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Re: Spirited Away is a Terrible Movie

October 21, 2009


This is a response to a guy on YouTube who calls himself “Confused Matthew.” He does a variety of movie reviews on request. By and large, he doesn’t hold back, nor does he have the ability to see a movie for what it is. Yeah, he’s that kind of critic. In his review of The Lion King, he goes off on a very long-winded tirade about how much he hates Timon and Pumba because of how uncouth and selfish they are. I thought he was kidding at first. Y’know, like, being ironically humorous of something like that. But he was dead serious. About two months ago, he did a review of Spirited Away, and, of course, hated it.

I decided to write this post because I actually got the chance to re-watch Spirited Away. Just yesterday, in fact. It’s still as captivating and beautiful as it was when I first saw it back in middle school, which is the great thing about Miyazaki/Ghibli films. They’re timeless and not a complete embarrassment to the industry.

Crafting this response is a little tricky. At one end, Matthew does bring up good points about why the movie falls short of perfect, namely some stylistic choices in storytelling. On the other, he overlooks some of the plot points of the story, and by extension, its overall aim.

“To be perfectly honest, or rather brutally honest, I can’t stand Anime. I don’t like it and I don’t understand why anyone else does. Now, going into what I don’t like about it would be fruitless as they are all personal problems and not problems having to do with the actual genre. And that is the distinction I will try to keep in mind as we proceed.”

There are two things that are wrong with this statement. First, if he readily concedes that he doesn’t like Anime, what does he hope to achieve in this video. Granted, I’m not saying he’s not allowed to make this review – everyone has the right to voice his/her opinion – but that brings me to my next point. Anime isn’t a genre. I can tell how he flashes a promotional picture of Inuyasha onto the screen that he hasn’t been exposed to a lot of Anime, and that’s fine. But I’m also willing to conjecture that he thinks Anime is just a one-way road of banal sword fights and endless magic battles. You just can’t make these generalizations in reviews.

“The film has a huge problem shoved up its ass right from the beginning. The premise of the film has been summarized as follows: Spirited Away is a story of a spoiled child forced into a fantastic world… Two problems: one, the world isn’t fantastic as much as it is random and arbitrary. And two, the girl was never spoiled. Never. Not once. Ever. The girl is mature and sensible right from the very beginning.”

What movie were you watching? Chihiro is upset about having to move. She’s sarcastic to her parents and isn’t very receptive to their orders. When she tells her mom that her flower bouquet is dying, she pouts and whines. When her parents want to look through a tunnel that’s in their way, she yells no and adamantly refuses. Its’ a very nuanced kind of spoiled. Were you expecting some hyper-exemplified American Barbie Doll stereotype?

“…And the girl is thrusted into the spirit world guided by some guy that’ll show up, oh, about three times in the whole film… I guess that we’re supposed to believe that she wants to rescue the personality-less guy that she encountered in the beginning, but why would she? The two never got to know one another, and we never got to know him. So the film is just making a point of force-feeding her with a friend and an objective.”

Were you paying attention to the story? I’m not going to give away Haku’s real identity for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie, but he mentions time and again that he knew Chihiro from when she was younger, and that he wants to save her because of that. There’s even a part where Chihiro unwittingly calls out his name when it isn’t even clear that what we’re looking at is Haku. There’s clearly a connection, and that connection helps Chihiro grow. That’s the overall aim of the movie, to see Chihiro become stronger. Something that obviously went over Matthew’s head.

“Like almost all Animes ever made, the world in which this is set is not very well-defined.”

Again, generalizations. Barely saved by the world “almost.” Also, the plural is Anime.

“The people here work at a bathhouse for spirits, but it’s unclear who these spirits are, where they all come from, or what the parameters of them are.”

I’m starting to think this guy isn’t as credible as I once thought. The spirits are gods. It’s been stated numerously throughout the film. Obviously their designs are influenced by things in Japanese culture that a lot of Westerners (especially children) wouldn’t be familiar with. But it shouldn’t even matter because they’re not even major plot points in the movie. They’re just fantastic creatures.

“Rather than create a magical world with structure and coherence, it just feels like the makers of this film are just barfing out whatever weird thing comes into their heads… Are these spirits? How does this place work?”

Translated: “Waaaaaaaaaaaaah! I need structure and coherence in my fantasy Anime! How dare the animators show creativity!” I bet if this guy watched Fantasia, he would scream “Why are the brooms dancing and sprouting arms?! This is bullshit!”

“Just like most all Animes, this is not a magical world, it’s just a stupid one. All of the characters are shallow, undefined and undeveloped.”

It helps that all of the characters, sans Chihiro of course, don’t have a whole lot of screentime. It wouldn’t make sense to develop any of the side characters because the movie isn’t about them. There are individual scenes where you can see that Chihiro is really coming into her own. like how early in the movie, she’s hesitant to walk down a long flight of stairs that resides on the side of a large cliff, but is later seen to dutifully run along a pipe suspended between two buildings. The side characters help to bring out that side of her.

“In fact, you could remove everything and have the same movie. Or just watch the film in any order you like. Beginning, middle, end; end, middle, beginning, or so on. It’s all just a bunch of random stuff happening.”

When you try to define a movie like Spirited Away in a ‘logical’ sense – making a list of everything that transpired in the story in a narrative format – then you’re kind of missing the point of the movie and doing a disservice to the filmmakers. It’s more about having everything happen and then letting it come full circle towards the end.


Let me offer a parallel. Has anyone read anything by Murakami? They basically follow the same narrative format. “Dance Dance Dance” is a favorite of mine. When I first read the summary on the back of the book, it went something along the lines of a writer trying to find his missing girlfriend. Seems simple enough, right? But when you actually read the book, you’ll find that it’s anything but. It’s about a freelance writer and his eclectic associates. There’s an aloof, 13-year old girl who loves rock and roll, an old classmate to the protagonist who turns out to be a movie star, and a guy who calls himself the Sheep Man who lives in a different world. Throughout the story, the guy sleeps with various call girls, travels to Hawaii, and is even framed for murder. Taken separately, these events seem completely inconsequential, and they really leave you to question the purpose of certain chapters and events. But nothing is introduced into a story without having a purpose. In the case of Spirited Away, the events that happen don’t really have an extrinsic value. It’s kind of hard to explain, and even now I’m having trouble because it’s kind of one of those things that you have to experience in order to understand. If you invest yourself enough into the story, then everything will just click when it’s over. And that’s essentially the kind of storytelling technique that’s employed in Spirited Away.

Of course, Matthew probably isn’t going to read this post. And even if he does, he’s most likely the kind of guy who doesn’t like to admit that he’s wrong. If he does, he’ll just hide behind his name and say that he was “confused” or some shit like that.

25 Comments leave one →
  1. October 21, 2009 3:54 am

    There’s always gonna be reviewers who insist on seeing the negatives in everything, and there’s always gonna be an audience for those kinds of reviews. They’re not very helpful from an objective standpoint, but Lord knows how many overly negative reviews I’ve written about stuff that I really didn’t mind all that much… -_-;

    • saturnity permalink*
      October 25, 2009 6:45 am

      So is it possible that you’re not completely against lolicon?

  2. October 21, 2009 4:06 am

    The first paragraph you quoted from him was enough for me so I didn’t have to read whatever he had to say next (and consequently what you had to say in response). In my opinion it’s best to ignore reviewers like him, crafting a long and serious response only gives his writing more attention and feeds more ego, if he’s reading this at all. And it just isn’t worth it, people are still going to get what they want from such a review.

    • saturnity permalink*
      October 25, 2009 6:46 am

      But, but… he started it!

  3. October 21, 2009 6:05 am

    Is the Sheep Man in Dance Dance Dance too? Man, that character bugged me. I get why he was in A Wild Sheep Chase, but still.

    Even if he never reads this post, you at least proved that he’s a myopic turd of a reviewer. So, cheers.

    • saturnity permalink*
      October 25, 2009 6:47 am

      Yeah, the Sheep Man appears in Dance Dance Dance, too. But only once. And it really left me scratching my head, so take what you will from it.

  4. kadian1364 permalink
    October 21, 2009 10:53 am

    Wow. That review was absolutely disgusting. I quit about halfway through, so I only got to read about some his massive generalizations and stereotyping through you.

    “or what the parameters of them are.”

    Oh lordy, lordy. Most people in my programming class don’t talk this nerdy. Stuff like this just makes me reflect long and hard about how some kinds of people can take themselves seriously. They walk among us

    • saturnity permalink*
      October 25, 2009 6:48 am

      You can tell by some of the responses he leaves on his YouTube comments that he’s pretty damn self-satisfied with himself, in a completely smug way.

  5. October 21, 2009 2:43 pm

    Just because someone is brutally honest, doesn’t mean they’re right. One thing I’ve always admired about Miyazaki films is their ability to make me not care about the details. I’m a stickler for reality, the type of person that shouts “that’s not possbile!” but with Miyazaki films, I honestly don’t care. They’re fantastic almost fairy tale like narratives that focus on characters and not petty realism. As for Confused Matthew’s review, well, given that review right there I’d say he broke some of the basic rules. When discussing something one must give their opinion on the piece, tell whether or not an audience will like it and whether or not the intended audience will like it.

    I think there’s a certain knowledge one must attain before truly immersing themselves into anime culture, mostly involving an understanding of certain Japanese cultural customs, but this review just shows an outright bias and unwillingness to learn. Oh well, I usually like the brutally honest reviewers because they can raise some good points but outright hating something based purely on not understanding its medium is a bit unprofessional.

  6. October 22, 2009 11:03 am

    Well, kudos to you I suppose for slogging through this, but I don’t expect this kind of guy will be swayed by your arguments, much as they are both passionate and fairly well-reasoned.

    Part of the joy of Miyazaki is about achieving that childlike mindset and putting away the cynicism that carries you through the rest of mundane life — the kind of cynicism that causes you to make remarks like this guy’s.

    Anime isn’t a genre.

    Truth. It’s a subject I’m hoping to address soon in a post myself, spurred by some comments made by zaitcev re: Honey & Clover (I believe the quote was “What is anime about this anime?”). I tried to argue the point that anime is in fact a genre, but a lot of bloggers continue to think in terms of the genre. I think a case could be made for anime “the genre” or at least a meta-genre. But there are two things with that: First, it’s a question for people who are deeply entrenched in anime, not people who are outright dismissive of it. Second, if anything throws the “anime as genre” point out the window — way more strongly than Honey & Clover or Nodame ever could — it’s a Miyazaki film. Granted, it’s the only medium in which Miyazaki would work well, but it’s a medium still.

    re: sniffits — I don’t think a knowledge of anime is necessary to enjoy Miyazaki. Millions of Americans have done so with this film, Ponyo, and Princess Mononoke. It doesn’t even require that much thought! His films are made by and large for kids. But I guess it’s harder to enjoy him than I thought, since this “reviewer” can’t manage to grasp the key concepts.

    • October 22, 2009 3:43 pm

      I agree on the idea that you don’t need a lot of cultural information for Miyazaki films but this guy went into it thinking it was like all anime. Having some cultural knowledge might have at least helped him distance the two, though he shouldn’t have even taken his dislike into it in the first place. I agree that his films are whimsical and definitely for children. Children are less likely to ask “why is that?” which is what his films operate on.

      • saturnity permalink*
        October 25, 2009 7:12 am

        Agreed. I think it all depends on the viewer and age demographic. But yeah, as you said, he tried to use “Anime” as an umbrella term that included Miyazaki films, which is pretty damn insulting.

    • saturnity permalink*
      October 25, 2009 7:10 am

      I’m honestly a little unsure as to what your argument is, so let me know when you make that post.

  7. October 23, 2009 4:02 am

    Good responses. That reviews is clearly biased by his hatred of anime and ignorance of Japanese culture.

    It actually kind of annoys me that anime is considered a genre not just by him, but by many people and many websites. Anime is not a genre; it is a medium. The distinction is huge…

    Further, this reviewer needs to keep in mind that many themes in Spirited Away is written for a Japanese target, and the world Miyazaki built resonates very much culturally with an Asian audience. Glad you pointed that out.

    Anyway, I’ve actually read this one review for Ponyo, which was even more ridiculous. The critic basically said that Miyazaki’s movies have too much Japanese cultural influence, and therefore fails because it is confusing…

    • saturnity permalink*
      October 25, 2009 7:15 am

      Of course they’d be quick to jump on that. They want to be spoon-fed a coherent story because they’re too stupid to think for themselves. It’s sickening.

  8. Keith permalink
    October 24, 2009 9:39 am

    First time reading this blog, but I like it so far. I just read your ‘suppressing your power levels post’ and I can’t agree more with your analysis of anime culture. Instead of addressing it in a month-old post, I hope you don’t mind if I respond quickly to that post here and move on to talk about the current post, especially since I feel they both are related in a sense.

    I used to have to suppress my power levels in high school. None of my friends liked anime, and they wanted nothing to do with it. Not that they were judgmental of me, they just did not respond well to being exposed to it. Actually, a friend of mine who liked comics bought an X manga once, and he kind of liked it, but not enough to get into it.

    Once I got to college that all changed. I made friends who enjoyed anime, but in the long run stuck to whatever was popular at the time, so I have sort of surpassed them in otaku-ness. But either way, I had met a fairly sizable amount of people who liked anime and were extremely sociable. I had actually made so many anime and non-anime liking friends that some of the people who never gave it a try began to like some of the better shows (think Kaiba). Hell, my girlfriends one of the most popular people I know and she reads more manga than anyone else I’ve ever met. I guess what I’m trying to say is that most people don’t dislike the ‘elitist’, they dislike the fanboy who runs around wearing naruto headbands talking about how epic something is.

    Which brings me into this post. The guy that wrote the review is obviously completely disillusioned by anime-culture due to the lower-caste fanboys out there. He hasn’t thought of anime as more than one dragonball z ripoff vs. another. And it’s probably because he hasn’t made a friend who likes anime in the same way we do. The way we can analyze it like a good piece of literature, pick its flaws and virtues out, and just plain understand what went on behind the scenes. Those types of people are the only ones that will reveal their love of anime once you’ve become friends with them, just to avoid comparisons with the fanboys out there.

    Also, have you read Kafka on the Shore?

    • saturnity permalink*
      October 25, 2009 7:20 am

      I don’t mind at all, and I’m glad to see you were able to relate to my post. Honestly, I was a little surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response to that post. And you’re quite lucky to know people who aren’t hindered by the social stigma of liking “Japanese cartoons.” That reviewer had way too many deep-seated biases to conduct something even partially feasible.

      And yes, I have read Kafka on the Shore. I absolutely loved it and reread it on occasion.

  9. Rafa permalink
    April 3, 2010 2:17 pm

    Personally, I find it difficult to understand why this film is so popular as well. Anime can be entertaining, but Spirited Away is, to me, just a strange and queer work of animation. I respect your opinion that you like such a cartoon, but I myself find it to be dull and pointless. I just do not like films where little girls are taken to magic worlds with monsters, befriending fat old women and magic dragon-changing boys. Is that so wrong, so unacceptable to most anime-lovers? The film may be well-liked by women, perhaps, due to its inherent feminine nature, but most Western children would likely favor other films over this. Seriously, how many people who, like, watches Dragonball Z or Bleach or Naruto like (or have even heard of) this film? Well, there are some, but I doubt this counts for the majority. I’m just reminding you that this film…isn’t actually socially acceptable in many parts of Western society; I mean, it’s not something you, like, just chat about with your classments. No doubt the writer of this “response” will make many arguments in direct response to my opinions, but please: stop forcing your opinions onto others. Some people like the film, some think it’s crap. Some just never have heard about it all in all…

  10. Lemon Wedges permalink
    September 11, 2011 7:37 pm

    This guy sounds like an idiot. -_-

  11. 12yearoldfg permalink
    September 8, 2013 5:56 am

    Couldn’t watch this piece of shit cartoon either. The impression is that a couple of kids took some random toys and started playing while the guy sat around writing it down to pass for a script. It’s deeply idiotic and non sequitur. The “art” is horrid stylized Jap bunch of candied mawkish refuse I hated so much since that time I first saw it on a pack of markers from Japan with those kind of pictures on it. I draw beautifully. Jumpy animation is NOT something that attracts me because it distracts every single step of this what you call “movie”. It’s just absolutely disgustingly boring and horrid from viewpoint of writing, directing and EVERYTHING ELSE. If you don’t get it, you are simply another stupid overgrown zombified kid. If you think there is any distinction between this piece of crap and Anime, you are aggrandized zombified kid with an ego and a half. There is NO difference and in about 50 years this too shell pass because it’s not art. Cheers.

  12. babs permalink
    December 19, 2013 11:13 am

    to be honest, everyone told me to watch it because of how amazing it was. and so i did. i was so excited to watch it, get inspired and love the film. i watched and watched and watched until the very end in hope that all this mess would become a polished ending. everything the ‘negative’ reveiwer is saying is correct im sad to say. maybe most people like it because of the nostalgic value it brings them from when they saw it earlier. i strongly agree with the parts of his reveiw that i read.

  13. jack permalink
    December 11, 2015 2:48 pm

    Ha, what a real dumbass

    • jack permalink
      December 11, 2015 2:49 pm

      by that i mean the guy who wrote the original review


  1. What Is A Movie Like Spirited Away - Askwers

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