I regret to say that I’ve never seen an anime film. Given the number of fans the genre has even in the West, and the critical acclaim it receives, this is clearly a major failing on my part, which I now plan to remedy by watching Studio Gimli’s legendary Spirited Away.
How to describe the plot of this film? A young girl, Chichiro (Rumi Hiiragi) stumbles into a health spa for ‘gods’ (of a diversly polytheistic religion). The cocophony of bizarre customers makes the clinetele of Hotel Transylvania look like the clientele of Casablanca. They make characters from a Guillermo Del Toro film look like characters from a Benicio Del Toro film.
The animators seem to have set themselves the challenge of using every colour in the spectrum in every scene, to glorious effect. Yet beneath the bright colours is a dark undercurrent, with a sense of unease running throughout. There are long shadows and characters that appear as a black hole on the screen. The sylised animation seems to focus just on the movement that really matters. The backgrounds are often still as every wrinkle on a character’s face moves.
In spite of nothing that bad ever actually happening to Chichiro, the sense of threat never feels far away thanks to an atmosphere you can cut with a knife. But there’s also something optimistic about the film, in spite of its dark atmosphere – even the most villainous characters are capable of good.
And the allegories come thick and fast – the worst characters are gluttonous and often punished for greed, whereas our hero rejects an offer of a pile of gold. A rich flight of fantasy, Spirited Away is a glorious adventure that out-bizarres almost every fantasy film before it. You’re not in Oz anymore…