This might be one of the best movies your kids will ever watch: A Case for Spirited Away

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I have a couple of stacks of DVDs I keep because the movies they contain are so precious to me that getting rid of them would leave a movie reel shaped hole in my heart. One of those movies is Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. A quick way to describe the movie is to say it is akin to a Japanese version of The Wizard of Oz. However, that also does it an injustice as it is so far and away its own movie, and one that that defies comparison.

So what is Spirited Away?

The story revolves around Chihiro a little girl who is moving from the town she has grown up in to a new town and she is none too excited about it. She misses her friends and has zero interest in relocating. Her upper middle class parents are the types who seem to think everything they need can be bought. As they movie begins they are driving to their new house but decide to take a detour to explore an abandoned theme park, that, as her father notes, (I’m para phrasing) “Went under when the economy tanked.” As they wander the park they begin to smell cooking food and go to explore. Soon enough they find a stand from the amusement park up, running, and seemingly, with no one manning it. They decide to start eating this mystery food and as they do something takes over and they can’t seem to stop. Chihiro, worried about her parent’s behavior, and the fact that they don’t seems to care about paying, wanders away, not wanting to get in trouble and smacks right into a boy a little older than her, a boy named Haku who seems overly worried about her presence there. It turns out that night is on its way, and with night the whole area turns into a land for the Spirits. When she finally gets back to her parents they have turned into giant pigs, eating and eating until the stools they are sitting on break. This movie is full of slightly scary stuff, nothing super bad, but this, in my opinion is the scariest thing in the movie.
After this, the movie opens up into a wondrous adventure that finds Chihiro living in the spirit world and working in a bath house for these spirits. What we find as we go on this adventure with her is a world where a Radish Spirit might need a good soak, a River Spirit might be polluted and need to be cleaned, talking frogs, and an eight legged boiler man who keeps the whole place hot. Running the organization is a witch named Yubaba who takes Chihiro’s name and replaes it with a new name, Sen. The longer she works there and has this new name the more she will forget about her life outside of the spirit world.

Where does it all lead and why should my kid watch Spirited Away?

There are so many details to what happens and how her journey changes her that to try to relay them all would be pages and pages of a synopsis you do not need.  As I am writing this is it after my son’s second viewing of the movie. The first time I was a little worried that it would be too scary and too long(It’s a little over 2 hours). Once I started it though, he didn’t move. He sat planted for just over two hours totally engrossed and said hardly a word. He was never scared, and now, a few months later wanted nothing more than to watch it again. It is the kind of story, like Wizard of Oz, that has some timelessness to it that allows you, no matter your age, feel like it is taking you along for the ride. A ride that is both unfamiliar and like an old friend.
Two notes about the movie, one about content. First, this story has some wonderful commentary on the environment without beating you over the head. It does this by using the mythology built into Japanese culture that is based around spirits. Here spirits are not to be confused with ghosts. These are the Japanese version of spirits not American; entities that provide a variety of services to the world and indeed help it function. They are not intended as a device used to scare. Second, as far as I can tell you can’t stream this movie, and you can’t buy it to own digitally, in fact, none of the Studio Ghibli (Miyazaki’s movies) are available to stream. Disney owns the right to American distribution and they are notoriously tight fisted with their properties and what they do with them. We can only hope that they decide to let the world have access to this amazing library soon. In the meantime you can buy it on Amazon or from Disney or I’d be happy to loan you my copy of this movie if you still have a DVD player. I don’t say lightly that Hayao Miyazaki is a creative genius and that much of his work would be worthy for your kids, not all of it, some is more geared toward teenagers or even adults, but much of it is all about the spirit of a child.

Grown-ups:5 Stars (5 / 5)
Kids:5 Stars (5 / 5)
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