September 25, 2002

Here’s a nice little blog from a website designer. Nicely written, nicely designed, and rants are kept neatly trimmed.

In case you’ve all (ha!) been wondering where I’ve been over the past few days, I came down with bronchitis on Friday and have been lying in bed since. Until today, that is.

The only respite came when I discovered that Hayao Miyazaki‘s Spirited Away was showing at a local theater over the weekend, so I forced myself out of bed and drove down to see it.

[Spirited Away images]

It was wonderful. The story felt very much like a classic children’s book, and I mean that in the best sense — a story of a child who goes on an adventure, and learns something about herself. And yet so often that’s done in a way that’s treacly or obvious. “And the moral of the story is….” No, not here.

One thing I greatly appreciate about Miyazaki is that he never either overstates or understates things. He simply presents them in a way that he thinks is most appropriate, and the plain truth of it is riveting.

A great example of this is in his earlier film My Neighbor Totoro, which I’ll use here instead of revealing scenes from Spirited Away. Totoro features two young girls, one about eleven years old and the other about four. Their mother is in the hospital for some relatively moderate illness (we’re never told why, as the story is told from the girls’ perspective, and when you’re four, how much do you know of illness?).

Late in the film, after being told that their Mommy would be coming home soon, they hear that she’s come down with a slight cold and so won’t be able to come home just yet. The four-year-old throws a bit of a temper tantrum, tears streaming down her cheeks, and finally just starts bawling.

Later, though, the older girl is talking with her nanny about this, and suddenly grows pensive. She says, “It was just like this last time. ‘Just a little cold,’ they said. ‘She’ll be home soon.'” The girl whips her head to look straight into her nanny’s eyes and says, “What’ll we do if Mommy dies?”

And the girl starts to cry. But she doesn’t cover her face; her mouth opens wide, and she wails, and she just lets the tears flow down her cheeks. It’s a striking moment, because it’s so true. Neither overplayed nor underplayed. This is how life is, and this is how children react to it. We realize how much pain she feels, and Miyazaki doesn’t try to hide it or make it more palatable.

That’s impressive. And that’s what Spirited Away is like — Chihiro is afraid, often, and Miyazaki doesn’t try to hide it. That’s simply what’s happening, so he shows it.

And yet he “shows what’s happening” in such a beautiful way that I’m mesmerized by every scene. There’s so much vibrancy to it all. It’s incredible.

(Miyazaki also refrains from recycling any of his earlier character designs in Spirited Away, a fault that is quite noticeable in some of his other works.)

So. To sum up:

I’ve been sick.
Spirited Away rocks.
And Mike Toole can bite me.

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