Anime was not something I felt particularly drawn to. It is not a genre of film that I immediately went to whenever I was stuck on what to watch, however over the past four years there have been a large number of anime films that have caught my attention as well as my interest. Furthermore, they have all been made by the same company.
Studio Ghibli, which is located in Kagani, Tokyo, Japan, is by far one of the best animation studios around. They have made several short films and commercials, but it’s mostly renowned for its exceptional feature-length films, many of which have won awards. Some of them have even featured among the ten highest-grossing anime films of all time, one of which is a favourite of mine; ‘Spirited Away’.
It is a Japanese animated fantasy film, directed by Hayao Miyazaki. In my mind, he is one of the best Japanese animation directors I have ever come across. I have seen a number of his other movies, including Howl’s Moving Castle and When Marnie Was There. All of these movies are filled with fantastic animation, breath-taking imagery and meaningful messages which will make you think about yourself as a person. Most of all, the endings will truly melt your heart.
‘Spirited Away’ is about a ten-year-old girl called Chihiro and her journey through the spirit world. She tries to free herself and her parents who have been turned into pigs by Yubaba, a witch and owner of a bathhouse. Along the way she encounters many different people, including a boy named Haku who helps her in the new world she is in. It was released in 2001, and since then, it has been recognised as being the second highest-grossing anime film of all time worldwide. The film has also won several awards including best music award in the theatre movie category at the Tokyo International Anime Fair in 2001 and best music at the 56th Mainichi film competition awards.
The soundtrack in this film is truly one of the best I have ever heard in a movie. It has a calming tone to it, and its melody is quite honestly different to any soundtrack I’ve come across. The different songs in the film do not feature any vocals. They all have a peaceful tune which you could listen to if you were getting ready for bed or merely studying. In my opinion, Joe Hisaishi, the man who conducted the soundtrack, did a fantastic job in making the music and perfectly fitting it to the film. When researching about him a little more in-depth, I found out that he has composed music for over 100 movies, in particular ones that have been produced by Studio Ghibli. Watching the film opened my eyes to the different types of anime out there. The first time these types of films were ever made can be traced back to the early 20th century with Ōten Shimokawa, Seitaro Kitayama and Jun’ichi Kōuchi. They have been considered as the leading fathers of anime.
Anime is now of all forms of animated media; since the 1990s computer animation has been increasingly used by many animators to revise the processes of filmmaking. No anime is the same, as each one is made by different creators who have their own art style. Some creators do share their techniques in animation and creating characters so that they can improve their work or even see what type of anime audiences enjoy watching. There are several aspects of this film that I enjoyed. Besides the music, I really liked the detailed animation that was used in the film. The variety of vibrant colours within the film captivated my imagination and made me think about what it would be like to be in a world similar to that which Chihiro was in.
The way Miyazaki can show the contrast between the ordinary world and spirit world is quite smooth; in many fantasy films, the transition from a normal world to a magical one is quite drastic. In most cases with these types of films, travelling to a different world is shown quite dramatically with the protagonist either falling into a strange portal, or they go inside a machine; it gets a little cliché after a while. However, in ‘Spirited Away’, the way Chihiro can travel to the spirit world is much simpler and it feels more realistic as she walks through a dried-out river. This concept of travelling to another world made my imagination run wild.
All films, whether animated or not need to have all the right elements in order for it to be successful in the industry, as well as being able to keep the audience interested in what they are watching. An audience will be looking out for things that are not what many will call normal, and with this film, it does just that. It did this by bringing in the different elements of spirits and strange goings-on. This is a film that will genuinely captivate someone’s attention, not to mention taking them to a world that is way beyond their imagination. A film must also not only have an ending which will leave audiences feeling warm and content but also have a powerful message which people can learn from and input into their own lives.
I remember asking my flatmate in first year what he thought of the film when I watched it with him. He expressed that the film was lovely and that he had felt a deep connection to it, as he liked watching films containing spirits and strange creatures, so watching something that mostly focused on those things intrigued him. He also told me that he was able to grasp the message that was being put across throughout the film; he felt that it was trying to show the importance of family, whether you are related or not. He also expressed that the film had a running theme of greed, which was represented by the majority of the characters. I did not understand what he meant by this but after explaining it to me, it actually made sense; many of the characters who are tempted by greed ultimately suffer the consequences.
Chihiro’s parents were greedy by stuffing their faces with the fresh food that was left at a food counter. As a result, they turned into pigs, Haku desired to gain more power for himself, so he stole a magical seal that belonged to Zeniba, Yubaba’s twin sister and because of this, he was cursed due to the magic surrounding it. When the spirit No-Face started to give out gold to all the workers in the bathhouse who gave him what he wanted, many became greedy and desired to have more of it, resulting in some of them being swallowed whole by the spirit. I cannot help but think how Chihiro as a person changed throughout the film. In the beginning, she showed signs of being a stubborn and whiny child who wanted things done her way and did not want to do what anyone else wanted to do. However, as the film progressed, I started to see a change in her character as she started to become humble and more grateful for the things she had. One thing that stood out most in the film was that she risked her own life and freedom to save someone else’s life; this would not have happened in the beginning parts of the film. I believe this film depicts an inspiring message that love is such a powerful element, not just in family but in friendship as well.