A gorgeously animated, deeply imaginative tale of greed and growth, told so effortlessly through a child’s sense of wonder and straightfaced acceptance of eccentricity and abstraction.
The film’s sullen, arguably spoiled protagonist breaks out of the utterly greed-based, money-driven societies all around her, the “real world” of her parents and the dream logic world of the spirit bathhouse the film spends most of its time in. Perhaps its partially because of her age and her being spoiled – not having to worry about money when it’s all provided for you automatically via your family does tend to enable one to place more value on other things – but her complete dismissal of money’s apparent value has a transformative effect upon some of those around her. Similarly, the striking No-Face character bottoms out the whole system of money by undercutting the scarcity that determines its value.
The complete dissolution of respect in the modern culture the film situates itself in – a theme park left to rot and stain the natural world it was built in after an economic downturn (what a fitting, story-defining setting), a meal stolen with no mind to its rightful recipient, rivers defiled, gold taken, names thieved in the ultimate dehumanising act of promoting profit and homogenisation, it makes for the perfect setting for No-Face to cut through to the core, exposing the greed and absorption beneath such a society, and its interesting how genuine his reformation is played after he is purified.
The moment where the protagonist’s parents are turned into pigs, after gorging themselves on food they effectively stole, is legitimately chilling, a complete severance of the protagonist’s place in the world, sense of belonging and safety, love and trust…how powerful it is for her to demonstrate those qualities to others even when she lost the root of them for herself, and how fitting her renewed confidence in the ending of the film for having done so.
With such a great score and wondrous animation, a fascinating and imaginative story (not with as much pointed depth or content as “Princess Mononoke” or Isao Takahata’s films but still, notable), “Spirited Away” is a truly fantastic experience. Four soot sprites and a bath token.