Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Studio Ghibli Fest: Spirited Away (2001)

© 2001 Studio Ghibli - NDDTM

Movie Name/Year: Spirited Away (2001)
Genre: Adventure, Animation, Family, Fantasy
Length:  2h 5min
Rating: PG
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Writers: Hayao Miyazaki
  • Japanese Language Cast: Rumi Hiiragi, Miyu Irino, Mari Natsuki, Takashi Naitô, Yasuko Sawaguchi, Tatsuya Gashûin, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Yumi Tamai, Yô Ôizumi, Koba Hayashi, Tsunehiko Kamijô, Ken Yasuda
  • English Language Cast: Daveigh Chase, Suzanne Pleshette, Jason Marsden, Susan Egan, David Ogden Stiers, Lauren Holly, Michael Chiklis, John Ratzenberger, Tara Strong, Mickie McGowan, Jack Angel, Bob Bergen, Rodger Bumpass, Phil Proctor, Paul Eiding, Jim Ward
Metacritic Blurb: A young girl, Chihiro, becomes trapped in a strange new world of spirits. When her parents undergo a mysterious transformation, she must call upon the courage she never knew she had to free herself and return her family to the outside world.
© 2001 Studio Ghibli - NDDTM
Cat’s Point of View:
We’ve already reviewed a couple of films from this year’s Studio Ghibli Fest, namely Princess Mononoke (1997) and Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), so I figured why not round this series out with another Studio Ghibli favorite? Spirited Away will hit theaters featuring Ghibli Fest 2023 screenings towards the end of October. (A live stage production already made the rounds as April’s selection. I didn’t even realize there was a stage show until I saw this year’s Ghibli Fest lineup!)

One of the many reasons I adore these Ghibli movies is because so many of them feature a female protagonist - and not in a cliche or cheesy way either. In the case of Spirited Away, this story offers the perspective of a 10-year-old girl as she struggles against the changes in her life she has no control over. I can’t tell you how much I wish that this film had been around when I was 10 and my whole world was changing for both similar and wildly different reasons than young Chihiro in this story. 

I had moved away from friends for the 2nd time in as many years, and started a new school on top of that. My family life was in upheaval due to my parents’ separation (pre-divorce) at the time. I had just spent a year with my aunt, uncle, and cousins in an entirely different state than my parents - and they weren’t even in the same state. While I was reunited with my mom as we moved in with my grandparents while looking for a new home of our own, my dad was half the country away in Georgia. It was a rough time. 

For that reason, Chihiro’s journey of finding her way without her parents and navigating new places and people really resonated with me on a whole other level from most other Studio Ghibli movies. I understood the young girl’s anxiety, dogged determination, and her fierce protectiveness over the positive connections in her life. 
© 2001 Studio Ghibli - NDDTM

On the other hand, Hayao Miyazaki (Castle in the Sky, Howl's Moving Castle, Ponyo) apparently came up with the story for Spirited Away after witnessing a friend’s 10-year-old daughter’s behavior, and also realizing there weren’t a lot of movies out there for girls in that particular age range. With a few rare exceptions, he prefers to use his imagination to bring messages of positivity to children. The fact that adults also enjoy his work is really just a bonus. 

I found an interview with Miyazaki from 2001 that was fascinating and actually blew my mind. I hadn’t realized that Spirited Away didn’t have a formal script. He developed the story as he went along. This man is even more of a phenom and genius than I originally thought. If you are interested in Miyazaki’s creative process or more in-depth insight into this movie, I encourage you to go to the site that is hosting that interview transcript (linked above). 

As with other Studio Ghibli works, there are some aspects of Spirited Away that might be slightly disturbing to very small children, but as this movie is supposed to be geared towards the age range of its heroine, it’s fine for generally everyone else. 
© 2001 Studio Ghibli - NDDTM

The animation style remains rich and gorgeous, and the voice talent (at least for the English version - I haven’t seen the subbed Japanese version) is absolutely on point. Fun fact: the voice of Chihiro in the English cast is brought to us by Daveigh Chase (Big Love, Yellow, Transference). She went on to give us the voice of Lilo from the Lilo & Stitch (2002) franchise, as well as the terrifying performance as Samara in The Ring (2002). I digress…

Spirited Away accomplished Miyazaki’s goal of showing young girls that things will be alright and that they are capable of tackling the challenges of life - and then some. I have enjoyed every viewing I’ve had of this film and I look forward to watching it again many more times in the future. This is also one of the several Ghibli films that my daughter enjoys introducing to friends. 

Remember, Ghibli Fest 2023 is running through early November, so if you would like to catch a showing of these classic anime movies, check out the schedule through the Fathom Events site

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 96%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score –96%
Metascore – 96%
Metacritic User Score – 8.9/10
IMDB Score – 8.6/10
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating – 5/5

P.S. - Just as an extra piece of trivia in clearing up a common misconception stemming from a few of the DVD and blu-ray release editions of some of the Studio Ghibli movies - Disney does not, and has never owned Studio Ghibli. They only had a limited distribution deal with Studio Ghibli, and that expired in 2017 when GKIDS took over the distribution rights. 
Movie Trailer:

Monday, August 28, 2023

Anthology - Revisiting Personal Cinematic Landscape

I’ve been sick for a few weeks, which is why these articles have been a little slow to come out, but I’m finally on the mend.
Moving on.
One of the things that have happened since the first time I wrote about my personal cinematic landscape was the pandemic. Say what you will about that time, but it felt pretty apocalyptic when it was going down. I’m from New York, the city that never sleeps. During that time, it slept. The streets of Times Square were barren, the sounds of the city quieted, and even the food trucks went on their way. Reports of deaths mixed with the sour tone of conspiracy theorists telling the world that our vaccines had tracking chips in them. People faced the fear with everything from a strange game where astronaut jellybeans killed each other in secret, to splattercore books (a genre I didn’t even know existed until then), to video chatting, to straight-up denial. I kidnapped my mother so that she wouldn’t be alone for, what was supposed to be, a couple of weeks but it stretched into almost a year.
I’d seen some scary things before COVID, but that was the first time it felt like the apocalypse could be more than just something that happened twice a season on Supernatural (2005-2020).
The pandemic definitely altered the way I view films in the apocalyptic genre.
I’m not entirely sure I still agree with the list I originally gave. Although I enjoy Zombieland (2009), I don’t think it’s really altered my cinematic landscape the way I once did. Same goes for This is the End (2013). They’re good films, but my take on apocalyptic movies would be the same without them. At least now. World War Z (2013) also doesn’t feel like an addition to the apocalyptic genre to me, but more of a flick to consider where adaptations are concerned.
World War Z, the book, is a compilation of various tales of people entering a zombie apocalypse. It’s set up as a kind of case study. None of the characters in the film are ever even seen in the book. I think the flick shows an interesting way to adapt that kind of novel. Instead of telling a story already told by author Max Brooks, the creators opted to add another to the anthology. From an adaptation stance, I think that’s brilliant. From an apocalypse perception, however, it’s basic zombies.
Cargo (2017) is the only film I originally listed that would still be a part of my apocalypse landscape today.
So, what apocalyptic films DO alter the way I view the genre?
I’ll start with the one that that means more to me now than it did before the pandemic: 28 Days Later (2002).

Watching that film in the aftermath of COVID gave me chills. Seeing London as empty as Times Square in 2020 was much more harrowing than it had been before. There’s a certain hollowness, a hopelessness, that grips me when watching that scene now. It’s the embodiment of what an apocalypse feels like, and it puts me on my heels as I watch the rest of the events unfold.
The zombie aspects are better than in most undead movies (fast, easier infection, etc.), but it’s that overall feel in the beginning that reflects something I’ve now actually felt. It allows me to relate on a deeper level and creates a more frightening experience.
There’s something to be said for pulling from real situations for a horror film. It makes the impossible seem more realistic and terrifying.

Then there’s Train to Busan (2016). Although it came out before 2018, I only saw it after my original articles were put out. It instantly became one of my favorite zombie movies. It also opened me up more to Korean cinema, which is where I prefer to find my horror these days. The story of a not-so-great dad taking care of his daughter and redeeming himself as the world turns to rot is one that tugs at the heart strings and absolutely destroys me by the conclusion.
Without Train to Busan I’d have seen maybe half the apocalyptic films I have by now. Most of them I watched because this one Korean zombie flick opened my eyes to them. Without it, my taste for the sub-genre would be much more basic.
The last addition to my personal cinematic landscape for the apocalypse sub-genre is A Quiet Place (2018).

I had to choose between three options for this spot because they all felt like a possible entry for the same basic reason. The other options were Bird Box (2018) and Blood Quantum (2019).
In all three films there’s an entire group of people that are unaffected by the subject of the apocalypse. In Blood Quantum, indigenous people have a quality to their blood that keeps them from being infected with the virus. While in A Quiet Place and Bird Box it’s a disability that protects people from invaders.
I decided to choose A Quiet Place for this article because it’s the one that does it best. I almost put it in the minimal dialogue category, but there’s actually quite a bit of talking that happens. The majority of that conversation just happens to be in sign language.
The idea of an entire group of people being protected from an apocalypse was relatively new to me with these films and, as it turns out, it’s an idea I really love. That idea that something can protect a person that’s completely out of their control – whether it’s heritage or a physical issue – is something that I feel gives a lot more depth to a story. I see it done more now, and I do tend to gravitate toward those plots when I see them. If A Quiet Place wasn’t as amazing as it was, it might not be something I looked at all that hard in the future.