Spirited Away

On Friday I had the pleasure of seeing Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away at the cinema, its not my favourite Miyazaki (or Studio Ghibli) movie, that goes to Princess Mononoke, but its not often that many of us get to see these films on the big screen, especially somewhere like Bedford (there’s a showing of Princess Mononoke at the end of the month that I’m also hoping to attend).

It’s a film I’ve seen many, many times before. I bought it when it first came to the UK on DVD, and over the years its a film my partner and I have loved and shared with our children. This time round I happened to see it with the group of friends I’ve made through the book club I attend and it was awesome to see that there wasn’t an empty seat in the whole screening, (well, there was one, for a while, right next to me, then a weird guy came in half way through the film, asked me what it was called and what the time was, kept his coat on, then as the credits began to roll informed me that it was a “bit of a head fuck”).

Seeing it on the big screen was a real treat though, I’ve never had any trouble following it, but with the screen and sound system dominating your senses Miyazaki’s beautifully crafted, spiritual world is brought to life.

In this environment you really feel the pace of the film as it flies through some sections, throws gags at you and then takes some important moments to drop everything and just let you breath in this world, you really appreciate the craft thats gone into every single scene, especially during the quiet moments that are full of reflection that come at just the right moment to move onto the next act.

However, whilst most of Spirited Away is hand-drawn, there are moments of the film that have been created via computer. The most noticeable of these are when Chihiro is following Haku through the fields of flowers to get to the pig pens to see her parents. Now this might have been done on purpose, it could be to amplify the contrast in locations to the bathhouse where we’ve spent most of the film up to this point, it could be to help us appreciate the confusion and feeling of being rushed off her feet that Chihiro is no doubt going through, but the visual impact is very noticeable. Especially when blown up onto a cinema screen. Thats not to say it detracts from the film overall, its just very noticeable.

The music really has an impact here too. Maybe I’ve watched it too many times with the kids or other distractions, but I’d forgotten some moments of the music. There’s obviously the soaring moments such as when Chihiro is riding upon Haku’s back, but theres other moments such as on the bridge outside the bathhouse when we are first introduced to No-Face. There’s a few quiet notes playing, but then some really awkward sounding strings come in and the jankiness (for want of a better, maybe real, word) really sets the tone that even within this completely alien world where Chihiro is at odds with everything, theres are encounters that are stranger than others.

One last thing, I’ve been reading The Handmaids Tale for book club (more on that on Wednesday), and theres a bit of a cross over in themes between the two that I didn’t expect at all. There’s a strong conversation about the strength in ones name. In both of these stories the lead characters name is used to opress them and place them in servitude and both have their names replaced. Chihiro becomes Sen and its only through keeping the memory of her name alive, and also discovering/remembering Haku’s real name, that she is able to break out of Yubaba’s contract and leave the spirit world. In The Handmaids Tale, the protagonist also has her name taken from her, we’re never told what it is, it is forbidden for her to ever use it, but she remembers and its her name that helps her keep her memories of the world as it was before she begun telling the reader her story, but in both cases, they are given a new name, and in this case its also the narrators title Offred (Of Fred, Fred being her commander).

Both offer a commenatary on the power of words and how they can be used to control individuals and ultimately a group of people. There’s probably a lot more there to be discussed by somebody with far more intelligence than I have.

Again, I’m extremely happy that I had the opportunity to see this in a community setting, where people laughed at the funny moments and were swept along by Miyazaki’s story telling, all played out on a huge screen, and it’s thanks to the services of Our Screen that I was able to do so.

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