I'm a computer geek, and everyone knows computer geeks love Anime. It says so at least three times a week over on Slashdot. I'd given it a couple of tries but generally failed to get it (for example, we turned off Akira halfway through). Then last weekend we rented Spirited Away, and I don’t know if I’m ready to sign up as an Anime lover, but that is a fine movie.
In France, the film was called Le Voyage de Chihiro, which works better for me than Spirited Away, because the movie is all about its young heroine.
Looking in the mental rear-view, I’m having trouble putting my finger on just what makes this film great. The animation is competent but nothing to dazzle the eye as in the recent Disney oeuvre, the monsters are a little too cartoon-y to be very frightening, and “contrived” would be a kind word for the story.
Except for, the animation of Chihiro’s face and body language is fantastic, the little details in the widened eyes and mouth’s corners and tensed knees being, for my money, worth more than the output of a thousand Pixar rendering-hours.
Miyazaki Hayao’s directorial touch is beyond deft, the flow of the movie is ultra-smooth compared to the visual violence in, say, Toy Story or Shrek. The pace slows to languor from time to time (that endless train-ride over water) but never for quite long enough to become tedious, and then smoothly surges to lightspeed and back again.
And Chihiro, you just gotta love her. The “ordinary kid thrown into weird adventure” premise is not exactly new, but Chihiro makes it fresh; she is the epitome of pluck, without ever losing her expression of baffled horror at the weirdness going on all around. Yes, I’m perfectly aware that I’m talking about the synthetic creation of Miyazaki and his animinions, but the film is such that there’s no mental stress in talking about Chihiro as a real person; I’m sorry I’ll never get to meet her.