What You Need To Know:
Despite the high quality animation and storytelling, and the excellent voice performances, SPIRITED AWAY contains a strong pagan, occult worldview with strong pagan cultural roots. These elements overwhelm the moral aspects of this mythic fairytale. Therefore, MOVIEGUIDE® cannot recommend this movie to people. In fact, Bible-believing Christians and Jews may find SPIRITED AWAY particularly creepy and uncomfortable to watch. The movie also contains some scary moments, as well as some brief body and toilet humor
(PaPaPa, OOO, B, C, L, V, N, M) Very strong pagan worldview includes lots of Japanese spiritism, occultism and fantastic monsters that can change shape with some moral, redemptive, sacrificial elements involving heroine and her parents and friends; several light obscenities and some body humor and toilet humor; scary moments and cartoon violence, such as people changed into animals against their will, dark spirit swallows people and creatures, and Japanese dragon attacked by flying paper knives; no sex; nipple of smelly “radish spirit” shown; no alcohol; no smoking; and, miscellaneous immorality such as gluttony rebuked and oppression rebuked.
The first time I ran into a feature-length Japanese animation movie was the first time I ran into celebrated animator Hayao Miyazaki’s work. It was an evening showing of Miyazaki’s classic animated movie, LUPIN III: THE CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO, a sort of Japanese James Bond fantasy with lots of exciting, colorful images. CAGLIOSTRO was like a fantastic comic book come to life.
Well, in the years since making that ground-breaking movie, Miyazaki has gravitated toward making more traditional Japanese fairy tales, often based on the animistic, superstitious, pagan, and occult worldview that permeates much of Japan, according to a recent article by the Los Angeles Times. Miyazaki’s new movie, SPIRITED AWAY, takes full advantage of that context. In fact, the movie last year became the biggest box office success ever in Japan. Consequently, the folks at Disney and Pixar have produced an English language version of Miyazaki’s movie.
SPIRITED AWAY is a fairy tale for 10-year-old girls. In the story, Chihiro, an apathetic, cranky 10-year-old girl, is upset and scared about moving to a new neighborhood with a new school. On the way to their new house, her father takes the wrong turn and winds up at what looks to be an abandoned shrine and amusement park, hidden behind a mysterious tunnel guarded by a solemn stone idol.
Her parents decide to explore the abandoned park, despite Chihiro’s scared pleas. He parents happen upon a scrumptious hot feast, but no one is there to take their money. They decide to pig put on the food and pay later, but Chihiro thinks something’s fishy and decides to go exploring instead. She comes back to find her parents being transformed into very fat pigs!
Chihiro searches for help and finds a friend in Haku, a mysterious boy with magical powers. Chihiro finds out she has entered a Spirit World ruled by a mean-spirited old witch, Yubaba, with a giant baby boy. Yubaba runs a huge bathhouse, or spa, for spirits, gods and other fantastic creatures. Chihiro must learn to pass a series of tests and overcome many obstacles in order to save her parents. Along the way, she learns how to overcome her fears.
Miyazaki’s recent movies have been huge critical successes and big financial successes in Japan. His movies are praised and enjoyed for two reasons: the fantastic, wonderful, colorful animation; and, their mythic, imaginative structure that appeals to people looking for transcendent values in their lives.
SPIRITED AWAY contains plenty of bizarre, vivid and whimsical images attached to an inventive, captivating story. The English-speaking cast does a fine job of making these characters come alive, especially Daveigh Chase, Jason Marsden and Suzanne Pleshette as Chihiro, Haku and Yubaba. Many of the images in the movie are creepy, however, especially when the movie dwells on the spirits, demigods and demon-like creatures in the Spirit World.
In the story, the heroine encounters a sacred, mythical world that challenges her to turn away from her fear, apathy, laziness, and grouchiness. In exchange for these values, she becomes diligent, hard-working, courageous, loyal, and compassionate. Thus, there is a moral aspect to the heroine’s story in SPIRITED AWAY.
Regrettably, however, this story takes place in a demonic, pagan world of spirits, witches and gods. Also, in regard to the witchcraft in the movie, Chihiro finds out that one of the witches she encounters is actually a very good witch who’s trying to curb the evil of the bad witch. This good witch turns out to be a little bit like a fairy godmother, which dilutes the occult nature of this part of the story, but the occult nature remains strong.
Consequently, MOVIEGUIDE® cannot really recommend this movie. Bible-believing Christians and Jews will find SPIRITED AWAY particularly creepy. If you’ve really got to see something by Miyazaki, try CAGLIOSTRO instead. It’s out on video. Older teenagers and adults who are fans of animation may also want to see something like METROPOLIS or COWBOY BEPOP: THE MOVIE, which comes out early next year. They are more appropriate examples of what the top Japanese animators are doing these days. Disney fans might want to stick with something like this summer’s LILO & STITCH, which may still be in some theaters, or last year’s MONSTERS, INC., which should be out on DVD and video by now.
In a proper fantasy, the heroine might encounter messengers or representatives, allegorical or otherwise, from God or Jesus Christ, or even God Himself and/or one or more members of the Holy Trinity. The heroine certainly should not learn things from encountering pagan, animistic spirits, unless she’s there to completely defeat them and/or worship or honor the One True God of the Bible. This is the difference between good fantasy and bad fantasy.