Get “Spirited Away” with a Japanimation sensation

John Wenzel

In an era when films targeted for adolescents include primarily stereotypical comedies or cookie-cutter romances, a refreshing story comes in the form of a Japanese animation film. “Spirited Away (Sen To Chihiro No Kamikakushi)” has been heralded as the most popular film of all time in Japan and took home the 2002 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

While at first glance this film appears to be a simple children’s story, its skillful mastery of classical animation and powerful underlying messages make it anything but a Saturday morning cartoon.

When ten-year-old Chihiro and her parents are en route to their new home in the countryside, a stop at a mysteriously abandoned town along the way separates Chihiro from her parents. She later learns that they are in an alternate universe, and her parents have been turned into pigs by a magical spell.

Trapped in a world of mythical creatures, gods, and strange characters, Chihiro is forced to take hold of her own destiny in a quest to save not only her own future, but those of her spellbound parents as well.

If she is ever to escape with her family from this strange world, Chihiro will need to discover within herself virtues she has never used before. As a stranger in a strange land, a la “The Wizard of Oz” and “Alice in Wonderland,” Chihiro must draw on virtues of courage, self-sacrifice, and determination.

In the end, Chihiro must realize that she has the power to control the world around her and shape the future. The empowering message realized by Chihiro is an inspiration to all audiences.

Writer/director Hayao Miyazaki, the Japanimation genius who has been called “a god to the Disney animators,” presents his anime creation as a story which he hopes will demonstrate to children and adolescents the powers that exist within themselves.

Influences from classical Japanese graphics and Japanese mythology inspire the bizarre cast of characters that exist in this fairy tale world of eerie colors and ghostly landscapes. Miyazaki’s employment of hand-drawn cells and limited computer graphics highlight his classical Japanese roots and launch the viewer into a fantastic and mythical world truly deserving of the acclaim which this film has drawn.

This upcoming offering in Villanova’s current Cultural Film & Lecture Series, “Loss of Innocence/Growth of Awareness,” this film will be shown four times in the Connelly Center Cinema: Saturday, April 9 at 7 p.m., Sunday, April 10 at 3:30 and 7 p.m., and Monday, April 11 at 7 p.m. Admission is $3.50 for students with I.D. and $5 for all others.

The Monday showing only will feature Joe Ansolabehere, veteran Hollywood writer and producer, as the guest speaker.

Ansolabehere, collaborator on such children’s programming as Disney’s “Recess,” “Rugrats,” “Hey Arnold!,” and “Duckman” will introduce the film and lead a discussion of the film afterward.