Upon my third viewing of Hayao Miyazaki's "Spirited Away," I was captivated by a unique blend of generosity and love that permeates the film. Scroll down to watch
Previously, my attention had been consumed by the boundless imagination within the story. However, this time, I found myself focusing on the intricate details that usually go unnoticed. While animation often simplifies visual elements, Miyazaki's work stands in contrast. His backgrounds are teeming with meticulous details, expanding the canvas generously. Although we might not consciously notice the corners of the frame, they contribute to the overall precision of his fantastical worlds.
This film, undoubtedly one of the finest in the realm of animation, owes its excellence to the traditional art of frame-by-frame drawing. While Miyazaki has embraced some computer-assisted techniques, he remains committed to hand-drawing thousands of frames personally. "We take handmade cell animation and digitize it in order to enrich the visual look," he explained in 2002, "but everything starts with the human hand drawing."
Consider a scene in "Spirited Away" where the young heroine stands on a bridge outside the magical bathhouse central to the story. The essential characters and main action provide what's necessary, but Miyazaki goes the extra mile by populating the windows and balconies of the bathhouse with recognizable figures, all in realistic, dynamic motion. It's this dedication to the seemingly insignificant parts of the frame that exemplifies the film's generosity and love. The extensive view of the bathhouse could have been simplified, but Miyazaki's commitment to intricacy creates a genuine sense of place, enriching the narrative.
The narrative itself is a testament to Miyazaki's boundless creativity. Few films feature such an array of unique beings, each a product of his limitless imagination. Take, for instance, the scene where the heroine and her companion encounter a hopping light pole in the forest—an entirely unnecessary yet delightful addition that showcases Miyazaki's artistic generosity.
At the story's core is a 10-year-old girl named Chihiro, far from the typical cheerful automatons seen in many animated films. Described as "sullen," Chihiro is impatient and impetuous, characteristics that become evident when her parents inadvertently transform into pigs, a stark departure from the parents typically portrayed in American animation.
As Chihiro navigates the world of the gigantic floating bathhouse, its complexity and richness stand out. This realm is brimming with a diversity of characters and settings, each carefully crafted to contribute to the immersive experience. Notably, Miyazaki's films aren't made for "everybody" but are, instead, aimed at captivating those who appreciate intricate storytelling in detailed worlds.
This approach, focusing on the unique and specific, rather than catering to a broad audience, is what sets Miyazaki's work apart. His films are a celebration of "ma," the intentional emptiness or breathing space in Japanese art. This concept allows for moments that don't serve to advance the plot but rather create a sense of time, place, and character. Miyazaki's dedication to "ma" contributes to the depth of his films, making them more engaging than the relentless action found in many American animations.
Miyazaki's perspective challenges the fear of silence in filmmaking. He believes that by staying true to joy, astonishment, and empathy, violence and excessive action can be bypassed. It's a principle he and his friends have followed since the 1970s—quieting things down, avoiding the bombardment of noise and distraction, and focusing on the path of children's emotions and feelings in their storytelling.
In an age where animation seeps into live-action superhero movies, Miyazaki finds amusement in the ever-expanding definition of animation. His work, he notes, occupies a humble corner of this vast landscape, and that's more than enough for him.
In summary, "Spirited Away" is a masterpiece that transcends the boundaries of animation, owing its power to Miyazaki's commitment to intricate storytelling, attention to detail, and a profound understanding of the importance of "ma" in filmmaking. His films are a testament to the beauty of the specific, offering viewers a rich, immersive experience that defies convention and resonates deeply with those who appreciate storytelling at its finest.