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Spirited Away
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki, Cindy Davis Hewitt (English version), Donald H. Hewitt (English version)
Starring: Daveigh Chase, Jason Marsden, Suzanne Pleshette, Michael Chiklis, Lauren Holly
Language: English (Japanese version with English subtitles also available)
Look for it at the video store under: animation
Watch it when youíre in the mood for something: artsy-fartsy, fantastical 
The critic says: / 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: /5 

Plot synopsis A young girl named Chihiro is moving with her parents to a new home in the suburbs when her father spies what looks like a shortcut through the forest. With a sharp turn of the steering wheel, Chihiroís father guides the family off the paved city roads, and down a narrow, winding, rocky path through the woods. The dirt path leads them to a mysterious, seemingly ancient abandoned building. Chihiroís parents canít help but let their curiosity get the better of them; they get out of the car and begin to poke around, despite Chihiroís protests that the place seems creepy. Her parents tease her for being a scaredy-cat, insisting that the building ó which turns out to be made not of old stone, but new plaster ó is probably just a part of a never-completed theme park. Faced with the choice of remaining alone in the car or tagging along with her inquisitive parents, Chihiro reluctantly follows her parents into the building, and down a long dark corridor that does little to allay her fears. The corridor opens up into a train station; though itís empty, they can hear the train chugging along not far away. When Chihiro and her parents follow the sound and exit a nearby door, they find a beautiful little abandoned village awaiting them outside. Chihiroís parents soon discover a tiny food stall ó empty of people, but offering a counter full of gloriously aromatic and apparently free food, which both eagerly dig into, ignoring Chihiroís warnings that it all looks a bit suspect. Frustrated, Chihiro leaves her parents to gorge themselves and roams around. But as the sun begins to lower in the sky, strange things begin to happen. When Chihiro runs back to the food stall, she finds her parents have turned to pigs. A young boy soon warns her to run across the bridge before night falls, but unfortunately, the advice comes too late ó which is how Chihiro comes to find herself in an odd new world, working as a servant in a bathhouse for spirits run by the witch Yubaba, who offers Chihiro the job in exchange for her name. And if Chihiro canít figure out a way to rescue her pig parents soon, sheíll lose her identity, and remain trapped in the spirit world forever.

Review The best kidsí stories, whether theyíre told in movies or in books, arenít merely kidsí stories at all ó you love them as much when you see them as an adult as you would as a child, and sometimes, even more so. They lure you into their marvelous fantasy worlds full of magic and monsters and talking animals; they pique your sense of adventure, make you believe in the unbelievable. Only later, when you think about it, do you realize how much they seem to say about the world we live in; a story about witches and spirits and other imaginary creatures becomes an allegory, a metaphor for the real world, a sneaky lesson about life. Spirited Away is a story thatís fun for the kiddies and a revelation for adults, simple and sophisticated all at the same time. Unlike Miyazakiís equally marvelous technology-against-nature rumination Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away makes few overt philosophical statements. Instead, itís a coming-of-age story disguised as a dreamlike fantasy adventure, a sort of Alice in Wonderland meets The Wizard of Oz done anime-style, in which a young, frightened girl finds herself in a strange new world, and gains inner strength and a sense of independence as she slowly makes her way back home. Itís a familiar story that feels completely fresh and new the whole time youíre watching Chihiroís journey unfold onscreen: the characters and places are so odd and unsettling and enigmatic you sometimes feel youíre walking through a strangerís dream (or occasionally nightmare Ė one of the coolest things about Spirited Away is that itís sometimes genuinely dark and moody; this isnít your usual American-style Disney jokey cartoon). Everyone gushes about Miyazakiís breathtakingly gorgeous animation Ė his painterly touch, the attention to detail Ė but to me, the thing that makes Spirited Away such an amazing experience is that the story and characters are so compelling, you donít think about how itís being told at all: youíre just enchanted. óreviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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