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'Spirited Away'

Amazing anime

Friday, November 01, 2002

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

"Spirited Away" describes not just what happens to the little girl in the movie of the same name but also the effect of this wondrous animated film upon the audience.

'Spirited Away'

Rating: PG for some scary moments.

Director: Hayao Miyazaki.

WEB SITE: bventertainment.go.com/


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It transports you into another world, an endlessly imaginative realm of frights and fancies of the type that populate the best children's quests, from "Alice in Wonderland" to "The Wizard of Oz."

But Jack would be a dull grown-up indeed to dismiss "Spirited Away" as child's play. It's no accident that the movie has surpassed "Titanic" to become the highest-grossing movie ever in its native Japan, or that it has earned virtually unanimous raves from critics here.

So why has it taken six weeks from its New York opening to get to Pittsburgh, where it is playing only at Loews and the Manor? Disney, the domestic distributor, has done a wonderful job of translating the film into English and a miserable job of releasing it to theaters. Instead of sneaking the film into town, Disney should be shouting it from the rooftops.

"Spirited Away" centers on Chihiro (voice of Daveigh Chase), a 10-year-old girl who is unwillingly moving to a new town with her parents. But they take a wrong turn as they near their hilltop house and find a long, dark tunnel. On the other side, they find what looks like an abandoned town. Father (Michael Chiklis) thinks it might be a theme park, especially when he finds a food stand piled high with delectable dishes.

Instead, they have stumbled into a spirit world. A witch, Yubaba (Suzanne Pleshette) casts a spell on them, and Chihiro must find a way to remain in the spirit world and rescue them. She gets help from a boy named Haku (Jason Marsden), who may not be what he seems.

Most of the action takes place in a huge bathhouse, which filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki utilizes as the canvas for his animated wizardry and his prodigious ingenuity. He still relies on hand drawings instead of the computer, and many of them look as rich as paintings.

And what a parade of creatures! Yubaba is a fearsome old crone with a huge beak. Sure enough, she transforms into a bird, one of many shape-shifting creatures in the movie. Her yes-men are green disembodied heads rolling and bouncing comically on the floor. She has a gigantic baby in a cushion-filled playroom.

There are spirits of various shapes, sizes and dispositions, including one with what looks like a mask on his face that befriends Chihiro but wreaks havoc on others and, most memorably, a stink monster that comes in for the bath to end all baths.

As Chihiro follows her quest, the movie captures us in a kind of reverie. And yet it neither takes itself too seriously nor too frivolously. Miyazaki, whose past films include "My Neighbor Totoro" and "Princess Mononoke," seems to have a direct line to our inner child and, like any good child, wanders all along it to check out whatever delights might lie along the way.

Yet while the movie runs long for an animated film -- just over two hours -- you hardly notice. That's how thoroughly Miyazaki spirits you away into his own amazing world.

Ron Weiskind can be reached at rweiskind@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.

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