Spirited Away

Year: 2001
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Writer: Hayao Miyazaki

Spirited Away is incredible for two reasons. Yes, the animation is amazing and inventive, but as Studio Ghibli's always done, it's a very different world from what we're used to tinged with Disney's family-friendly glow.

In fact, watching something that doesn't come from the stable of an average American animation studio makes you realise how much such a narrow storytelling focus has sway over the whole animation field.

You'll still marvel at many of the images and ideas straight that seems to be the stuff of dreams – the train that runs through the water, the dragon/snake creature the hero becomes, the sludge-oozing beast that comes to the bath house and the spiderlike boiler room operator just some of them.

When a little girl, Chihiro, and her parents take a wrong turn while making their way to their new house, they come across what appears an abandoned theme park. Wandering amongst the hoardings and stalls, her parents come across a splendourous feast, and despite her protestations, sit down to eat, unaware of how dark it's getting.

Chihiro soon realises she's entered some sort of parallel world – her parents have literally turned into pigs and strange lights appear, making their way toward a large building across a bridge.

A young boy appears to help her navigate the strange new land, taking her under his wing and leading her to the enormous temple, which turns out to be a bathhouse run by a crotchety old woman.

It's one of the best examples of what Studio Ghibli does best. It portrays a world just beyond ours where the imagery and the ideas are equally startling, dreamed up by someone who hasn't grown up on Aladdin and The Lion King. It's definitely not for tiny kids and will challenge you intellectually as much as it delights you visually, and remains a must see.

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