Dreaded Purple Master

Spirited Away (2002)

We have something of a family conflict over this movie, the newest animated feature from Haiao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke, Kiki’s Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro). The rest of the family – the rest of ARTC and everyone else I know who’s seen it, for that matter – regard it as a spectacularly good film, perhaps the best animated feature ever.

I agree that is extremely well done, the animation is flawless, the visuals are breathtaking, the storytelling masterful. (I can’t speak to the English translation, since I saw it on an imported DVD, not in an American theater.)

The story, however, does not appeal to me. The little girl is riding with her parents, who are driving to a new house they are moving into. Dad takes a wrong turn and finds himself at a dead end approach to something that looks like an abandoned theme park. There, they find what they take to be a restaurant preparing food, where Mom and Dad sit down and begin eating – and promptly turn into giant pigs. The little girl runs off in horror, only to be confronted by more residents of this strange place, a “bathhouse of the gods” where humans are not allowed. There is no explanation for why she encounters so much hostility; no explanation for why the creatures who start out so hostile become her friends; no explanation of what she must do to rescue her parents; no explanation for why nobody explains anything to her. After securing for herself a job (if you insist you want one, the Big Bad Witch has to give you one, another rule nobody explains until after the fact), she finally breaks down and cries – much later than I would have.

I am content to be the odd man out here: I don’t like fairy tales, generally. This one seems to have everything that Oreta hates about Alice in Wonderland, but for some unaccountable reason she likes it here. It appears to me that events happen not for any logical and predictable reason, but because the script says so, because it will make our heroine more miserable for events to happen that way. Oreta tells me no, no, there are rules in this universe, and the story has to play out according to those rules. If you’d read more fairy tales as a child you would know the rules.

Well, OK. Fine. You watch it. I’ll watch Porco Rosso.

: Sunday, January 26, 2003