June 26, 2002

Spirited Away (2001)

I watched this cartoon a few weeks ago and thoroughly enjoyed it even though I usually don't like this sort of thing.

I find Japanese animation can often be really "out there" and this is no exception. Their monsters are usually anatomically impossible and there seems to be some unspoken mythology underpinning it all that makes you think that you are missing out on a big chunk of knowledge. The truth is that they just make it up as they go along so kudos to them for the imagination.

The plot is as follows: On the way to moving to a new home, Chihiro and her parents take a wrong turn down a mysterious wooded path which leads to a tunnel. On the other side of the tunnel they find a mysteriously deserted town filled with restaurants that have all kinds of tempting food on display. Chihiro's parents sit down and start gorging themselves and announcing that they will pay the restaurant owner when he returns.

Chihiro, who seems disgusted with them and their gluttony, wanders off until she comes across a large building. A young boy, named Haku, appears. He warns her to leave before nightfall then disappears again. Oooh, spooky! What could be about to happen?

At sunset, the town fills up with lots of gods from Japanese mythology (as far as I can tell!). Chihiro returns to the restaurant to find that her parents have turned into pigs... aha, so there was no such thing as a free lunch!

The young boy, Haku, who works in the large building (which turns out to be a bathhouse for 8 million gods) helps Chihiro find work in this new world, find a way to save her parents from ending up on someone else's dinner plates, and find her way home.

Weird, eh? Well wait till you see all the creatures and "gods" in it. It has some great characterisation and doesn't make you feel like you are watching a kid's film at all.

In many ways this is reminiscent of the works of Homer, especially the Odyssey. It's a nostos (homecoming) tale. The myth of Kore who ate the pomegranate seeds in Hades also springs to mind. It is a good mix of all sorts of mythology and even reminds me of a few episodes of the 1970s Monkey series in places.

Watch it, you'll like it!

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