Asking someone to choose a favourite Studio Ghibli film is like asking someone what their favourite song is. It is an ultimately pointless question, as much like music, Ghibli’s filmography feels subjective to mood and emotion.
However, as with all this, there does appear to be one that tops them all. Searching into Google, “best animated film”, you will be faced with countless lists ranging from the wonderful to the weird. Yet, almost consistently, one stands alone that has both, one that given its relatively modern release (nearly 20 years ago), feels timeless and ever-present. One that despite the shameful lack of wide releases for world cinema in the UK, most have heard of it – and even seen it (and love it). That one is Spirited Away.
Released back in 2001, it brought Studio Ghibli into the 21st Century with the same immense joy and imagination the studio had built since the release of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind back in 1984. Hayao Miyazaki returned to write and direct, continuing to bring his unique adventures alive in the way, not only he can, but animation in general. Miyazaki truly captures the medium and plays with it. If you can think of it, you can draw it, and Miyazaki demonstrates that best here.
Inspired by the daughter of his friend, producer Seiji Okuda, who came to visit his home each summer, this is the tale of Chihiro, a girl whose family has just moved away from the city and everything she knows. While she journey’s towards her new home with her parents, they stop to find somewhere to eat, but what she stumbles upon is a world of curiosity, strange characters and magical creatures.
To say any more would be to spoil the adventure, but how could you even describe the visual storytelling in word? With each scene, the world grows and grows, becomes stranger and stranger and all you want is to see what manner of beasts and spirits will be next. It could easily come across as absurd, but like through the eyes of Chihiro, we view it all with child-like acceptance.
Something this film could never lack, is charm. You could watch the film 100 times and still pick up on little details and small moments of genuine surprise. It is often said that the truly great films that stand the test of time, are ones that no matter how many times you watch them, you never tire of them. Spirited Away is one of those exceptional films that no matter how many times you watch it, it just gets better.
Choosing a favourite Ghibli movie is hard, and to be honest redundant, but if you choose this, you could never be called wrong.