Where "Princess Mononoke" took place in the ancient past, "Spirited Away" is a modern story about a 10-year-old girl named Chihiro, who is in the process of moving to a new home with her parents. On the way, they get diverted into a deserted village beyond the road. Almost immediately, her parents disappear and Chihiro finds herself suddenly alone, with the deserted town becoming quickly inhabited by a wide variety of spirits. Desperate to find her folks, she has to remain in the town to find them. The only way she can, though, is by sacrificing her name, which would mean losing her very identity. A young boy named Haku tells Chihiro that to survive she must find work. She secures employment in a bathhouse run by a giant matriarch who caters to every kind of lost ghost, tired god, and grumpy monster. "Spirited Away" is about how, through surpassing a life of menial servitude, Chihiro gains the inner strength to find herself, and her parents.
The film unfolds like an enchanted hybrid of Alice in Wonderland and Oliver Twist. Miyazaki tells a childhood story about how we're redeemed by recognizing the consequences of our actions. He does this by providing a visual backdrop that is both foreboding and breathtaking. Even though the illustrations are richly textured, the bathhouse comes out of a nightmare from the Industrial Revolution. Miyazaki explores a number of environmental and political themes, but they aren't hammered into the viewer. Like most great fairytales, the moral of "Miyazaki's Spirited Away" is gently woven into the fabric of the film. Voiced by Daveigh Chase, Suzanne Pleshette, David Ogden Stiers and Susan Egan. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Written by Hayao Miyazaki, Cindy Davis Hewitt and Donald Hewitt. Produced by Toshio Suzuki and Donald W. Ernst. A Buena Vista release. Animated fantasy. Rated PG for some scary moments. Running time: 125 min