“Spirited Away” turns 20: Why is it Hayao Miyazaki’s most recognized film?

It’s any ordinary afternoon, on any road. A 10-year-old girl takes a car trip with her parents to the new town where they will move. Annoyed, she would have preferred not to change homes or schools. Soon, her father seems lost. They stop abruptly on a part of the road and come across strange and abandoned buildings that seem to be the ruins of a world from another time, entered through a dark passage through which the wind travels backwards. The parents seem not to notice anything strange when they arrive in a colorful town ready to receive visitors, but empty. They also don’t notice anything strange when they follow the trail of attractive smells or when they find hot, freshly prepared food on a restaurant counter.

The girl, who goes by the name Chihiro, is increasingly uncomfortable, but her parents have already started eating and nothing stops them. The little girl walks through the town, meets a strange boy with magical powers and crosses dark shadows while the streets light up as she passes by, before an imminent dusk. It all seems like a nightmare that she thinks she will emerge from, until she finds her parents. But they no longer seem to be them: they have been transformed into voracious pigs that continue to devour everything they find. The journey has really begun. Desperation, too.

“Dedicated to all the children who have had, are and will be 10 years old,” she says at the beginning of the film. Many kids that age might be pretty scared by now, even though it’s only 13 minutes into a story that lasts just over two hours. The truth is that there is much more to admire than things to fear on this journey.

When she was the age of the protagonist, the future founder of Studio Ghibli and creator of Spirited Away, Hayao Miyazaki, also passed from city to city, due to various family circumstances. Between the Japan of the Second World War –which saw him born on January 5, 1941- and that of the Postwar period, he fell in love with airplanes -because the factory run by an uncle of his made parts for them-, at the same time who read manga and dreamed of drawing his own. Those restlessness and feverish imagination would be fundamental for the rest of his life, precisely, to awaken the restlessness and feverish imagination of others in different corners of the world.

Therefore, the initial despair of her Chihiro, the 10-year-old girl who stars in a magical journey, in the manner of Alice in Wonderland, is transformed through the adventures where she is surrounded by flying witches, animals that they speak, magicians who transform, faceless shadows, collaborating soot balls or giant babies capable of destroying everything in a kind of necessary life path full of surprises, a challenge of creativity, emotions and feelings that do not correspond only to children, rather, they are capable of involving us all.