Spirited Away is a film so imaginative, thought provoking, and visually stunning, that it has a universal appeal that not only transcends language and cultural barriers, but also age and gender grouping. That the film is animated makes it all the more impressive, since rarely does an animation appeal to adults equally, or perhaps, more than it does to its target audience: children. Director Miyazaki achieves this by creating a character so pure and full of life, and a world so nostalgic and fantastical, that one cannot help but connect to this film in one way or another.
It is every writer and filmmaker’s dream to create a character like Chihiro. As Miyazaki says in interview, Chihiro is a character that represents the joys of youthful adolescence. She is not on a journey of maturity and growing up. Not yet. That will come much later. But what Miyazaki successfully portrays is a snapshot of her wonderful youth and naivety. In a fantasy world, she needs not to grow up, but to explore her youth. Watch as she triumphs over the many obstacles including bathing the slime monster. How much more exciting is it for children to experience with Chihiro how much you can conquer as a child. Not only does this instill nostalgia in adults, but it also offers a different kind of character that one cannot help but root for. It is her purity and general cuteness of the “shojo” that is so universally appealing.
Miyazaki’s incredible animation and attention to the smallest of details also creates a world of true wonders. It is with no surprise as to why such a world is an easy escape for kids. But, for adults as well, how easy is it to simply admire the detail and imagination of Miyazaki’s world. No setting or background ever looks the same. If one to watch the film multiple times, there would be levels of detail newly recognized every time.
This hand drawn animation also creates nostalgia in two ways. One, the actual act of hand drawing is a technique almost never practiced today. This is a pure form of animation that truly enables the artist to control every detail. It may remind adults of how animation once was, and how it can even be further perfected. Secondly, the world itself is highly nostalgic as Miyazaki intended. The Eastern setting and buildings, and the steam powered machinery is reminiscent of old Japan, and it will instill a sense of nostalgia particularly those who lived in Japan at that time or are familiar with that culture.
There are just so many ways Spirited Away achieves a deep connection towards any audience.