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Last Updated: Monday, 22 September, 2003, 12:51 GMT 13:51 UK
Spirited cartoon is enthralling

By Caroline Westbrook
BBC News Online entertainment

Japanese cartoon Spirited Away won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature this year, beating the higher profile Spirit: Stallion Of The Cimarron and Ice Age.

Now UK audiences have a chance to find out what all the fuss is about.

The film was brought to the big screen by Japanese master animator Hayao Miyazaki.

The Japanese love animation, and animated features have consistently taken most money among Japanese films at the box office for more than a decade.

Given that the film has been dubbed into English (courtesy of Disney, who released the film in the US) chances are it will reach an even wider audience - and deservedly so.

Spirited Away broke box office records in Japan

The story focuses on Chihiro, a headstrong 10-year-old girl who is moving house with her parents, and is far from happy about it.

Surreal imagery

However, when they stumble across a mysterious, seemingly deserted village en route, her folks fall under an evil magic spell and Chihiro finds herself in danger.

Her only hope to escape from the village and its population of weird, barely human creatures, is to prove herself to its leader Yubaba, a powerful witch, and break the spell. But can she find the courage to do so?

2-D animation has taken something of a battering recently, due to the onset of computer animated features, with the likes of Toy Story and Finding Nemo outgrossing more traditional cartoon fare.

But Spirited Away, which blends Alice In Wonderland-style storytelling and surreal imagery to winning effect, breathes new life into the format.

It is far from kids stuff - for one thing, it is much longer than your average animated feature (125 minutes), while some of the characters (from a creepy giant baby to man-eating ghosts) are too scary for the very young.

But older children are likely to be enthralled - as indeed are their grown-up companions.

Quite simply, it is one of the most beautiful, original films for ages - and one of the best you are likely to see all year.

What do you think? This debate is now closed. Please see below for a selection of your comments.

Without a shadow of a doubt the finest film released in the UK this year. Breathtaking cinematography, perfect charicterisations, beautiful animation and a constant sense of childlike discovery combine, this to make the most stylish movie of 2003, and the enthralling characters, haunting score and moments of excellent visual comedy and action ensure it cannot be missed.
Joe, London

It's a mad movie, I love it. Even my mum says that it is really cool. It shows the passion of love between two people the and courage to save people. It alsos bring out all the feelings in the movie. If I had to rate it, I'd give it a 100% or a 10\10.
Sonia, Australia

I am writing this the second I got home from seeing the film for the first time in all its glory, so I feel I'm justified in not even dignifying its critics with a response. This anime is beautiful, from every single lovingly crafted cell, to the music, and the fantastic dialogue and use of the characters for a somewhat Dickensian storyline.

I think it even rivals my all time manga faves like Akira. I feel sorry for people who feel a film like this is beneath them and didn't watch it, because they missed out on a thing of sheer unadulterated innocence and beauty.
Tom Stringer, UK

I thought that I would not see a animated film that would reach the heights of Akira but I now have
H McClean, England
I've seen this film on DVD, which I imported from the USA along with a number of other films and Anime series. And it's one of the best ones I've ever seen. Don't get me wrong, I love Disney and have almost every movie by them, but Japanese Anime is much better when it comes to story telling.

Apart from one story, you'll (when you pay attention) find numerous stories running in the background, sometimes they can touch you more then the main plot. This film is wonderful and it's a real shame that is has taken so long to come to the UK, if you can go and see it, you wont regret it.

This could be the start of a beautiful friendship, but I agree that the majority of Anime realised in the UK (so far) is terrible and really doesn't give you the chance to make a good informed decision on the matter.
Luna, UK

Spirited Away is far better than most movies on the big screen.
Evangelion, USA

An enchanting and imaginative story about a little girl learning to live and survive, from a girl complaining about flowers to a girl saving her parents, it told of the things one has to learn to mature, to accept one's destiny while not forgetting what is right. Adults will remember yourself going through that stage while children will learn about what lies ahead of them. Highly recommnended for any has-been 10-year-olds and would-be 10 years old.
Hay, UK

I have been a great fan of Japanese animation over the years from the days of Katsuhiro Otomo's classic Akira, in the eighties. I had been waiting over a year for this animated film to reach this country, and it was well worth the wait when I watched it on Saturday 13th September.

Spirited Away is not a cartoon, but a film made up with pictures in such a way that the screen comes to life. I thought that I would not see a animated film that would reach the heights of Akira but I now have. My daughter said that it was the best film she has seen, which I must agree. Great piece of art by Hayao Miyazaki. Spirited Away, I was blown away by the whole magical experience.
H. McClean, England

This film is a masterpiece. Simply put, if it had not been awarded the Best Animation Oscar this year it would have been a travesty
Paul Bird, UK
I recently had the chance to visit the Studio Ghibli Museum in Tokyo. It was a great day out. Miyazaki animation is so popular over here with people of all ages. The Museum itself is always over-subscribed with visitors. I certainly recommend it to anyone. I think part of the success of his animation is the humanity of his stories. I think this is certainly true in Totoro, Sen-to-chihiro (Spirited Away) and Princess Monoke. Something which is sadly lacking in Disney and other American cartoons usually.
Paul Cook, Japan

I love this movie, I've seen it several times on DVD but my children and I would still like to see it in the cinema. Unfortunately, the limited release means that we will not be so lucky. I find it appalling that mediocre movies get a national release just because they were made by a Hollywood studio while Spirited Away gets such a poor release. Even the Oscar attached to it doesn't seem to matter. By the way, it is not a cartoon movie, it is an anime movie.
Eva, UK

This film is a masterpiece. Simply put, if it had not been awarded the Best Animation Oscar this year it would have been a travesty. Studio Ghibli which made this film are widely regarded as the best animation studio in the world, and the films they produce are at worst full of imagination and at best astonishing. All the more impressive when you consider that the studio consists of only a small team who hand-draw every cel rather than a warehouse of hundreds of animators.

Japanese animation has received an unfair bashing in the UK, mainly due to Manga Video releasing a series of the most explicit and offensive Anime films for a while. We still have yet to get official releases of such classics as the beautiful and heartbreaking Graveyard For Fireflies in the UK.
Paul Bird, UK

Imagination is to be applauded but not when the characterisation doesn't really add to the wafer thin story-line
Terry Carter, UK
I'm bound to be a single dissenting voice here but the whole thing smacks of the Emperor's New Clothes. The public are seeing it, (largely) not understanding it but, in any case, jumping on the critics' bandwagon and undeservedly lauding the film. Please, please explain the attraction - it's like watching a very long, less aggressive though darker episode of Pokemon!! Imagination is to be applauded but not when the characterisation doesn't really add to the wafer thin story-line.
Terry Carter, UK

Spirited Away is a fantastic movie that deserved more recognition than the industry is capable of. The animation transports you into a striking new world that seems far away and right next to you at the same time. Miyazaki's mastery of a seemingly simple tale about a 10-year old girl takes on a clearer and more intricate meaning with repeated viewing. The first time you see it, you're so overwhelmed with the beauty of the animation and the wonderful characters, that the subtle art of his storytelling might not get full recognition until after the movie's over. Being a fan of Eastern and Western styles of Animation (I loved Spirit: Stallion Of The Cimarron and Ice Age They were far better than most animated American movies!) I'm eternally grateful to the friend who got me interested in Miyazaki's catalogue of movies. I recommend Spirited Away with confidence. You're gonna love it!
Camille, USA

Like Miyazaki's other animated features, I absolutely fell in LOVE with "Spirited Away". I cannot recommend it enough. I loved everything about it: rich characters, fantastic animation, a great script, magical score, and even the American English-dubbed voices. This movie definitely deserved the Oscar. I encourage anyone who has not seen it to see it on the big screen while they can, and to add it to their DVD collection, if available in their region.
Ellen, United States

An astonishing work of sheer artistry. This movie more than any other (including Akira) made me an unreserved fan and devotee of Japanese animation.
Robert del Valle, USA

For anyone who enjoys watching magic burst out from the screen, this is for you!
Najam Imam, England
Every year, my wife and I try to track down as many Oscar nominated movies as possible in the run-up to the awards, largely to be able to boo/cheer from an informed angle. We saw Spirited Away on import DVD back then, and both thought it was wonderful. Western animation can't touch the Japanese stuff, just as Western horror movies can't touch Japanese ones. You've only got to look to the woeful US remake of the fantastic Ring for evidence of that.
Pat Higgins, UK

Big fan of animation in general but especially Japanese "Anime" films and TV shows so I can't wait to see this. For years they have done things with animation that Disney and the like would or could never dream of so I'm very happy that this film is getting a western release.
Ian, UK

Having seen this in both Japanese and English a long time ago, I can thoroughly recommend this movie for a variety of reasons, but especially for its dubbing. Never have I seen such believable dubbing which really brought the movie to life unlike the last Studio Ghibli movie, Princess Mononoke. For anyone who enjoys watching magic burst out from the screen, this is for you!
Najam Imam, England

Highly recommended, I find this the most charming and Japanese of Miyazaki's animated features. It doesn't have the narrative of, say, Princess Mononoke, but the visuals are beautiful, and the spirit world is imaginatively realised. In common with his previous films, it also features Miyazaki's environmental concerns.

I'm an Anime (Japanese animation) fan, but feel this film will appeal to Western audiences just as much as to Japanese.
Charles Durrant, U.K.

As one with a strong preference to anime rather than Western cartoons, not only did this deserve the Oscar, this is Hayao Miyazaki's best movie ever. The spiritual and emotional journey Chihiro must take is set in the bath-house, analogous to a profit-minded global corporation run by drudges, with all sorts of creatures as clients. Watching a movie exploring the ability to care about someone other than yourself and facing one's challenges bravely is surely heartening to experience.
Daniel J. Hamlow, USA

I swa this film at the weekend after reading all of the wonderful reviews. I really do not know what is so special about this film. I am not a fan of cartoons, Japanese or Disney, and found this film to be too long. It felt like I was watching someone play a computer adventure game in real time. The plot is so structured you always know what will happen next. Everything happens for a reason e.g. monster gives girl a ball that she will give to the next monster to progress to next level. I can't recommend this film to anyone not interested in Japanese animation.
Mark Bramley, UK

Having grown up with Studio Ghibli's other work such as 'Laputa' and 'Valley of the Wind' both dubbed into english (before distribution complications meant that this now almost impossible to get)I would say that Spirited Away doens't dissapoint. People/critics have commented that the artistry is poor (i.e. Everything in Spirited Away has been hand-drawn before being digitised) and incomparable to Disney cartoons such as 'The Little Mermaid', all I can say is, that they're missing the point entirely. You can't compare the two as if they are in the same genre. They're not!

Its all too serious the critisizms of being a predictable plot, but hay, does one go to a comedy show to be laugh? Entertainment from the east like this rarly meets the mainstream and hits the big screens. Its a joy to be embraced in the quality and envolvement a big screen show like this can offer. Its cute and fun and it can make you smile and laugh! Watch out! Its good for you!
jon, edinburgh

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