Spirited Away is considered one of the greatest animated films of all time. Initially released in Japan in 2001, it received widespread critical acclaim and held the title of highest-grossing film in Japan for 19 years. In 2003, following the English-Language adaptation, Spirited Away won the Oscar for Best Animated Film at the Academy Awards and was a co-recipient of the Golden Bear at the 2002 Berlin International Film Festival. In 2016, the BBC named it the fourth best film of the 21st Century.
Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, Spirited Away tells the story of a ten-year-old girl named Chihiro who is whisked away to a fantasy land filled with magic and danger, and is forced to work at a mystical bathhouse for spirits. After her parents are captured by the witch, Yubaba, Chihiro must find a way to set them free so they can return home. It’s a moving story of identity and self-discovery, a film that broke down cultural barriers and inspired a generation of filmmakers.
20 years after its release, Spirited Away is as captivating as ever. In this Movie List from The Film Magazine, we’ll take a look back at some of the film’s most enduring, magical, and thought-provoking moments. These are the 10 Best Spirited Away Moments.
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10. Chihiro and Her Parents Go Through the Tunnel
“I’m not going. It gives me the creeps.”
After getting lost and barrelling down a bumpy road, Chihiro’s dad stops in front of a seemingly old building. He wants to check it out, to see what’s on the other side, but Chihiro is hesitant – scared. It’s our first clue that something else is going on here – that maybe things are not what they appear to be. But her parents ignore Chihiro’s pleas to leave. Though it’s easy to read Chihiro as whiny and loud, this moment shows just how perceptive she is, the way most children usually are. In Spirited Away, it’s the adults who are ignorant and blind.
Inside, the building resembles a train station. The attention to detail is incredible: light pouring in through stained glass windows, water dripping from a dusty fountain. It’s fitting that the story starts here, in this liminal space. It’s a physical manifestation of where Chihiro is in her journey: almost beginning – not quite there yet. She’s at the threshold both emotionally and literally.
9. Chihiro’s Parents Turn Into Pigs
After Chihiro wanders off on her own, she returns to the seemingly abandoned village to find it alive with spirits. Night has fallen and the lights glow brightly. Lively music plays. Chihiro, scared and anxious, wants to leave, but when she finds her parents, they’ve turned into pigs. It’s a shocking moment that propels the story forward, forcing Chihiro out on her own, in search of a way to save her parents and return home.
This beat is important to the plot and is also a great representation of the larger themes present in Spirited Away. Her parents’ transformation is not only the catalyst for Chihiro’s journey but a very pointed critique of gluttony and Western Consumerism. In Spirited Away, very real things like laziness, cruelty, and opulence are often expressed in exaggerated, grotesque ways.
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