Running time: 125 minutes
Screenplay: Hayao Miyazaki
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring (voices): Rumi Hiiragi, Miyu Irino, Mari Natsuki, Bunta Sugawara, Yumi Tamai, Yasuko Sawaguchi, Takashi Naitô
|Yubaba tries to dissuade Chihiro from working for her.|
When a wrong turn leads her and her parents to an abandoned theme park, things begin to get a little creepy. There is no one around, but there is a stall with masses of delicious food. Mom (Yasuko Sawaguchi) and dad (Takashi Naitô) dig in with gusto, but Chihiro is freaked out and goes to look around. As she is away, night begins to fall and she is warned to leave by a stranger called Haku (Miyu Irino). As she heads back to her parents, lights come on and mysterious spectres begin to materialise everywhere. Finding her parents have been turned into pigs, she is stranded in the strangest world imaginable with no way home, which is scary even if you’re not a child. Things haven’t even begun to get weird yet. Advised to work to survive, she begs for a job from the sinister sorceress Yubaba (Mari Natsuki), who runs a bathhouse where six million gods come to rest every night.
The imagination that has gone into this film is astounding. Every frame is a work of art (I’m serious – pause it anywhere and literally bask in the quality), hand drawn and then enhanced by computer; it has got to be one of the most beautiful films ever created. The mixing of the mundane and the fantastical is seamless and incredibly effective - the steam powered basement where living soot supplies the fire with coal, or the bathhouse floor where legions of staff, including Chihiro, now called Sen since Yubaba took her name, work to scrub baths and floors between visits by the many and varied gods. One stand-out set-piece involves a visit from a river god who is so clogged with muck, rubbish and pollution he is mistaken for some kind of stink spirit.
With so much strangeness and action going on, it comes as a surprise that the most emotionally affecting scene in the film is a simple train journey. It is the moment that Chihiro has passed through the worst of it, has begun to take responsibility for her actions, and is no longer scared of being alone or of the monsters this world contains, but is only afraid for her new friend, Haku, who can no longer remember the name Yubaba took from him. The uneventful scene, mostly involving Chihiro simply sitting there, pinpoints the precise moment the girl bids goodbye to her childhood and is so bittersweet it provokes a reaction strong enough to be almost painful. He who can evoke this feeling from simply animating cartoons is a genius like no other.
Not only one of the best animated films I’ve ever seen, but one of the best films ever made, animated or not.