The wait is over folks. What’s that? No one has been waiting? Okay. Well the time has come then. The third part in my five part series counting down my favorite films has arrived. So far I have listed two fairly popular movies made by well-known American directors now it is time to get a little more obscure and a lot more foreign. This addition I would consider to be my “hipster” film that shows people how much more unique (impossible) and cool (improper) and better-than-you I am. If you only see one Oscar award winning…Japanese anime film…from 2002…directed by Hayao Miyazaki this year, make sure it is this…
3. Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi [Spirited Away] (Miyazaki, 2002)
…because otherwise you definitely have the wrong movie, I mean seriously that was extremely specific, it really can’t be anything else. For the most part, people tend to get pretty skeptical when I mention that one of my all time favorite films is a Japanese anime. Here is a sample conversation of the events:
Person1: “O you watch a lot of movies, me too – what are some of your favorites?”
DonnyBagg: “Well I am a big fan of the Japanese anime director Hayao Miyazaki, his film Spirited Away is one my all time favorites, it is about a 10 year old girl whose parents get turned into pigs and she…”
Person1: *rolls eyes and walks away*
This sort of result is natural because for the average viewer anything besides mainstream American cinema is an acquired taste. It is a hard bias to overcome and I have to admit it took me quite some time to be able to enjoy anything not made in the United States within the past 20 years. I believe Spirited Away is a great primer for people trying to get into Asian cinema. It is entertaining, visually stunning, and for the illiterate they have a dubbed version that is equally enjoyable (if you are watching the dubbed version of any other foreign film then you are doing it wrong). Not only do I not recommend it, but it would also be very challenging for a person to jump right into a Kurosawa film such as Rashomon (1950) or Ikiru (1952) and take anything away from the experience besides a jar full of tears of boredom. These cinematic prejudices are important to get over considering foreign films (and films in general) have so much to offer. I do not want to over emphasize the importance of movies but it seems as though many people tend to under emphasize their importance. Their main focus is more often than not entertainment, but they are also able to inform viewers about a certain topic, provide insight into other lives and cultures, preserve history, present things from a unique perspective, and much more. Many great films can achieve all of these functions simultaneously. It would be my hope that more films could focus on providing more than just 90 minutes of mindless entertainment. Instead of product placement they could insert information placement, where in spite of your best efforts they still manage to teach you something (even for me, that seems a bit Orwellian). I personally attribute a great deal of my cursory knowledge and opinions of obscure and numerous topics to the massive amount of films I have watched from around the globe. Perhaps this bias is only my perception and experience, and people choose not to watch these films because they are boring. I am certainly not claiming to know everything (or anything) on this topic, simply presenting my opinion.
Speaking of opinions, I hate Pixar. They are consistently considered the top echelon in animated film making. Not only do they receive the highest accolades in their field, they gross disgusting amounts of money. Now I cannot say that I have hated any of their films individually, but compared to Miyazakis work they look like childish garbage (is it still irony if I understand the humor of a grown man, while in the process of debating the merits of children’s cartoons, accuses one of being too childish? was it even irony in the first place?). I cannot even really fault them for making loads of money, appealing to both adults and children is a rare combination. Damnit, I just realized this is the same thing that happened with Unstoppable (T. Scott, 2010). I hate them more for the soul reason that people love them so much. There has to be a word for this phenomenon. They are okay movies but for fucks sake an average of 97% on RT for 10 films (this does not include Cars (Lasseter, 2006) because not only is it the only Pixar film I haven’t watched, it is a clear statistical outlier). Do you know who can average a score that high? God damn nobody, that’s who, it is impossible. Miyazaki has an average of 93%, which is probably too high as well, but picture for picture his films have more to offer. Maybe there is an argument to be made that if a person enjoyed the films made by Pixar then they will love the films made by Miyazaki and vice versa, but I really don’t believe that would be the case. Maybe the two are mutually exclusive; if you enjoyed the films made by Pixar then you don’t have what it takes to appreciate the films made by Miyazaki, and if you enjoyed the films made by Miyazaki then you can’t be properly impressed with the films made by Pixar. Maybe I have sucked you into reading 900 words that have nothing to do with how great a movie Spirited Away is, I don’t know.
Speaking of having nothing to do with how great a movie Spirited Away is, Hayao Miyazaki may very well be my favorite director but he also happens to be a pretty interesting person to boot. Often referred to as the Walt Disney of Japan (I can only assume because of his hatred for the Jews), Miyazaki creates stories that are rarely told in American cinema. A large number of his films center around strong young female leads, as opposed to having women play more of a supporting role. Villains usually turn out to be justifiably sympathetic and morally ambiguous if not all together nonexistent. He tends to shy away from classical good versus evil stories yet still manages to provide conflict and resolution. Miyazaki is very critical of capitalism and a strong supporter of the environment and these views frequently present themselves in his movies. His characters continuously try to find pacifistic ways of solving their problems and he went as far as personally refusing to attend the Academy Awards in 2003, the year Spirited Away won, because of the United States war in Iraq. He is a brilliant animator and storyteller, and all around intriguing and respectable person. For none of the reasons I mentioned in this article I give it:
7.5 out of 5 bathhouse tokens
Although I doubt anyone is still reading this, I would just like to clarify my earlier hipster remark. I didn’t add this movie to my list to be unique and cool (that is why I write on this blog though), I considered this to be one of my favorite movies long before the term hipster was repopularized. I do however enjoy that this movie adds a bit of spice (that spice being wasabi, I believe) to my top five because the other four are all centered on white guys from the ages of 20-35. Unless I am forgetting something that about wraps things up. Did I talk about why Spirited Away is so enjoyable? Good.