The Official MSBS Movie Review: Spirited Away

ModernSpongeBobSucks About one month ago, one of my favorite YouTubers known as BlackCriticGuy held a month-long marathon of Studio Ghibli movie reviews, dubbing the marathon as “Studio Ghibli Month”. Originally, I was planning to do a Spirited Away movie review in November, essentially around the same month as his Studio Ghibli month. However, due to time constraints and school work, I was unable to do one. But now, the time has come. Since I’m wrapping up some posts to release during the Christmas season by the end of the year, I felt it was best to start the last of my 2016 posts by doing my Spirited Away movie review first. Let’s get to it, shall we?

The movie Spirited Away, written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki and produced by Studio Ghibli, is about a 10-year old girl named Chihiro Ogino, who stumbles upon the spirit world while moving to a new neighborhood with her parents. After her parents are transformed into pigs by the witch Yubaba, Chihiro works at Yubaba’s bathhouse in order to free herself and her parents and return back to the human world.

Animation, art, and music: So what made Spirited Away the highest-grossing film in Japanese history and winner of the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards, making it the only hand drawn animated film and Japanese animated film to win best animated film? For starters, well, I already said the answer. Spirited Away’s animation is hand drawn entirely by Hayao Miyazaki himself with a little bit of some teamwork. That, and a pinch of computer animation was used to help enhance the visuals of the movie itself. Sure, this may be the guy who himself said that “anime was a mistake”, but I can definitely say he didn’t make a mistake to use that computer animation to really bring out the best in Spirited Away’s animation. The spirit world was really brought to life in both terms of traditional and computer animation. In addition, the character designs are all very unique and detailed. No detail is spared at all. Oh, and here’s one fun fact: most of Studio Ghibli’s movies have at least one flight scene in the sky that are beautifully animated and breathtaking, and Spirited Away is no exception. As for the art, it’s no different in terms of quality. The art really seems to capture the traditional culture of Japan, seeing as Hayao Miyazaki had inspiration from the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum in Koganei, Tokyo, Japan for his designs for the spirit world’s buildings. I must say, Miyazaki’s interest in the pseudo-Western buildings of the Meiji Era was probably the main factor that brought out the best in Spirited Away’s art. And last but not least, let’s talk about the music. Now the film score of Spirited Away was composed and conducted by Hayao Miyazaki’s regular collaborator Joe Hisaishi, and performed by the New Japan Philharmonic. Joe Hisaishi has composed over 100 film scores and solo albums dating back to 1981. That’s quite a lot of experience for a Japanese composer and musical director. So it’s no wonder that he was the most qualified for the job of composing and conducting Spirited Away’s music. As for New Japan Philharmonic, they have also been known for composing other works such as Howl’s Moving Castle, another Studio Ghibli movie; music for Neon Genesis Evangelion; and even songs for the Super Smash Bros. Melee orchestral arrangement soundtrack Smashing...Live!. Damn. Miyazaki has hired quite a powerful combination essential to perfecting his masterpiece’s film score. All in all, the animation, art, and music are amazingly put well together.

Story: The quality of the film’s story is in the title itself. This movie will truly spirit you away. In just the first half of the film, much is done in the plot to give you a feel as to what the movie is about and what lies ahead in the setting of the spirit world. As soon as the movie began playing, I was instantly hooked. Throughout the movie, I payed all my undivided attention to the entire duration of Spirited Away within the confines of my family’s flat screen desktop that me and my sister were using to watch the film. Now as I said at the beginning, the movie revolves around a girl named Chihiro who gets trapped in the spirit world and must find a way to free her and her parents in order to return back to the human world. But that’s not all. Not only does our heroine Chihiro have to get back her parents from Yubaba, but she must also get back her name, as Yubaba has taken her true name and renamed her Sen in exchange for her working at the bathhouse to save her parents. In other words, Chihiro must not only get back her parents, but she must also take back her name, or more so, her identity and who she is. But I think the main selling point of the story would have to be that it’s one that is coming-of-age. One thing I liked about Spirited Away was Chihiro’s character growth. She initially comes off as a passive and pessimistic little spoiled brat in the first few minutes of the film, but as the film would go on, she would eventually develop as a character and become a more optimistic and mature woman. However, there’s actually something more to Spirited Away than just the characters growing up. Miyazaki himself stated that this film was not one where it’s about the characters growing up, but rather one where it’s about the characters drawing on something already within themselves, brought out by the particular circumstances. One last thing I would like to praise is the expansive world-building in this film. The film may only be more than 2 hours (in fact, Miyazaki had originally planned to make it more than 3 hours before reducing it to 2 hours to minimize the length of the movie!), but it manages to really take the time to explore the vastness of the spirit world. From the moment Chihiro and her parents first stumbled upon the spirit world to the wondrous journey Chihiro embarks on outside the bathhouse she had been confined to work at, Spirited Away presents a multitude of brilliantly well-put backgrounds and scenes in order to demonstrate its artistical beauty in the world we know as the spirit world. For what I have to say about the story, it is absolutely great in its entirety.

Characters: Now this is one of my favorite parts about the film. I liked a lot of the characters from the film in terms of how some of them were developed and how they were designed. My favorite character would obviously have to be Chihiro, being that not only does she go through a lot of character growth in Spirited Away, but that she was also a character that the audience sympathized with. Sure, she may come off as petty at first, but as you get to see where exactly she’s coming from since she had just moved out of her old town and is going to a new one where she’ll miss her friends, she really makes the audience as a whole feel sorry for her and hope that she will be able to return her and her parents back to the human world in the end. Also, one of the more interesting characters in Spirited Away would have to be the young boy Haku, who had first appeared when warning Chihiro to return across the river before sunset and leave the spirit world before she became trapped in it. Now Haku is a pretty great guy. He has proven to be quite resourceful and helpful to our heroine Chihiro in her time of need, even going as far as to risk his own life to help her return back to her own world. For someone who lives in the spirit world where its inhabitants are hostile to humans such as Chihiro herself, Haku’s resolve and reliability makes him my second favorite character in the film. Then there’s Lin, a spirit (yes, she’s a spirit. She may look human, but she’s actually a transformed spirit of a Byakko, a white fox that brings people happiness.), who initially doesn’t take too much of a liking to Chihiro when she becomes her assistant, but over time, becomes in a way, a big sister and caretaker to Chihiro. Also, let’s not forget Yubaba, the main antagonist of the film. While she’s pretty much a bathhouse witch that represents the embodiment of greed, Yubaba is quite an interesting and likable villain, even if she can be a little of a hag sometimes. Oh, and last but not least, there’s No-Face. Ah, No-Face. The mysterious and enigmatic spirit. The one with no face who can say no words but “ah.” This intriguing character has quite a charm to him, seeing as while he can be easily corrupted, he is not at malevolent at heart. After all, one of the film’s main themes revolves around humans becoming greedy, whether it be the symbolism of Chihiro’s parents literally becoming pigs or the greediness brought on by Yubaba and No-Face. Pretty much like how Miyazaki said that humans were turned into pigs during the booming bubble economy of Japan in the 1980’s. Now before I reach my conclusion, I would like to give applause to the English dub voice acting in the English adaptation of Spirited Away by Walt Disney Pictures. The voice actors and voice actresses really seemed to match their roles and I thought Daveigh Chase did a pretty good job of voicing Chihiro, being that she also voiced Lilo Pelekai from the Lilo & Stitch franchise. To put it in closing words, the characters were all charming and amazing in their own ways.

Flaws: To be honest, I actually didn’t have a problem with the film other than the plot starting out slow at first, although it pays off in the end for great pacing throughout the rest of the movie. Also, some people may argue that some of the details in the movie may be too grotesque for the eyes of children, but I humbly believe that at an older age, people will learn to see beyond what they believe is ugly on the outside and learn to see what is truly beautiful on the inside. Other than that, everything else is well-crafted. How’s that for calling anime a mistake, Miyazaki? Oh, and one fun fact: Hayao Miyazaki is coming out of retirement. Rejoice, Studio Ghibli fans. Your wish will finally come true.

Conclusion: The first time I ever saw Spirited Away was back when I was younger, simply watching TV when the movie came on during Toonami’s Month of Miyazaki four-week marathon in 2006 (ah, those were the good times on Cartoon Network). I hadn’t actually seen the entire film during that time, so it would only be a few years later until I could watch all of Spirited Away with my sister on my family’s computer. And after seeing said film, I can certainly say Spirited Away is not to be forgotten. Having placed 4th on BBC's 100 Greatest Films of the 21st Century in August of 2016 out of 177 film critics, critical acclaim to Spirited Away seems to be highly positive and will continue to be in the years to come. With Spirited Away being shown on the big screen once again in December of 2016, Princess Mononoke coming back in theaters in January 2017, and Hayao Miyazaki coming out of retirement, Studio Ghibli fans will definitely be having great days ahead of them. So without a doubt, here’s my final score for Spirited Away:

10.0 out of 10.0 stars

Until then, peace! And Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all!


I saw this movie back in 2007 or something, and I remember enjoying it. Great review. - SwagFlicks

Thank you very much. I appreciate it, Hendrix. - ModernSpongeBobSucks

Oh, and merry Christmas as well. - ModernSpongeBobSucks

Good review. - ProPanda

Thanks. And happy holidays as well. - ModernSpongeBobSucks

Great review. You clearly cared about it rnough in order put real time into it rather than summing up each of the film's qualities in Two or three sentences. Some people might accuse a perfect score of being fanboyism but clearly took the time to justify your love for the film and explain it enough so that we can tell that you are not a fanboy and that it truly deserves such a score. Happy Holidays! - HeavyDonkeyKong

Happy holidays to you too, HeavyDonkeyKong! - ModernSpongeBobSucks

Merry Christmas! - TwilightKitsune

Merry Christmas to you too! - ModernSpongeBobSucks

Spirited away is one of the best animated movies that I have watched - Martinglez

I'm very glad you like it. - ModernSpongeBobSucks

Good review and Merry Christmas. - Skullkid755

Thanks and Merry Christmas to you too. - ModernSpongeBobSucks

This review was amazing. I remember watching the movie at a Detroit art theater once (English dub version) and I loved it and I still do love it. The animation is exquisite, the plot is intriguing, agh everything's so good about it. Yeah you explained it better than I would've. - Anonymousxcxc

Can I request you to watch a Silent Voice (Koe no Katachi)? I heard It's really good! - MLPFan

Your Name and A Silent Voice are probably two anime movies to prioritize watching on my bucket list. - ModernSpongeBobSucks

I agree with this well-made review! However, there is a minor flaw with this review. Miyazaki didn't outright say that anime was a mistake, but he has voiced his displeasure towards otaku culture in Japan:
"You see, whether you can draw like this or not, being able to think up this kind of design, it depends on whether or not you can say to yourself, ‘Oh, yeah, girls like this exist in real life. If you don’t spend time watching real people, you can’t do this, because you’ve never seen it. Some people spend their lives interested only in themselves. Almost all Japanese animation is produced with hardly any basis taken from observing real people, you know. It’s produced by humans who can’t stand looking at other humans. And that’s why the industry is full of otaku! " Other than that, you did a great job with giving and elaborating on your reasons for liking this movie!

I watched this on DVD so many times as a little kid, and it isn't hard to see why with the characters, story, themes, and artwork. This movie has got to be my absolute favorite movie of Studio Ghibli's along with Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (As you can probably tell from my icon), and having recently rewatched it as a young adult makes me appreciate it even more. In fact, I think it may be my favorite movie of all time.

On an admittedly semi-unrelated note, Studio Ghibli Fest 2018 is coming, and Spirited Away will be playing in select theaters from October 28 to October 30. The October 28 showing will be the dubbed version, while the other two showings will be subtitled. Just putting this here in case you're interested. - visitor

Why, thank you! And yeah, I didn't know Miyazaki said it like that. I mostly went by the meme based off of it.

That said, I am quite aware of Studio Ghibli Fest 2018. Only problem is college will probably be keeping me busy by the time Spirited Away rolls around. :(

Anyways, thanks for your input on my review. - ModernSpongeBobSucks

You're welcome! :D - visitor