Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Films of the 00s: Spirited Away

A shame about Ponyo, which is often (surprise!) a kick to look at but is so lacking in narrative cohesion or persuasive emotion, and is so dully voiced by the dubbed cast of Anglo celebrities and, in two instances, their squealy younger siblings. Miyazaki really misses on this one, I think, even if my expectations were inevitably raised by the preceding weekend's return to Spirited Away. I have only seen Miyazaki's last three films, but isn't there a pretty general consensus that this is his masterpiece? It's not without its tiny flaws, but it's such a sumptuous work of imagination. Where you can see the demographic that he's trying to please with Ponyo, there's no way he made Spirited Away for anyone but himself, with all the weirdness and ambiguity that implies. From my new review:

"Chihiro's tasks are trickily superimposed: finding her parents and changing them back into humans, finding their way home, learning a new job, making sense of her companions and fairweather friends, assuaging the fiery Yubaba, working through a proto-attraction to the mysterious and changeable Haku. Because Miyazaki entitles each of these figures and plotlines to their own healthy measure of non-transparency, young Chihiro has an exaggerated but nonetheless a fully persuasive experience of adolescent confusion on multiple fronts. She herself is more rounded than the petulant but slightly blank and compulsory Ofelia of Pan's Labyrinth, and I appreciate that Miyazaki insists for so long and in such detail on the ornate workings of the bathhouse—has a center of relaxation ever demanded so much dizzying organization and helter-skelter commotion?—that it has a freestanding and magisterial integrity beyond its contingent role as a test of Chihiro's mettle. You have a sense that she has truly entered a perplexing, maddening, and magical world, rather than a hunch that an inventive filmmaker has devised some fancy tableaux for her to fumble through on her way to certain triumph. (keep reading...)

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5 Comments:

Anonymous Guy Lodge said...

Can't disagree with anything you've written here, and wouldn't want to either. There is nothing about "Spirited Away" I don't adore ... it's going to one of those films I force relentlessly upon any kids I may have in the future. Hopefully they won't resent the film for it!

Disappointed to hear about "Ponyo," though. If you've only seen his last three features, I suppose you can't say if it's a return to the sweetly sleepy, conflict-free narrative of "My Neighbour Totoro?" That'd be fine by me.

6:02 AM, August 27, 2009  
Blogger Glenn said...

I'm always so happy when anybody (film obsessive or not) expresses love for this movie. There are so many things in this movie that I feel will turn people off and yet, as you explained, they are the very things that endear.

I was supposed to see Ponyo tomorrow but life has gotten in the way. However, my local cinema is playing the original Japanese language track alongside the dubbed version so I intend to see the original subtitled version. I wonder if that makes a difference.

7:57 AM, August 28, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Guy: I have heard Totoro comparisons, but you're right that I'm not in a position to judge them (or even to retain the gist).

@Glenn: I would absolutely go with the Japanese voice-track, which I wish were even an option in the U.S. The vocal performances in the English-language dub are often distractingly bad, and it's not easy for me to say that about Tina Fey or Liam Neeson, et al.

9:36 AM, August 28, 2009  
Blogger Brooke Cloudbuster said...

Having seen the Japanese voice track, and not the English one, I can say that the Japanese one is superb.

I do have a niggling desire to hear Cate Blanchett's voice, which I think would be perfect as The Sea Mother.

4:05 AM, August 29, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Brooke: If the original language track were an option in the U.S. theatrical release, I'd definitely have gone for that. Blanchett comes out all right, but I wonder how many more earth-spirit-sprites she's going to play, and though it's interesting to hear someone go for an "accent," she winds up sounding a bit incongruously effortful, since everyone else, for better or worse, is so casual.

9:43 PM, August 29, 2009  

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