I know that I’m supposed to like Spirited Away (2001). I know that it has been lauded by numerous filmmakers, that it is the highest grossing film in Japanese history, and that it won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. But, I kind of just wasn’t into it.
Spirited Away is the story of ten-year-old Chihiro. She and her parents are moving to a new home when her father takes a wrong turn. Instead of turning around to find the correct way, as Chihiro’s mother urges, her father decides to go off-road and find a more direct route to their house. (Men, am I right??? [I kid.]) Stuck in a forest, the family encounters a tunnel that leads them to what they at first believe to be an amusement park. Chihiro’s parents are immediately sucked in by the delicious smells of food and settle in to eat as much as their bellies can handle. Chihiro refuses to eat and wanders away to find a bathhouse where a boy named Haku warns her that they must leave before sunset. A frightened Chihiro returns to parents only to find they’ve been transformed into pigs. It is up to her alone to figure out how to escape.
The world Chihiro stumbles into reveals itself to be a sort of retreat for spirits, a place where they can find themselves again. Yubaba, the tyrannical owner, tells Chihiro that she will now be called Sen, but Haku warns her that she must never forget her real name or she will be stuck there, as he is. During her employment there she must deal with a nauseating stink spirit, No Face who tempts the bathhouse workers with gold before eating them, and a giant baby.
It is easy to see transition as a major theme in this movie. It’s a sort of Japanese Alice in Wonderland, where men with spider legs stir herbal bath remedies and people regularly change into their bird or dragon form. Chihiro’s essential task is, in the midst of all this change, to not forget who she is. It is only by remembering her name that she’s able to free herself and her parents from the spirit world.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is one of my favorite books, so why didn’t I love the same idea here? I suppose that part of it is that I love the word play of the book and that, by design, is not present here. Another part is that I’m not a huge fan of the fantasy genre and it is the rare piece that will capture my attention. This simply wasn’t it. I watched the whole movie, but not without multiple check-ins with my social media accounts, which is not something I typically do. I don’t know that I have anything particularly bad to say about Spirited Away, it’s just that sometimes particular works do not speak to you. For me, this one did not.