Chihiro and her parents are moving to a small Japanese town in the countryside, much to Chihiro's dismay. On the way to their new home, Chihiro's father makes a wrong turn and drives down a lonely one-lane road which dead-ends in front of a tunnel. Her parents decide to stop the car and explore the area. They go through the tunnel and find an abandoned amusement park on the other side, with its own little town. When her parents see a restaurant with great-smelling food but no staff, they decide to eat and pay later. However, Chihiro refuses to eat and decides to explore the theme park a bit more. She meets a boy named Haku who tells her that Chihiro and her parents are in danger, and they must leave immediately She runs to the restaurant and finds that her parents have turned into pigs. In addition, the theme park turns out to be a town inhabited by demons, spirits, and evil gods. At the center of the town is a bathhouse where these creatures go to relax. The owner of the bathhouse is the evil witch Yubaba, who is intent on keeping all trespassers as captive workers, including Chihiro. Chihiro must rely on Haku to save her parents in hopes of returning to their world.I was pretty hardcore and watched the film in Japanese with subtitles. The fact that I only did that because I couldn't find an English version is not important.
The film does live up to the hype around it. It is different than animation films in the western world in which it is more important to have an action packed feature than it is to have a good story. Spirited Away was started a bit slow, but it doesn't matter because it was drawn so well that just the magic of the animation was enough to catch your attention. The whole film exudes this kind of magic, and it seems like only the Japanese have mastered this skill. I am someone who loves dark Fairy Tales, so for me this was the perfect film.
It has a really good story. I often feel like animation films don't have strong plots because that seems to be less important than good techniques used, but this is not the case with this film. It is not a standard: "and they lived happily ever after" tale. Some moments in the film are actually rather scary, considering the film is aimed at children. I admire the fact that the main character is a kick-ass girl. In many films, girls are being put in the damsel in distress box, but that was not the case in this film. It reminds me a bit of Coraline.
Unfortunately the maker of the film (and many other animation films which I now want to see) is retiring. It is a shame because there are only few people left who hand-draw films, simply because it's not interesting to do so anymore commercially speaking. Apart from that it is of course a lot of work to create a film like this.