated, Disney treats it like a kids film and feels the need to dub in voices rather than just give us subtitles and appreciate it for the epic fantasy film that it really is.

There is a kid at the heart of Spirited Away, poor Chihiro who is going to a new school in a new town with her parents when a detour to their new house goes awry. I remember sitting in the theater not knowing what to expect from this film, only having seen Kiki and Totoro, which are much more aimed at children. It’s amazing how much we get just in the first fifteen minutes. What kind of theme park is this? Who was the boy who seems to threaten, then save her? What are these shadow creatures? There are talking animals, like in a Disney film, but they seem malevolent. Where will this story go? Will she stay here? Is this a better world for her? Will her parents remain pigs?

So there we have it, the set-up, so quickly as the young girl finds herself in a strange place, but finds security, finds a job, finds a place. My wife absolutely adores Kiki, but it really is just a kids film about a girl out in the world. This is so much more. There is an entire world at work here and Miyazaki plays with the rules of classic storytelling for characters don’t break down into good and evil. The young boy, of course, is not who he seems to be, but not in a way we ever could have expected.

Words fail me in the end and I rely on images within my brain. The witch and her child. The dragon and how it is attacked as it soars through the air. The “stink demon” who is in fact a poor water spirit that has been so devastated by pollution, including a bicycle. The train ride to nowhere. It is those images, the creation that went into them and the artwork of putting them on screen that form this movie. A movie like no other.