Matthew Razak over at Flixist has a great in-depth look at Hayao Miyazaki’s seminal 2001 film, Spirited Away. That article is well worth a few minutes of your time as it discusses many aspects present in that film that are sadly lacking in many contemporary American productions.
However, while Razak focuses a lot on the animation, the direction and the over-arching themes of the film, he almost completely neglects to discuss the characters.
Yes, he talks about Chihiro and her transformation from a spoiled little girl into a more mature adolescent and his analysis is quite good in that regard. However, he glosses over the supporting characters that help her in that regard.
Like Haku, the faithful, if resentful, servant of the bath house owner Yubaba who is on a quest for self-redemption and rediscovering his identity, or Lin, the worker at the bath house who teaches Chihiro some of the realities of working life. Not to mention Yubaba herself, show imparts a tough impression of the businesswomen and her strikingly contrasting sister, Zeniba.
If it were not for characters such as these, as well as the multitude of supporting characters, from river gods to no-faces, Spirited Away would be an altogether duller film. Visuals and direction can greatly improve a film, but if the characters themselves aren’t complete, the film will feel stifled and wooden.
That is where Miyazaki excels in his films; the characters are never boring, or repetitive or simple. They are complex, flawed and plentiful; just like real people. Their importance should not be overlooked when analysing a film.