- Choisi par nos rédacteurs parmi Le meilleur de l'année 2003.
What makes the movie so special is not just the beauty and gidy strangeness of the images, but because it is at core a grand and well-told story. People who hate animation find themselves captivated after only a few minutes, probably because the story starts on such specific, realistic terms and only gradually branches into fantasy. By the time we're neck-deep in it, so to speak, there's no turning back.
"Spirited Away" gives us Chihiro (Rumi Hiiragi in Japanese, and an excellent Daveigh Chase in English), a sullen and dispirited ten-year-old traveling with her parents to their new home in the suburbs. Chihiro has not wanted to move, and resents her mother and father for being forced to leave her old life behind -- much as any ten-year-old would -- and her parents are blithely indifferent to her annoyance. She'll get over it, they seem to be thinking.
Their car takes a wrong turn and winds up being stopped near what looks like a theme park. "They built a lot of these in the Nineties, before the economy went bad," her father says, "so you tend to find them just sort of standing around, falling apart." That doesn't make the place any less creepy, and Chihiro's preternatural unease only increases when her parents find a buffet table heaped with fresh food and begin digging in, despite no one else being in sight. Before she realizes what's going on, her parents have changed into pigs (Miyazaki's earlier Porco Rosso was also about a man changed into a pig), and she's running through the park scared out of her mind.
Somehow Chihiro has crossed over into a parallel world of sorts, one where the park is very much alive, and catering vigorously as a kind of vacation resort to the "Eight Million Gods." In a scene worthy of Kurosawa, Chihiro watches open-mouthed as a giant paddle-wheel steamboat docks and disgorges an apparently endless procession of spirits, all lining up for a fancy meal and soak in the hot springs. She also befriends (somewhat by accident) a young boy, Haku, who works in the resort and gives Chihiro tips on how to be employed there by the owners. There is also something strangely familiar about him, which becomes of paramount importance in the movie's closing scenes, but the less said about that the better.
The movie has the feel of a dream, and that is, I suspect, something that threw people off -- they were expecting something more conventionally Disneyfied, and not something that had strong roots in surreal / fantastic art. That to me makes it all the more valuable: this isn't something that was thrown together to sell some action figures, but is a communication from one soul to many. And at the end, when the dream is over, we realize what we've seen has been in its own way as adventurous and thought-provoking as anything by David Lynch.
PIXAR CEO John Lasseter personally took the reins to bring this film to American audiences, and did it with love and care. The English dub is never distracting, although if you like the movie it's worth watching again in Japanese to see how little (or how much) was actually changed. Very little has been arbitrarily rewritten, and the voice actors all give a great deal of gusto with their performances.
Disney's presentation has been lavish -- two discs, with the movie isolated on one disc and sporting both English and Japanese audio. Some seamless-branching work has been done to the titles, which may glitch on some players (it was OK on my PC, but twitched slightly on my standalone Sony DVD player), but the whole package is quite effective. The 2nd disc also features a storyboard-to-film comparison that students of the production will find endlessly enthralling.