Rated "PG" for "Some Scary Moments"
How scary can you get?
A brief overview: this movie was a really big deal when I was young. The adults in my life knew about it before I did and were just as excited to watch it, because even in 2003 you would have to be living under a rock to never have heard of Hayao Miyazaki. Often compared to Walt Disney and Steven Spielberg, Miyazaki is known for his stellar storytelling prowess, his artistic and creative vision, his penchant towards female protagonists, and his ability to appeal to children without shunning adults. "Spirited Away" was the first anime film to win an Oscar, and argueably kick-started an anime rennaissance in the west that lasted a good decade.
It's not even a question: "Spirited Away" deserves all the praise it got. And I made a drinking game for it and it's PERFECT, possibly one of the best ones I've made. So get ready for a nice, hot soak; you're about to bathe in beauty and charm.
"Spirit-ed Away": The Rules
1. Drink for Title Drops. That's the full title, "Spirited Away".
2. Drink when they drink
3. Drink for daddy issues
4. Drink when they eat. Gluttony is a big theme in this movie
5. Drink when Chihiro cries, trips, or whines about something.
All the above rules apply. Also...
1. Drink when someone calls Chihiro by the name "Sen".
2. Drink for moments of magic.
All the above rules apply. Also...
1. Drink when Haku and Chihiro say each others names.
2. Drink when Chihiro is given a task. It could be a big task like "go save your dragon boyfriend's life" or a small task like "scrub the floor."
Krissy Pappau: Unlikable Heroine (Hard)
Baebra: Sassy Sidekick (Hard)
The Fuzzy Masked Man: "Handsy" Comic Relief (Medium)
Bride of Buggerlas: Business-Savvy Witch (Easy)
I Will Fight You
"I was so bored," The Fuzzy Masked Man recalled of his very first watch-through. "I wasn't used to this kind of pacing." This is the number-one complaint I've heard about "Spirited Away": that it's boring. This complaint makes sense on an intellectual level, even if my first emotional response is to laugh in people's faces. I mean how can you classify a movie with a living radish and sentient soot balls as "boring"?
With "Spirited Away", the story almost mimics a river's flow. There are moments of wild, rushing action and moments where the flow settles and lets you focus on the beautiful scenery (some of the most gorgeous background art can be found in this film). This comparison is apt considering Miyazaki's heavy use of natural imagery, particularly with water. A neverending river blocks Chihiro's path home after her parents have been transformed into pigs. An injured river spirit comes to Yubaba's bath house where Chihiro and the rest of the staff help remove a bicycle from its muddied, stinky body. And hell, spoilers, Chihiro's amnesiac boyfriend turns out to be a river spirit too - he can't find his way home because his river was paved over to make way for condominiums.
None of this stuff is plot related. Not much of it has to do with the larger story. But "Spirited Away" is more about the feelings it puts inside you than what made those feelings happen.
Some Scary Moments
So as a refresher to all of you, "Spirited Away" starts off with Chihiro and her parents wandering onto what they think is an abandoned theme park. They come across a line of food stalls and the parents help themselves, despite Chihiro's protests. They seperate, and once shit starts going down Chihiro returns only to find that they've been turned into pigs.
Giant pigs. And this isn't a "Brave" or a "Brother Bear" kind of thing, they can't talk, they're actually pigs. And the spirits of the bath house whip them and place them into a pig pen. Where they might get slaughtered later.
In both translations, our lead Chihiro is a spoiled brat who is afraid to step outside of her comfort zone. The film is a coming of age story wherin she finds strength inside herself and uses it to protect the people she cares about, but it's a gradual change for her, and in the early half of the film she's next to useless. In the English dub, there are some subtle changes made in how the other characters talk to her. As they give her instructions they make assurances, tell her that things will be okay, tell her to calm down. By extension, they're telling the young viewers to calm down, assuring THEM that everything will be okay.
In the Japanese version, the characters are much more blunt and to the point. They tell Chihiro to be still. They offer no explanations about what's happening. They give her orders and they instruct her to follow them. In short, they treat her like an adult, and because she has no choice Chihiro does what they tell her to do. Eventually she learns to act without being told, and watching the growth from when she's a little girl crying while double-fisting rice balls to a young woman who's willing to stand up for her friends is wonderful.
Not to say that the movie doesn't deal with romance at ALL.
So Chihiro meets a mysterious boy in the bath house named Haku, who spends a ton of his energy watching over Chihiro and making sure she stays safe while she figures out a way to get home. However, he's contractually bound to serve Yubaba, the witch who rules the bath house and uses her magic to force people to be loyal to her. Chihiro goes through incredible emotional turmoil over deciding whether or not she can trust Haku, and this subplot finally gets resolved when she breaks the curse holding him in thrall to Yubaba and helps him recover his identity. As the two of them rejoice over Haku's newfound freedom, Chihiro cries out (in English) "I knew you were good!"
While Chihiro and Haku are adorable and clearly have what their parents would call a "special friendship", it's not necessarily romantic in the Japanese version. In the dub, they making a point of labeling what they have "pure love", crediting the feelings between the two of them as the thing that breaks Haku's bond with Yubaba. These declarations are absent in the Japanese version, replaced by subtler tells that lump Haku in with the rest of the cast who gets won over by Chihiro in the end.
It's not that the English version made up the romance. It's clearly there. But Disney definitely prioritized the love story over the larger picture, which is the story of a girl who meets a bunch of magical creatures that change her life. The closest correlation in the Disney canon is probably "Alice in Wonderland", although as Bride of Buggerlas points out, Wonderland's denizens don't function without Alice around, and Yubaba's bath house will probably be in business for many centuries to come. When Chihiro gazes back at the abandoned structures at the end of the film, she's not just thinking about Haku. She's thinking about everyone she met, and about how different she is now.
...I'm ashamed to say that I missed that subtext for years. What can I say? I'm a sucker for a love story.
If you want to experiment with some other rules, here are some new ones you can try swapping out.
Drink whenever someone criticizes Chihiro
This happens mostly at the beginning of the film, so you can also drink when someone praises her.
Drink when an animal makes a noise
I'm mostly talking about non-sentient animals, but I guess if one of the frogs who works for Yubaba ribbits or something, that'll count.
Drink when someone shouts or yells
For Your Inebriation is written by Krissy Pappau (Hollis Beck). All "Spirited Away" images are owned by Walt Disney Entertainment and Studio Ghibli.
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