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Review of Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi

Written around June 2003

The main reason that animation can be so much more than just “plot” is the director’s ability to control every aspect of his vision, frame by frame. Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away is the current reigning champion of hand drawn beauty transcribed into film, and being the writer, director and concept artist gave him complete power over his work of art. The official English title is Spirited Away, but the original is Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi. The title literally means The Spiriting Away of Sen and Chihiro, but the differences between the English and Japanese versions do not stop there. The Disneyfied version tries to spell out a lot more for the audience than the Japanese version, as Western movie goers are less enthusiastic about thinking about their entertainment. Unfortunately, Disney might find that their spell-checker is broken. The multiple meanings, clever puns and some of the more symbolic Japanese Kanji (Chinese writing system) will be lost on the English dubbed viewer. However, far worse translations have been done, and in all fairness to Disney, this must have been a monumental task.

The first thing that one has to discuss in analyzing an animated feature is the quality of the art work. Spirited Away uses color, light and even CGI to add to the experience of a superbly drawn movie. The animation is smooth, crisp, vibrantly colored, and the CGI effects are jaw-droppingly beautiful. The use of color in this film is so important not just because it makes everything look alive, but the bright vivid colors control the mood of every scene – just think of the warm glow and the accompanying feelings associated with the boiler room.

The incredibly fantastic nature of Miyazaki’s masterpiece is a product of his incandescent creativity. It is filled with dozens of gods, spirits, demons, witches and a few things that defied explanation. From the Radish spirit, to Kamaji the six armed boiler operator, to the three disembodied bouncing heads, to Haku the dragon river-god, all of Spirited Away’s characters are unique and memorable. With limbs impossibly stretching, dragons dropping out of the sky, characters transforming into animals, gods bathing, frogs talking and soot-balls turning into insect-like workers ready to feed the boilers, this film visually drags you in to every scene and completely captivates your eyes and imagination.

Our heroine Chihiro is the most unappealing girl among female protagonists created by Miyazaki (except perhaps Mei in Totoro). But Chihiro is intentionally set up this way. Miyazaki created her to represent the way that he views modern children growing up in the world, spoiled and overly protected. This is the story about a girl who stepped into another real world where both good and evil exist. She will go through many experiences, learn how important friendship and dedication are, and return to the human world with her wisdom. The result is a moving and magical journey, told with consummate skill by one of the masters of contemporary animation.

Spirited Away is intensely symbolic. Every scene is stuffed full with Japanese Kanji, many of which have multiple meanings, even in the context in which they are presented. For example, the train that runs through the spirit world has the characters for Middle Path written on the front, alluding to the Buddhist of the four noble truths. Chihiro literary means “one thousand fathoms” (under the sea) and Sen, her new name mean “one thousand.” These games that Miyazaki plays with his audience are slightly lost on mainstream Western audiences, but can account to the unparalleled success that his movies have in Japan.

There are too many themes in the movie to list, but the major motifs are inner strength and the dichotomy between nature and the industrial world. Chihiro, starting out as a spoiled, clumsy and frightened ten year old, emerges from her experience as a strong, confident, clever and loving young hero. Her transformation is largely due to the fact that she has been taken out of her modern existence and transplanted into a spiritual world, filled with traditional views, responsibilities, stories and even traditional Japanese characters.

The seconded major theme in the film is the battle between nature and the modern world. This is a major theme running throughout all of Miyazaki’s works, especially pervasive in Princess Mononoke. Spirited Away shows how team work is essential in cleaning up nature, when the river-god is mistaken for a stink demon, and Chihiro frees him by removing all the pollution from inside the unhappy spirit. But more than the obvious metaphors, Miyazaki draws us into the natural world with his stunning visuals and panoramas of the natural world around his characters.

Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli have created a modern masterpiece of animation in Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, which has gone on to be the first so-called “anime” movie to reach such critical acclaim, being awarded the Golden Bear award at the Berlin International Film Festival for best picture and the 2002 Academy award for best Animated Feature. Spirited Away has opened the door for many distributors to begin offering Japanese animated films to mainstream theaters, which are a staple overseas, much to the delight of the huge anime fan base in the US. Already, movies like Cowboy Bebop and Princess Mononoke are scheduled for release in major theaters. Unfortunately, Spirited Away will be Miyazaki’s final feature, as he announced his retirement shortly after the release. But what a finale!


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Why do the talent always get the girls?

It seems that no matter how inappropriate the action, the actor runs away with the makeup girl. (Filmed for’s Forbidden Zone intro remake.)

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Kyoto Wars Returns

Found a old blast from the past, a birthday present I made for Casey.


Don’t pay too much attention to the Lush medley… rather, observe the amazing design features of the site.

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New Scale for Anything

We came up with a new scale for how good or bad anything is. English has words like “fantastic”, “great”, “poor”, “awful” etc. Now these are all fine and good, but there is still not enough of a set subtly that would be widely understood. So this is our new scale. Number one is perfect and number 10 is as bad as something could possibly be.

  1. Seven Samurai (simply perfect)
  2. Pulp Fiction (game changing, brilliant)
  3. The Last Crusade (really good, entertaining, feel-good)
  4. Rocky (Good, will see anytime I’m sick)
  5. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (pretty fair, like it, not really good, but you can’t not like it)
  6. Office Space (you want to like it, but you can’t, a lot of people say it’s good, but you know it’s really not)
  7. Anaconda (good-bad, but you still like it because it’s bad)
  8. The Transporter (Simply terrible. There is no way you would watch this again sober)
  9. Plan 9 from Outer Space (So bad that it’s almost good again, but you know that it’s not)
  10. Manos hands of fate (Nothing could be worse without involving testicles and razor blades)

Now this may look like it would be difficult to work into conversation, but it really works quite well after you’ve gotten it down. You can actually FEEL the difference between the films. For example:

“How’re you feeling man?”

“Well I just ate a burrito from that Transporter looking place down the road, and it was totally much more Rocky than the Office Space I was expecting – taste wise that is… because now my stomach is feeling a little Anaconda-ish”

“Dude… you should of had some of my Pulp Fiction Publix sub!”

Easy right?

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Cult Moives and the Best, Worst Movies Ever!

Well, not that I don’t have enough to do at the moment but Steve, Casey and myself have started a little something called What it is at the moment is a review site for cult films, b-movies, old, terrible horror and science fiction films and nice long lists of things like the “worst movies ever” and “worst video game movies.” But wait! There’s more! We are going to be streaming a bunch of these cult movies as well. Yes my friends, we have gotten hold of a mass of old, weird horror, sci-fi and fantacy films from the 50,60s and even the 70’s and are going to be streaming them on the site the second they’re all reviewed – and it’s FREE!. Anyway, the ultimate goal is to build it up a little more on the content side, and then begin charging a nominal fee for the content that we will have to licence – but that’ll probably take some time. So, if you’re interested in writing a review on some of these terrible gems, you can download them of, or just give me a call.

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