Spirited Away celebrates this Tuesday, July 20, the twentieth anniversary of its original release in theaters in Japan. It’s not just any anniversary: ​​the film directed by Hayao Miyazaki It substantially changed the Japanese anime and animation industry worldwide.

Why? What’s wrong with it Spirited Away that they didn’t have other equally important films? Here several factors come together, but I could summarize it in three: critical and public success around the world, the transfer of a profound universal message and perfect exposition, and an unquestionable artistic and symbolic beauty.

When success goes beyond the numbers

Spirited Away it literally swept the Japanese box office, making it the highest grossing film in Japan in 2001; not only of animation, not only of the cinema made in his country, but of all time. A milestone that was no stranger to director Hayao Miyazaki, as four years earlier he had achieved the same feat with Princess mononoke (1997). An honor that Chihiro would keep for almost two decades.

But this was not a throwaway commercial success. The film dazzled both the public and the specialized critics, and this materialized in numerous international awards that culminated in the prestigious Berlinale Golden Bear and the media Oscar for Best Animated Film. Everything indicated that Spirited Away it had something special.

However, at the time, it seemed that Western audiences were not yet ready to appreciate Japanese animation, heavily weighed down by the general idea that it was a minor art: a mix of cheap animation, gratuitous violence, and crude sexual overtones. Miyazaki’s film was the complete opposite of those prejudices that derived, especially, from the biggest television successes of anime for years.

Spirited Away He came to change everything and, in hindsight, it can be said that he succeeded to a great extent. Hayao Miyazaki had spent years betting on an animation rich in all aspects: both in a careful animation and in deep messages, usually well-intentioned but not lacking in depth, far from the Manichaeism of many animated products. In addition, he had the ability to build various reading levels, which allowed him to attract children and adults. And not for the easy joke, but for treating in a subtle way, often through metaphor, issues always present in the Tokyo author’s speech: the conservation of nature versus the expansionist ambition of humanity, the value of work and perseverance to achieve a goal, friendship as the beginning of everything, the absurdity of violence and war to resolve conflicts, or the union of the people in the face of abuses of power, among others.

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A universal message

Hayao Miyazaki’s eighth feature film touched viewers’ hearts and souls in two very clear ways: one is formal, visual; another is the universality of its messages. We are all Chihiro. And that is not a slogan, it is true. The plot core of the film is based on an idea from which all the others branch: Chihiro’s personal maturation; that is, the transition that all people make towards adulthood. Although, in a broader reading, it could be said that it is the transition towards change, any inner change of a person before the circumstances that surround him.

Chihiro is a ten-year-old girl like any other middle-class girl in Japan at the beginning of the new millennium: spoiled, capricious, selfish, overprotected. Her parents are the ones who raised her like that, and it’s how Miyazaki wants us to see it, just like this portrait does in the first minutes of the story. But the day they move to a new home, they get lost during the drive and end up in a seemingly uninhabited theme park, a ghost town dominated by an imposing bathhouse (something deeply ingrained in culture in Japan, perhaps strange to the eye). Westerners). Her parents are turned into pigs and the girl realizes that she has to fend for herself for the first time in her life.

After the initial confusion, she manages to find her own voice and brings out all the good that today’s society had numbed from within. Although in the forms we see a fantastic world inhabited by witches, gods and strange beings, what we really see if we look beyond it is how Chihiro faces a ruthless, corrupt and manipulative world. A critical portrait of our own world, very sharp and sharp. But neither does it neglect how it can be fought: through effort and good work, a good heart and friendship, helping others and the courage to overcome difficulties. Yes, all that counts Spirited Away. It is not little, is it?

Based on good and bad experiences, Chihiro learns to survive in a hostile world, and that will be her salvation. She may do it in a fantastic and imaginary world, but it is clear that this world, often horrible, is a reflection of ours. We can only survive it by learning, not bringing more evil or going with the flow of the masses without judgment, but giving our best, bringing something good that will be returned to us in many rewarding ways. That is the true background of Spirited Away. That’s the real reason this movie broke all stereotypes.

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The beauty of everything

The film produced at Studio Ghibli accompanies its important message with a perfect narration and an excellent traditional animation, cared for to the extreme, where everything flows and everything seems to have a life of its own, whether in the foreground or in the background of a scene. Visually, Spirited Away does not go unnoticed. In 2001 he made an impact, but twenty years later he continues to attract attention like the first day for his technical and aesthetic mastery, something that not all films can say. Do you remember the first Toy Story, from Pixar, in 1995? Its then novel 3D CGI animation has no point of comparison with the current one, to give a clear example.

There are so many images to remember that you could wallpaper an entire museum with their illustrations. On the move, and with the essential música de Joe Hisaishi flooding each sequence, it immerses you fully in its world, sometimes as crazy as human, whether it is a bathhouse full of rooms of all kinds with gods in the most bizarre possible forms or a train that travels over the sea to a destination uncertain one way. Everything acquires a beauty and a meaning that few audiovisual works achieve. The symbiosis that is achieved between what is seen on the screen and the viewer is hardly comparable. That is one of his most deserving achievements. The perfect balance of all its parts is, in reality, what makes this film unique and differential.

Spirited Away marked a before and after not only in the history of Japanese animation, but also broke the barrier that separated animation from the rest of cinema. Miyazaki’s film is considered in almost all circles as one of the best films in the history of cinema. And that is impressive when compared to the enormous amount of animated cinema that is released and passes without pain or glory in front of our eyes.

Two decades have passed and the film remains current in all its aspects, which shows the greatness of its meaning and the broad overview of its director. His denunciation of a dictatorial system such as the one that rules the witch Yubaba with an iron hand in the bathhouse, the greed represented by the character of Sin Cara and how money corrupts the essential values ​​of society, or the courage to go to Against the current despite what everyone else does and says, these are just some of the multiple readings that are extracted from this unique story, and that with each viewing does nothing but let us discover more and more details and meanings of the mythical film.

Of course, the film offers hopeful alternatives to all these evils, but … is there hope in the real world? Spirited Away makes us think about it. His story reverberates in our thoughts long after seeing it. And it is that at some point we have all had to be Chihiro, that girl who brings out the best of herself to overcome fear and get ahead in the face of difficulties.

Spirited Away Is available in Netflix.

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If you want to know more in-depth details about this classic of world cinema, we recommend the book Spirited Away: Nothing that happens is ever forgottenby Álvaro López Martin. Available in Amazon.

Álvaro López Marin Author of the blog “GHBLI Generation” and books about anime such as ‘My Neighbor Miyazaki’, ‘Spirited Away’, ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’, ‘The Universe of Makoto Shinkai’ and ‘The 100 Best Anime Movies’. Passionate about writing, communication and cinema.

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