great Japanese anime director Hayao Miyazaki has made his masterpiece.
Spirited Away, which was even more popular in Japan than
Titanic, is the most deeply and mysteriously satisfying animated
feature to come along in ages. At a time when animated movies, at
least of the computer-generated Shrek and Toy Story
variety, have never been funnier or friskier, Miyazaki offers up
the traditional pleasures of hand-drawn animation combined with
the emotional undertow of a resounding myth or Grimm's fairy tale.
It's about a 10-year-old girl, Chihiro, who enters into a supernatural
world with her parents and then must go it alone in order to rescue
them in a dreamscape peopled by deities and spirits ranging from
conniving crones to -- yes -- a giant white radish. The fantasy
logic at times rivals Lewis Carroll's in his Alice books (a clear
influence on Miyazaki). The emotional logic resembles Carroll, too
-- like Alice, this young girl can really think on her feet.
Miyazaki gives you almost too much to look at, yet it is never
enough. The delicate wash of imagery in a sequence like the one
in which a spectral train moves along tracks submerged in water
gives way to colors as eye-poppingly sharp as M&Ms. Unlike even
the best American animators -- or just plain filmmakers, for that
matter -- Miyazaki doesn't gloss over the terrors of childhood,
which here yield their own disquieting beauty. He respects the deep
silences of his story, as well as its cacophonies. (The soundtrack
is every bit as inventive as the visuals.) Very young children are
apt to be frightened by this film, but older ones will recognize
in Miyazaki, as with all great fabulists, a kindred spirit. (2 hrs.
2 mins.; PG) PETER RAINER
Opens September 20
& tickets (movietickets.com)