Well my top ten list has changed so much since I sent it out in January and now that I've seen this film, we have a new #1. I was simply blown away. Hayao Miyazaki is quickly becoming a director that I eagerly await seeing what he will do next. PRINCESS MONONOKE was my favorite film of 1999 and I couldn't even imagine Miyazaki making a film to match it, but he did. In some ways, SPIRITED AWAY is better, but it's like picking the best of any great director who does diverse work. MONONOKE was one of the best action/adventure/fantasy films I've ever seen, while SPIRITED AWAY is one of the best children's fantasy films I've ever seen.
The story follows Chihiro (Daveigh Chase, THE RING), a spoiled little brat who doesn't want to move to a new home with her parents. On moving day, her father (Michael Chiklis, TV's THE SHIELD) takes a wrong turn and ends up in a deserted village. Chihiro's father and mother (Lauren Holly, DUMB & DUMBER) wander into a restaurant and before long are wolfing down food. As the sun sets, they turn into pigs and Chihiro finds herself stuck in the town, which is a recreational spot for spirits. She soon receives the kind help of the mysterious and magical Haku (Jason Marsden, TV's FULL HOUSE). To survive, she must get a job with the dubious witch, Yubaba (Suzanne Pleshette, TV's BOB NEWHART) who owns the bathhouse.
The visuals are astonishing and completely original. Miyazaki so subtly works in his morals about courtesy, the environment and friendship and blends them into the characters' arcs that it seems so natural -- profound, not preachy. The subtly amazed me, creating such pathos that I cared a lot about what happened to the characters. Unlike many even great family films there is often no suspense. You kind of know exactly where the film is going, but this film had me on the edge of my seat like a Hitchcock film. The originality of the characters was phenomenal from the spider-like boiler room operator to the soot sprites to the beat spirit to the stink spirit to No Face to on and on and on.
My wife and I watched this last night and I think we're going to watch it again tonight. I bought this movie without having seen it first and that was one of the most savvy moves I've done in a long time. This film is a masterpiece and I don't think I'd say that about any other film from 2002. All the accolades this film has received are not hyperboles. Don't let "family" scare you off, because I only use the term because the lead character is a child, but this film is more fanciful than LORD OF THE RINGS and ALICE IN WONDERLAND combined. You must see this film. Stop reading this newsletter now and go buy this film.
Oh yeah, and I haven't mentioned that it's an animated film too, which won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. That fact only makes the film better because the simplicities of life and the characters are only more in focus because it's animated. You know that the filmmakers had to think a lot harder because those little moments just don't happen on the set. This film puts Hollywood animation to shame. Miyazaki is the Walt Disney of today, perfecting animation into a powerful art form of unlimited potential.