By Mike Derderian
Roasted newts, wooden tokens, enchanted soot balls and a magical monogram that belongs to a witch known as Zeniba—are they the ingredients for a new JK Rowling recipe that Harry Potter will put in his magical caldron?
Well no, they are part of the magical modus operandi of Hayao Miyazaki’s Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi—also known as ‘Spirited Away’—a Japanese anime film that was released in 2001 and reached Jordanian theaters four weeks ago.
Being the first anime feature to reach the silver screen in many years, if not ever, it sadly failed to attract the Jordanian adult audience after being typecast as a children film. Part of the failure was due to its display hours on 10:30 and 13:45, a period that surely undermined Miyazaki’s highly imaginative production preventing adults from attending; another reason is Jordanian’s unfamiliarity with anime and the magic thrill it offers—especially in this 125 minute animated film.
Present at the theatre beside myself, a woman with four children and a couple, who were definitely not interested in what was happening to Chihiro, the movie’s main character—the young lovable girl, who with her parents stumbles upon a world of spirits during a trip to their new home.
Miyazaki’s magical imagination soon took us on a joy ride to an unforgettable fascinating world.
The opening shot of an animated sequence of a serene countryside with a Hitchcockian touch soon turns into an ominous one, through the use of whistling winds, creepy abandoned buildings and rattling leafs with uncanny music, which will prepares the viewer for what comes next.
Being originally in Japanese, Spirited Away was dubbed into English using the voice talents of Jason Marsden, Daveigh Chase, Michael Chiklis, Lauren Holly, Susan Egan, Tara Strong, Bob Bergen, David ogiden Stiers and Suzanne Pleshette voice’s for both the witch Yubaba and her twin sisiter Zeniba.
Anime, or Japanese animation, is a cartoon film genre known not only for its epic action story lines, but also for its hard drive characters and high quality animated sequences; which, unlike Disney’s animations, evolved into an industry of its own aiming to attract adult viewers with its mature orientated themes.
Not being strictly aimed for little toddlers, it requires parental guidance in some productions due to its bearing images of violence, nudity and concepts that might confuse a child’s comprehension of a gentler imaginary magical world.
What appears to be an abandoned theme park soon turns into an energetic spectacle filled with ethereal creatures and versatile funny characters like demons, frog-like beings and gigantic ducks that roam the place seeking for leisure at it’s public bath house.
Miyazaki created what every child in a person would dream of; with a minor down-side: no humans allowed—any one who ventures into this place risks being turned into a pig or a piece of coal by Yubaba, the witch that runs the bath house.
Animator, director and writer, Miyazaki started creating animated works from as early as 1964; however, it wasn’t until the 1997 “Princess Mononoke,” that he was lauded by both anime fans and animators in the US as he gained international recognition.
Never seizing to captivate people with his creations, other worth-watching films by Miyazaki include “Heidi: Girl of the Alps” (1974), “3000 Leagues in Search of Mother” (1976), “Future Boy Conan” a.k.a. Adnan and Lina (1978) and the fun childish bedtime story “My Neighbor Totoro” (1988).
Retuning to Chihiro (Chase), who is stuck in this world after her parents were turned into pigs because they ate food prepared for spirits, the frantic girl is helped by Master Hako (Marsden), a boy with magical powers and works for Yubaba.
Now, in order for her to stay and save her parents, Hako tells Chihiro that she has to work as a servant in Yubabas bathhouse by seeking the help of Kamaji the boiler man.
So, Chihiro’s magical exciting adventure starts with a load of hard work; especially, in the funny scene when she has to tend to a visitor known as a stink spirit that nobody dares to approach because of his foul stench. In addition, the film is packed with artistically animated places, using both traditional drawing techniques and computer generated images of train rides, floating into the sky on the back of a magical silver dragon and meeting with Yubaba, the eerie witch with an oversized head.
The exaggerated gesticulations and facial expressions of Miyazaki’s characters that are commonly used in anime will stir you into a laugh as you meet with the maid Lin, the three armed boiler old man Kamaji and the mysterious No Face that will inflict havoc to the bath house.
In Spirited Away the climax is not about the battle between good and evil as it is about right and wrong, especially in the case of Chihiro, who must find her way out of this strange effulgent world created by Japan’s most prolific animator.