The Hayao Miyazaki Collection: Spirited Away - Blu-ray Review

'It's easy to imagine Spirited Away will very soon be placed alongside the iconic works it brings to mind rather than considered as a pretender to them - that is, if it isn't already there'.

As Sam made reference to in his recent review of the standalone Blu-ray release of Spirited Away, Miyazaki does little to hide the shared DNA between his fantasy adventure and Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland. In fact, however, there are a wealth of influences here from numerous works centred around fantastical alternate worlds, with definite echoes of The Wizard Of Oz and the Chronicles Of Narnia throughout. Such is the quality of Miyazaki's film, however, that it's easy to imagine Spirited Away will very soon be placed alongside the iconic works it brings to mind rather than considered as a pretender to them - that is, if it isn't already there.

Following in the footsteps of Alice and Dorothy Gale before her, ten-year-old Chihiro (Rumi Hiiragi) proves an endearing central figure to follow on her journey through Miyazaki's spirit realm. One way of interpreting Spirited Away is as a metaphorical representation of Chihiro's liminal progression; as she experiences more and more of the supernatural world, its inhabitants and customs, we see our young protagonist gradually and subtly develop. Chihiro's growth, however, isn't that of a child becoming an adult - a considerable leap which would undoubtedly fail to ring true - but a much more delicate transition that shows the fading of childhood innocence and realisation that, whilst life can still have a colourful and exciting appearance, underneath there is often hard work and unavoidable responsibility to be taken on.

Miyazaki's primary setting - a fanciful bathhouse in which Chihiro must find employment in order to gain passage for both her parents and herself back to the human world - represents this wonderfully, whilst also being a joy to behold from a purely creative point of view. The creatures who work at and frequent the bathhouse demonstrate the director's unbridled imagination allowed to run utterly free, offering up one gloriously absurd creation after another.

This same creative freedom can also be seen in Miyazaki's construction of Spirited Away's narrative. Again feeling reminiscent of Alice's journey through Wonderland moving from one scenario to the next, the director at times allows Chihiro's primary aim to fade into the background as his film becomes preoccupied with the fanciful experiences and characters she encounters. Whilst this makes for a consistently entertaining and imaginative tale, occasionally Spirited Away feels as though it may have benefited from a slightly more focused and less meandering path to its final destination. The final act is ample proof of this, being as it is entirely occupied with narrative and character progression, as well as being arguably the strongest and most satisfying section of the film overall. What criticisms there can be of Miyazaki's most acclaimed work are trivial, however; it's very easy to see how Spirited Away became the first Studio Ghibli film to win both awards and hearts across the globe.

The Hayao Miyazaki Collection brings together all 11 of the director's feature films, from The Castle of Cagliostro to The Wind Rises, on Blu-ray for the first time. It is released in the UK on Monday 8th December 2014.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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