Much like how I wouldn’t feel that comfortable reviewing a Bollywood film, I am not that comfortable reviewing Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. I try to avoid reviewing movies that have been adapted to English, simply because I may not understand the cinematic standards of that culture or genre. With that said, Spirited Away is one where it has received so much praise even here in America that it astonishes me.
The problem of Spirited Away is that it does not respect what should be universal movie requirements—having a coherent plot, making a world that has reasonably defined rules, constructing a journey that has purpose beyond the entertainment level. Spirited Away violates all three.
The plot is not coherent. Why do some characters, like Haku and Lin, look human? Why is Yubaba’s baby so big? Who is the father of this baby? Why do spirits need to “replenish” in Yubaba’s bath house? Why do some spirits, like Haku, not need to replenish in this bath house? Why do the workers of the bath house look so much different than the guests they receive? Why do the workers hate humans so much? Why does Yubaba insist humans “always make a mess of things?” Is it because we like food? Do spirits only come out at night? How come Haku seems to be an exception to these spirit characteristics? Why does Yubaba’s twin have a spell on an important object that can be broken by true love? Why does Yubaba’s baby follow Chihiro after he’s turned into a rat? Why does Haku want to help out Chihiro?
The world Miyazaki creates has no sensible set of rules. Why do Chihiro’s parents turn into pigs? What crime did they commit? They clearly had the full intention of paying for the food. If gold is the only currency of this world, then I guess the only crime they committed was that they didn’t know the spirits wouldn’t accept cash/credit cards. If the other pigs are indeed human, then why wouldn’t there be more rusty cars parked outside the tunnel? Are Chihiro’s parents the first humans to arrive at the ghost town by car? Why does Yubaba have a ridiculous policy to hire anybody who asks? Why can’t Yubaba harm any human that works at the bath house? Seems like a convenient way for a human to avoid being turned into a pig here…
Yes, this journey entertains. I actually love the simplistic soundtrack and Miyazaki’s reputation as a god of animation is upheld by this movie. But probably the biggest problem of all is that I don’t understand why I’m watching this. Is it trying to define love? Is it trying to tell us that everything, like a river, has a spirit? Is this an attack on consumption-based society? Is this about friendship? Is this about family? Is this movie for kids? I think in the end, it’s a little about all of these things, but my favorite movies usually focuses on one single idea and revolves the entire movie around it. Spirited Away simply has its hands full trying to greedily strike gold.