Can we all just agree that dreams are fucking weird? They’re one of the least understood aspects of human life, and everybody but Mike Pence has them. Their are tons of theories about what their purpose is, what they mean, and why we’re always naked in them, but to this day, nobody can pinpoint what these bizarre movies we get to watch while we’re recharging even are. Sometimes they have purpose… Back when I was in a bad relationship where I felt trapped and with no control over my life, I’d constantly dream that I was stuck on a labyrinthian waterslide that I couldn’t escape from. But they can be completely nonsensical, too. Maybe you’re fighting in a war with flamethrowers, but they suddenly turn into waterguns. Maybe you’re running from a spider that can fit through any crack. Maybe you’re beating up pedophiles, taunting serial killers, throwing horses at witches, fighting demons in the wild west, meeting people you don’t see anymore, running from a golden car like it’s a metaphor for Satan, or hell, maybe you get into a car crash but wind up in your living room, with your family ominously telling you “It’s waiting.”

For little Nemo, dreams aren’t quite like that. Every single one of his dreams is a lucid one, and he can use them to escape to big fantastical worlds, all by riding on his bed like it’s a magic carpet. One day, after seeing a parade and wanting desperately to go to the circus, Nemo drifts off and is invited to the world of Slumberland, a country governed by a kind, jovial king and his prickly little daughter, and inhabited by a whole host of wild and zany characters. Nemo is declared the King’s heir, and entrusted with protecting it from harm, but it isn’t long at all before one of these inhabitants, a chain-smoking green minstrel named Flip, tempts him into letting Slumberland get taken over by a terrifying sea of darkness, which leaves it in shambles and takes the King away to a faraway land. With the order of a whole world now at stake, there is only one chance at saving it… Joined by Flip, the princess, a wacky professor and his talking squirrel sidekick, Nemo must brave the horrors of Nightmareland to make everything right again!

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Before I get into this, I’d like to offer you guys a little background for it…  A few weeks ago, I was having a brief depressive episode, and since that kind of thing happens to me more often than I’d like, I figured I’d at least try something new with it.  With this in mind, I sat down and began writing out my thoughts, to kind of explore where my mind was going in a sort of stream-of-consciousness thing.  The result is really weird, repetitive and confusing, but I’ve preserved it in it’s original form, and I’m posting it now on the off chance that getting it all off my chest will be therapeutic.  Here we go.

I have issues. I want to go into detail about some of them, but I’m afraid, because if I do, I might look weak, I might look pathetic, and I might look like I’m trying to gain peoples’ sympathy by boasting about my problems. Is that what I’d be doing? Even if other people don’t think that, will I think that? Will I feel bad about being manipulative? Dragging my own shit out of the closet and dumping it all over somebody else? Would I just be ruining their time, which was going along just fine until I decided to interrupt it because I wasn’t strong enough to work through my shit by myself? How can I tell people that they’re the ones making me feel this way? That when I see them, and they’re not having the issues that I’m having, I get jealous of them? And I compare myself to them? And I dwell on how unfair it is that I have to have issues with things they’re succeeding at?

But that’s not fair to them. Of course it isn’t. They’re not like me. They don’t think the way I do. They don’t see the world the way I do. I think things come more naturally to them, but I have no idea. Maybe they have advantages that they work their asses off to have, or are still working for, and I’m just the weird one, so how can I tell them that the minor accomplishments that they downplay are actually comparable to my peaks? That I’m doing much worse than they were at their worst, and in fact, my best was about equal to their worst? When a chicken complains about it’s limited flight abilities, and wishes it could fly as high as an eagle could, what if a penguin overheard that comment, and felt really shitty about the fact that he couldn’t even fly as high as the chicken? Should that penguin say something? Should it tell the chicken to be happy with what it has, because things could be worse?

No, because it’s not the chicken’s fault that the penguin can’t fly. The penguin should stop being so negative and be happy with what it has. It shouldn’t point out it’s own limitations, and it shouldn’t bother the poor chicken about how it’s comment made the penguin feel. It would just make the chicken feel bad, and the chicken was already feeling bad that it’s not an eagle. The penguin should just shut it’s stupid mouth and take solace in the fact that by doing so, and not laying all of it’s problems on someone who was already troubled and probably can’t do anything to help it anyway, that the penguin is the only one miserable. It was never meant to fly like the eagles, or even like the chickens. It can’t fly, it never will fly, it’s pointless to bother others about it’s problem. It shouldn’t feel like shit over the things it can’t do. It can’t become an eagle, or even a chicken, and even if it could, what would that resolve? It wouldn’t be a flying penguin, it would just be another eagle.

So is it better to hide your problems, and just pretend you don’t have any? Are you supposed to just pretend that everything’s cool, that you’re super laid back about things, and that you don’t care about the things you’re coming up short on? Are you supposed to just keep trying, keep going it on your own, even though nothing’s working? Are you just supposed to suffer in silence, hoping you can just fade into the background as the people around you go about their lives, watching them from the sidelines, wanting them to do their best, knowing that if you start talking about your own situation, you’ll have to either lie and pretend that things are going great, or take the huge risk of mentioning how things actually are? What if what you’re saying makes things weird? What if they think you’re guilting them out? What if they think you’re just trying to gain sympathy? What if you ruin their day, and they give you weird looks from then on?

You can’t be negative, right? Nobody wants to be around someone who’s negative. They have other options,. They have other friends. If you start being negative, they’ll gravitate towards more positive people, and you’ll lose them. They don’t need to worry about your problems. You shouldn’t be having problems. You should be normal. People say things like ‘normal is overrated,’ or ‘what’s normal,’ but they don’t realize how abnormal abnormal can be. They don’t realize how badly your baggage can weigh them down. Everyone eventually hits their limit, regardless of their intentions. They tell lifeguards not to save people who might drag them down with them, and if you know you’re just going to be that person, then why should you even yell for the lifeguard in the first place? Is it better to just let yourself fall beneath the waves?

What if there’s a part of you who wants to do just that? What if there’s some toxic, destructive part of you that wants to drag someone else under? What if you don’t want to drown alone? What if you want to drag the people who make you feel shitty down to your level, even if they weren’t trying to hurt you? Even if their intention was never to make you feel bad, what if they were never thinking about you in the first place? What if that penguin saw the chicken wishing it could fly like an eagle, so it walked over, told the chicken off, and then watched as the poor chicken, having no idea what he’d done, apologized, expressed some sympathy, and then looked sad himself? Should the penguin take some joy in the fact that it’s not suffering alone, or should it have just kept it’s stupid mouth shut and gone home, so it couldn’t ruin the party?

What’s the penguin even supposed to want in that scenario? What are it’s options? Either feel shitty alone, or make someone else feel shitty. That’s all it gains by dragging it’s problems out. It’s easy to tell a penguin that it should be happy with what it has, and that it should go back to swimming, but have you ever been that penguin? It wants to fly. It’s not going to stop wanting to fly just because it can’t. But telling it to not give up and just keep on trying to fly is condescending and irresponsible. You’re telling it to waste it’s life on something it can’t do just so you can be positive, and not have to deal with the guilt of telling it that it simply can’t do the things you do. So why should the penguin say anything? Why should the penguin put someone in that position?

How do you ask for help without feeling like a burden? And even if you do, where does it go from there? People give you advice. They try making suggestions on how you can help yourself, but here’s the problem… Your problem is either something you’re doing, or it’s you. If it’s something you’re doing, great, you can do something else. You can stop doing that thing. But what if it’s you? What if you think it’s something you’re doing, so you commit your time and money to it, but it winds up being a complete waste of both because the central cause of the problem was always you? What if the problem is such a huge portion of you that, if you changed it, you wouldn’t be able to recognize yourself anymore? Can you change yourself? Should you? Doesn’t everyone always say you should just be yourself? What if yourself is the worst thing you can be? As well as the only thing?

I guess at that point, you’d turn to family, right? They’re obligated to support you. They’re not allowed to give up on you, because you’re their blood, and God just happened to saddle them with you for life. You tell them you’re shit, they tell you you’re great. You tell them you have nowhere to go, hey, they’ll shelter you. They’re your safety net, and as long as you don’t over-hear the wrong conversation, you’ll never have to find out what they really think of you. Unless they’re really shitty actors, or they can’t tell a decent lie to save their lives, you’ll never have to think about what they say about you behind your back. They love you, but they don’t like you, and you know they talk about you because you’ve heard them, and you’ve observed way too many odd coincidences in regard to what you tell one person and how another person acts afterwards.

But your family is obligated to you. They have to drown with you. They can’t rely on the benefit of distance and separation like everyone else can. You’re ruining their lives, and the things is, you don’t have a choice in the matter. Even if you don’t ask for help, They never cut the cord, but they never admit to you that they have any issues with you, so if you don’t start a dialogue with them, then whatever impression they have of you will spread through them like cancer, and you have no control over it, and you’ll never know what it is, because they’ll never admit any of it to you. Just by existing, you make their lives worse, and it’s their fault for being nosy and talking behind your back, but it’s still your fault for giving them something to talk about. They can’t relate to most of your problems, and they won’t admit to the ones you have with them, but they won’t go away if you ignore them. Is disappearing the only option? Cut and run? Burn your bridges, get rid of the people you can’t make amends with, and give up on the things you can’t do?

I don’t know why I’m writing this. Maybe it doesn’t make any sense. A few hours ago I got the idea to just write down how I feel and not stop until everything was out. I’m probably going to post it, because I want to try something different, and let’s be honest, writing reviews isn’t really working out. Honestly, I’m doing worse than I was before my hiatus, and that’s saying something. I don’t think people want to read the kind of reviews I write.  They’re more into episodic reviews, but that’s not what I want to do.  I didn’t get into writing reviews for the sake of blogging, I got into blogging for the sake of my reviews.  Changing to that kind of format would defeat the whole point of this, and besides, what if that doesn’t help?  What if it’s just me?  What if this, like so many other things, is just something that I can’t do and shouldn’t try to do?  Should I just give up and do something else with my life?  I’ve never had a single paypal donation since putting the link in my Contact page, and this blog doesn’t make any money, so maybe I should quit and use my spare time to get a second job instead.

I don’t know if this counts as a cry for help, and furthermore, I don’t know if I want help. Maybe it’s therapeutic for me to just let it all out. Hell, maybe it’s therapeutic for you, I don’t know you. I don’t know your problems anymore than you know mine. If you don’t mind me being a giant fucking hypocrite, then I hope everything’s going well for you, and I hope this post didn’t ruin your day. It was never intended to be a passive aggressive pipe-bomb, but then again, I don’t think anyone really intends to be passive aggressive. They just realize, in retrospect, that they have been.

I know this kind of post is weird for me, but I’ll be back to business as usual next week. I write my posts way in advance, and I have enough on the stockpile to get me through at least september. After that, I don’t know. It’s weird that after five years, I’m only getting an average of about 50 views a day, and I only have 127 followers. I’ll try to just keep swimming and not let it bother me.

See you next Saturday.

It’s World War 2, the country of Japan is in peril, and siblings Setsuko and Seita have just been orphaned by an American air strike that mortally wounded their mother. With their father away in the Navy, they’ve been forced to rely on each other, and the valiant Seita will stoop to the lowest possible level to take care of his younger sister, who’s still a very small child, and who understandably doesn’t have the strength to deal with the cruel burden that’s been placed on their young shoulders. The only spark of hope they’ve been able to find lies within the home of their aunt, who takes them in under the assumption that she’s only holding them temporarily until their mother gets out of the hospital, but is dismayed to learn she’s just taken on two new mouths for the long-haul. When the two siblings decide they’re tired of her nagging and strike out on their own, will the bond between them be enough to sustain them, or will they find out that they’ve made a fatal mistake?

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Moving away can be tough, but it doesn’t always have to be. For Satsuki and Mei, two rambunctious children living in Japan in the 1950’s, it’s an adventure, in spite of the sad circumstances that brought them to their new home. The Kusakabe family has just moved from the big city into a more rural, country-esque community, surrounded by farms and woods, but they aren’t there for the change of scenery. They’ve moved there to get closer to the hospital that their mother is staying at while she battles an unspecified long term illness. The community is warm and welcoming, their new neighbors are supportive to them, but most importantly, they have each other. While their father Tatsuo spends his day working in his room, Mei and Satsuki play with each other around their new property, searching the house for ghosts, running around the yard, and exploring all the weird and quaint wonders of their new home.

It isn’t long at all, however, before things start to get strange. Their first encounter with the supernatural was fairly innocuous, as they discover a horde of tiny black soot spirits living in the dark corners of their home, which flee into the shadows whenever the two of them enter a room. Things get even more bizarre the first time Mei is left to her own devices, and she begins to uncover creatures living near them in the woods, including the mighty Totoro, a hibernating beast nestled deep below the roots of a giant tree, who becomes fast friends with her. Described by her father as The King of the Forest, Totoro isn’t always around, but he shows up when they need him, keeping them company or helping them out, all without saying a word. They’ll need his help more than ever, however, as a vague telegram brings up the troubling news that their mother’s condition has gotten worse, and a fight between the two sisters creates a terrifying situation. Can they rely on their spirit friends once more to see them through, or have they been all alone from the beginning?

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There are two people with us at any given moment… There’s the person we currently are, who’s in charge of every decision we have to make as it comes to us, and there’s the person we remember being. This can be the person we were back in school, where we wistfully wish we’d applied ourselves harder; This can be the person we were last week, when we wish things had played out differently on that date or that big important meeting; This can be the person we were when we were much smaller, as we reflect on how that child could have ever become the adult we are now. For Taeko Okajima, that person is her fifth grade self, and it has been for a while. There was just something about that age, when she stood awkwardly on the cusp of womanhood, that she can’t help but relate to as she navigates the equally confusing path into her late twenties.

As a child growing up in Tokyo, Taeko had dreamed of visiting the countryside like most of her friends, but she didn’t have any family there, and her family didn’t really have the time or resources to uproot and vacation somewhere that they had no connection to. Now, fully grown, and with one of her older sisters married to a man from an extended farming family, Taeko has taken to using her vacations from work to visit her in-laws and work in their fields, which fills her with a satisfaction that she could never get before. This time, she’s going to be picking safflowers, a beautiful, thistle-like yellow crop that is used to make red dye and rouge. It’s not her first working trip, but with the charming Toshio picking her up, and with some of her strongest nostalgic recollections finally getting unexpected resolutions, will there be more to this vacation than she bargained for?

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Moving away can be a tough situation, especially when you’re still a child. Your parents probably have a good reason to relocate… Changes in the economy, lucrative opportunities at work, declining property values and rising crime rates… But how is that supposed to matter to you when you’re being uprooted from your routine, removed from the home you’ve grown attached to, and being forced to say goodbye to your friends? Anybody in that situation would be bummed out, and Chihiro is no exception, sulking in the back of her family car, hugging the one reminder she has of the life she’s leaving behind, a bouquet of flowers. There’s nothing she can do but pout as her family gets closer and closer to their new home, but when her well-meaning father takes a shortcut and winds up getting them lost, that sense of worry and disappointment gives way to something far more ominous.

At the end of a lonely, suspiciously unpaved path, past a wasteland of ancient shrines, Chihiro and her family are stopped in their tracks by an old statue outside of the mouth of a tunnel. Guided through said tunnel by sheer curiosity, Chihiro’s parents wander through it, with their reluctant daughter in tow, and what they find on the other end was more than they could have possibly imagined. Thinking the structures at the other end to be an abandoned theme park, her parents find a booth of fresh food, which they almost immediately begin to chow down on, even as the whole world seems to go to hell around them. As the park’s true inhabitants begin to make their ghostly selves known, Chihiro’s parents are turned into pigs, and the terrified girl suddenly finds herself stranded alone at a bathhouse for wayward spirits, and if this unwitting stowaway wants to have any chance of rescuing her folks and escaping this supernatural spa of spooks and spirits, she’ll have to leave her spoiled, selfish upbringing behind and grow up fast under unforgiving circumstances.

This is only the second Studio Ghibli title that I’ve reviewed(Yes, this is the first one I’m posting…  remember, I do things weirdly), and it couldn’t be more different from the first one. To start, this film was actually directed by Hayao Miyazaki himself, and not by the recently departed Isao Takahata, and you can tell the difference from the visuals. It’s worth mentioning that in some of Ghibli’s films, the animation budget is, perhaps, much higher than it needs to be, as there isn’t always much going on in terms of action, and aside from the obligatory flying scenes, some of their work can skew heavily towards realism. In Spirited Away, however, the animation is just as fluid and lavish, but it’s being used for so much more. Studio Ghibli doesn’t really have any bad looking films, with even it’s lesser titles at least being nice to look at, but even among a filmography that’s full of beautiful artwork and vivid animation, Spirited Away still manages to be right up near the top as one of their best looking, if not THE best looking, titles ever released by the prolific studio.

In any Ghibli title, you’re going to be able to expect a very high visual standard, consisting of… At the very least… Fluid animation, graceful character movements, expressive faces, and highly detailed, immersive environments. Spirited Away has all of these, but it also adds so much more that helps it to stand out among it’s peers. The bathhouse, as well as the spirit town surrounding it, is a huge setting with no shortage of different locations to explore, and every single inch of it that we’re allowed to see is rich with detail and personality. The cast of characters, from the main ones all the way down to the hundreds of spirits inhabiting the area, are incredibly diverse, offering enough unique designs to fill out an entire here’s Waldo book, and while a ton of them were obviously pulled from Japanese mythology, they’re still drawn in such a way that the youngest of viewers probably won’t be afraid of them. They also all have their own individual mannerisms and styles of movement that must have taken an unbelievable amount of effort to nail down.

Purely in terms of aesthetic and style, Spirited Away is probably the most visually identifiable title of the Ghibli canon, which is probably why it’s lived on to become the Studio’s flagship title. It’s hard to say what it is, exactly, but once you get past the instantly recognizable creature designs of Haku, Yubaba and the Noface, Chihiro and her parents just have a certain quality that none of Miyazaki’s other human characters have. It’s like a slightly realistic look, not so much as to make them look realistic themselves, but just enough to distinguish them from more traditional-looking anime characters. Look at any other of Hayao Miyazaki’s human characters, and they most likely have the big eyes and simplistic facial structure that Chihiro and her parents were somehow able to avoid. If this was intentional, then it was an especially brilliant move, as it adds another layer of separation between Chihiro and the denizen of Yubaba’s business. I’ve seen this kind of design choice in Takahata’s work, but I can’t think of any other Miyazaki project like it.

Being that this is a Studio Ghibli production, the animation isn’t the only thing you can expect to be top notch. The music, composed by longtime Hayao Miyazaki collaborator Joe Hisaishi, is amazing, the kind of whimsical full-orchestra score that you’d expect to see in a Disney or Don Bluth production. If you think I’m pulling that comparison out of my ass, then please, listen to Reprise and try to get through it without thinking of An American Tail, or any heartfelt movie moment when characters are tearfully reunited. Of course, that’s also kind of my only real problem with this soundtrack… As tearfully wonderful as it can be, it also feels a bit generic, like a lot of it’s tracks just sound like they’d be from some other movie. Don’t get me wrong, they’re great, and they do their job with the story, it’s just that when all’s said and done, it’s just a little forgettable. Even the ending credits song, Always With Me, which is a charming song with a folksy indies feel to it, was just recycled from a scrapped movie that it was originally written for.

As for the English dub, well, my thoughts there are a bit more complicated, and that’s mostly due to the fact that the sub and dub for this film are radically different creatures. It’s a very Disney-sounding dub, especially when compared to the Disney output of the early 2000’s. The adaptive trade-off can be broadly boiled down to ‘personality vs. subtlety,’ as the new version adds a bit more life to the cast, but also skews the dialogue to be a lot more accessible to the average English speaking child. For most of the cast, the acting in the dub is really good, with a couple of obvious stand-outs being Jason Marsden in the role of Haku, which he knocks out of the park despite sounding nothing like the original(and noticeably female) Japanese seiyuu, and the legendary Suzanne Pleshette playing the dual roles of Zeniba and Yubaba in a performance that’s far superior to the original. Fun fact, this isn’t actually the late Pleshette’s only anime role… She also had a small role in Trigun, believe it or not!

Of course, there are other surprisingly big names in the cast… Michael Chilis and Lauren Holly play Chihiro’s parents(I don’t think their last name is mentioned in the movie, but I’ve found them credited as The Oginos), and I’m guessing they were instructed by the director to make them sound like ignorant yuppies, because that’s kind of how they come across, with a few minor dialogue changes and their over-all delivery. One particularly weird choice was Susan Egan as the character Lin, who sounds uncannily similar to Meg from Hercules… Which makes sense, because she also played that character. I don’t know if that’s just how she naturally talks or what, but it’s still such a strange connection. You look at Lin, you don’t think “Hey, she probably sounds like Megara!” And yet, you’ve got the same voice actress, doing the exact same performance. David Ogden Stiers, a certified Frasier and Disney legend who passed away this year, played the role of multi-armed boiler man Kamaji, and he did a much better job creating a new performance.

And that leaves us with Daveigh Chase, a somewhat forgotten child actor who had this as one of her three defining roles when she was still a child… Chihiro is one of her signature characters, along with Lilo from Lilo and Stitch and the little girl from The Ring, and I’m sad to say, any brilliance she might have shown in those other two roles is lost here. Well, okay, maybe that’s not entirely fair. She doesn’t do a terrible job, and I’m willing to give her the benefit on the doubt and chalk her performance up to bad direction, but DAMN is she hard to listen to at times. The original performance by Rumi Hiiragi, who was only slightly older than Daveigh at the time, sounds a bit too old for her role, bringing a deeper register to the character, but she also did a stellar acting job, with emotion and voice control beyond her years. Daveigh’s performance, on the other hand, is mostly full of screaming and lines that sound like they just used the first take each time, but she does sound more believably childlike, but for my money, I’ll take good acting over authenticity any day.

If you’ve only ever owned the original Disney DVD, then you won’t know anything about the adaptive script, which, ho boy, they made a ton of changes when they dubbed this title. I’ll be fair, none of the changes were so bad they had to be removed in later releases, like that disastrous mistake they made at the end of Kiki’s Delivery Service, but it still comes off a little condescending at times. It’s well intentioned enough, but it goes too far at several points. There were a lot of dialogue changes to put events in a more clear context and add more foreshadowing to the story, but adding pig noises to the scene where the Oginos have just started eating the spirit’s food was a bit ridiculous. There’s more explanation given to certain Japanese ideas, with the ‘break the seal’ bad luck curse scene being a smart and necessary example, but I don’t think kids need to be immediately told that Haku’s a dragon just because we don’t see him transforming before flying off, and the last words added to the ending come bafflingly out of nowhere. Also, it puts a lot more emphasis on a romance between Haku and Chihiro, which kind of misses the point of their relationship. It’s a fine dub, but I prefer the original Japanese.

A few years ago, I was reviewing a series called Petite Princess Yucie, where I pondered the merit of reviewing children’s media. On the one hand, yeah, kids will watch anything, but as adults, is it our job to judge the quality of the media we show them? I had a tentative answer for this question, but I’ve changed my tune a bit recently. As long as it’s subjectively safe, and doesn’t contain any harmful lessons, yeah, kids should be able to watch anything. The Magic Voyage is a piece of shit, but I still liked watching it as a kid, and I’d have bitten you if you tried to stop me. I hate Nightmare Before Christmas, but I’d still rather let a kid watch that then Coco, which advocates how noble a choice it is to give up on your hopes, dreams and personal fulfillment just because your toxic, unsupportive family arbitrarily says so. Yeah, I really hated Coco. But from that perspective, Spirited Away is a fantastic movie to show to children, as it’s full of imaginative visuals, bright colors, and it teaches a lot of important lessons, which I’ll get back to in a minute.

Having said that, even if children’s media is safe for it’s target audience, that doesn’t exempt it from criticism, as adult like to watch that kind of thing too, and I’m guessing there aren’t a lot of kids out there reading reviews. You read reviews to see that reviewer’s opinion, and in my opinion, Spirited Away is not one of Studio Ghibli’s best titles. That’s not to say it’s bad by any means, but in terms of writing, it comes up short in a lot of areas. To start, Spirited Away is severely lacking in characterizations. One of the reasons that I feel the actors for Haku, Zeniba and Yubaba did the best job is because they had the most to work with… Particularly with the old mutant biddies, both of whom sport deliciously fleshed out identities, personalities and an interesting dynamic between each other. The character of No-Face feels confusingly pointless and could have been written out with nothing really being lost(Insert Sin Cara joke here), and while Lin has a more important role in the story, I can’t say I know anything about her by the end.

The same could be said for Chihiro. She does manage to grow and develop through the story, but the change is vague, as she’s basically just tougher and slightly more wise by the ending. Aside from refusing to eat with her parents, it takes her all the way until the third act to start showing agency and making decisions, and none of those decisions are ever more complex than ‘do the right thing.’ She’s a likeable character and you do feel for her, you do want her to strive, survive and succeed, but out of all the things in this movie that might stick with you after seeing it, she’s just not one of them. Some of the dangers she gets into don’t even wind up coming back… She starts to fade away, which gets dealt with and resolved by Haku and never comes up again. She signs away her name, which she remembers again when Haku reminds her, but between those two points, I couldn’t recall her forgetting her name ever being a thing in the story. Like, okay, I guess that’s important, but where was it stated that she forgot her name at all?

Part of this weakness is probably due to Miyazaki’s writing style. I’ve heard several rumors about the conception of this story, like that it was written as a present for Miyazaki’s niece, or that Chihiro was based on someone’s daughter, and while I can’t find source information to prove these rumors, they do explain a lot, like how the story seems to be woven together from a bunch of mismatched morals and fables, and how it teaches a lot of small lessons to the viewer, and why Chihiro is such a lego brick. It feels like a story that somebody wrote so they could hide a bunch of these lessons underneath the story so a young viewer might subliminally pick up on them. As I said before, most of these lessons are good ones, and there’s really nothing wrong with teaching them, but there really doesn’t seem to be any sort of unifying theme between them, making the story feel like more of an anthology held together with a tenuous thread of a story than any sort of grand fable.

Of course, there’s one more problem with that approach, and it’s a much worse one. Out of the lessons that this film tries to teach, you’ve got all of these important gems like ‘don’t be greedy,’ ‘be respectful,’ ‘finish what you start,’ ‘be grateful to those who help you,’ ‘good deeds will come back to you,’ and ‘if you help one person, everyone else will expect it and take advantage of you…’ Okay, I said they were mostly good, give me a break. Anyway, the problem with these lessons is that you never actually get to see anyone learn them. I’m serious. These lessons are taught directly to us, and not to any of the characters. The only lesson Chihiro actually learns is that the working world is hard, but was that ever important? I know the pig scene comes to mind, but Chihiro already knew not to steal food, and her parents had their memories of the event wiped. Most of the lessons are things a character already knows, or something completely inconsequential that only the observer will pick up on, like the lesson revolving around Yubaba and her sheltered baby.

All of this feels indicative of one other major rumor I’ve heard about the film, although this one has a bit more backing… Miyazaki is the kind of story-teller who doesn’t like to put story first. From what I’ve heard, he was still writing this movie while it was being animated and story-boarded, which is a distinct departure from the norm, but I believe it. Out of every movie of his that I’ve seen, the only one I refuse to believe was written this way was Princess Mononoke, which had a superb story. But Spirited Away feels way too underwritten in contrast, and it shows in some very weird ways. I wouldn’t go as far as calling Chihiro a Mary-Sue, but her flaws are way too simple, she never has to struggle in making her decisions, and it feels like she was just created to be a role model. There’s also a ton of small contrivances I can’t get over, like the Boiler man having an extra train ticket, or the river spirit just happening to give her an object that would wind up helping her twice, or Yubaba just happening to have taken an oath to give a job to anyone who asks.

I don’t even feel like Haku’s relation to Chihiro, which I won’t spoil as it’s supposed to be this huge revelation, really mattered in the end. It’s foreshadowed in some strangely disconnected ways, with a brief line from Haku early on being the only really connection it gets to the story, and it just kind of winds up feeling random. But hey, if you look at it as a story of a girl trying to survive in a perilous situation where both her and her parents’ lives are on the line, it’s still a fine movie. The pacing is great, the story never drags or gets boring, and the larger writing issues can be ignored by anyone who just wants to sit back, enjoy the visuals, and root for Chihiro as she struggles against all odds to save the day and get back to normal society. Also, I like how there’s no clear villain, and there’s actual nuance to the conflict. As I said before, it’s not a bad movie, in fact it’s more than competent enough to be worth your time, but I don’t think it deserves to be held up among the greats… Not among the anime film medium at large, or even among it’s Studio Ghibli peers. Could be worse, though… It could be Earthsea.

Spirited Away is available from Gkids, on both DVD and bluray formats. The original Disney DVDs are out of print, but it’s still fairly easy to find. A manga adaptation that’s mostly just a compilation of still from the movie is available from Viz Media.

If I’m being brutally honest, I’m not the biggest fan of Studio Ghibli. It’s not that I hate them or anything, and it’s not like I have any specific issue with them, it’s just that it really doesn’t appeal to me personally. I’m not really into Miyazaki’s approach to story-telling, and while I strongly prefer Takahata’s approach, it also doesn’t always work. There are only about three or four titles of theirs that I’ve come to love, two of which I’ll be reviewing this month, but as for the rest, I’m just ambivalent to them. Unfortunately, Spirited Away falls into the latter category. I respect it as a children’s movie, but I don’t really understand what people get out of it when watching it as adults. Sure, there are movies in the Ghibli canon that have a lot less plot than this one, are plotless, but they use this shortcoming to their advantage, whereas Spirited Away is all plot with little sense of character or cohesion, and that’s worse in a lot of ways. I don’t regret seeing it, I’d be happy to watch it again, but I still expected more from it. I give Spirited Away a 7/10.

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