Reader Felix comes to the defense of Hayao Miyazaki's 2001 film, "The Spiriting Away of Sen and Chihiro," which I omitted from my 50 Greatest Movies list back in August. He makes many excellent points:
"Spirited Away is a terrific movie, visually spectacular and endlessly creative, but I don't believe it is Miyazaki's best film. It's an escapist picture at heart, one that lacks the more complex and serious themes of the director's work. A great movie, but a little light."
I can't agree with this, and it seems to be a disagreement about basic undercurrents of Miyazaki-movies. Nothing about this movie as far as I can see is escapist in any strict, negative sense of the word. Surely you can draw this logical conclusion, but it would be accidental, a mere "reservation" depending on the context of your viewing as far as I can see, but not a lasting judgement.
For one, the altering of Chihiro is certainly not the effect of an escape from her issues, but a "finding of herself". I think this is quintessential in judging the whole "positive" outlook of Miyazaki per se, or else it would be hard to distinguish him from any other "pretty" entertainment, or it becomes a pure intellectual argument of the ideology that his movies present.
Then, Chihiro is emotionally challenged throughout the movie, and it is mostly frightening and dangerous, and the ending is not "sweet" but kind of regretful, which is not a nod to the wish to escape again (as maybe could be seen in the Peter Pan "mythos"), but a major element of life - but Miyazaki would probably say (as I've seen him do) that she will come to deal with it.
Also there are aesthetic elements which I think make it unique among his movies. There is this almost overly lush bathing house, but also this Zen-like, minimalist trainride and water landscape.
The infinite imagination that some refer to, on the other hand, and that may be seen as one element of escapism, I do simply do not recognize. I don't think it is very inventive at all, if I would look only for this, I would be very bored and could point probably to an endless list of more "inventive" or "visually stunning" examples. The lush invention that I see serves merely to create a certain atmosphere of life and the overfilled environs, but not much to marvel at.
A couple more things could be said, but that should be the essence of my view.