Hayao Miyazaki is known in film circles as the Walt Disney of Japan. His best film, in my opinion, “Spirited Away” has been noted as one of the best films of the decade. Spirited Away won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film, and it was the first film in history to make more than $200 million at the box office before opening in North America.
In this animated film,10-year-old Chihiro and her parents stumble upon a seemingly abandoned amusement park. After her mother and father are turned into giant pigs, Chihiro meets the mysterious Haku, who explains that the park is a resort for supernatural beings who need a break from their time spent in the earthly realm, and that she must work there to free herself and her parents.
Miyazaki’s stated aim for the film was to place ordinary people back into a world of surprise: « It’s not a story in which the characters grow up, but a story in which they draw on something already inside them, brought out by the particular circumstances« . Reality effects in Miyazaki’s films are found principally in the meticulous animation and the detailed settings and is portrayed by narratives, including the portrayal of real-world problems and issues.
Firstly, the depiction of environmental problems suttley appears in “Spirited Away”. In Spirited Away, a god visits the bath house where the main character Chihiro, who has been spirited away to the spirit world, is working. This god is filthy and it is decided that he is a “stink god”; however, Chihiro notices something stuck in his side and pulls on it with the help of the other workers. A mountain of trash ranging from pipes, barrels, and an I-beam, to a bicycle, a toilet, and a dresser flows out from the god. The being is actually a river god, horribly polluted in the real world.
Materiality and consumption are also dealt with in “Spirited Away”. Everyone in the bathhouse where Chihiro finds work is portrayed as being obsessed with money and material goods. Yubaba, the master of the bathhouse, is a prime example; 41 she places all value on material objects, such as jewels, gold, and other luxuries. So much does this fixation on materiality dominate her that she fails to realize when something truly precious -her baby- disappears.
Finally, the process of maturing is also a key theme. Chihiro, having had her parents turned into pigs, is alone in the spirit world. She is told that the only way she can survive in this world is to seek a job, work hard, and never utter a single complaint, otherwise she will be turned into a piece of coal or a pig; in this world, she alone can help herself.
Thus, although Miyazaki’s « Spirited Away” is undoubtedly magical, these films too contain elements of realism. The visuals of Miyazaki’s works especially bring about reality effects, even through impressively smooth animation and settings of scrupulous detail.
Simply put, it is the magical realism that brings this film and its messages to life. Being able to relate to fantasy excites crowds and arouses curiosity. One forgets that this they are watching a surreal film and dives into the minute detail of the magic, unhidden by everyday reality. Without these elements of magic realism, the producers would not have conveyed their messages or emotions. This film would simply have not worked without these elements nor would it have been such a success.