I go back and forth between Spirited Away (2001) and Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) as to which is my favorite Hayao Miyazaki film. At the moment, I’m leaning toward Spirited Away—perhaps because I just saw it. Or it may be that the film’s more sinister—even slightly horrific—tone seems more suitable to the impending Halloween season. Its story about a young girl whose parents are magically transformed into pigs by witchcraft and her subsequent efforts to free them is certainly suitable for this time of year. Then again, it might just be that I like the traces of the neglected—almost forgotten—Alakazam the Great (1960) that have found their way into Spirited Away. In any case, all we’re really talking about here are relative degrees of excellence, since either film is in the realm of masterpiece—something I freely admit I didn’t grasp when Spirited Away first appeared.
The film’s story line is actually fairly complex, especially when you figure that it’s mostly there to hang the series of adventures and weird encounters the little girl—Chihiro/Sen—has after she and her parents pass through the tunnel at the beginning of the film. The relationships of the characters to each other is almost like something out of a Russian novel—except it’s all in the most fantasticated manner imaginable.
But in all honesty, that’s what we watch the film for (apart from its humanistic tone): its fantastication. This is spectacle—spectacle of the imagination—pure and simple. It is creativity unbound and limited only by Miyazaki’s imagination, which, frankly, seems to have no limitations. The point is to sit back and marvel at the outpouring of ideas laid out before you. What more could you really ask for?