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In Spirited Away, Fans Agree One Scene Stands Above The Rest

Few animated films released in the millennium have been as beloved as the 2001 Hayao Miyazaki film, "Spirited Away." Boosted by a Disney-produced dub and a limited release in theaters (per Box Office Mojo), the Japanese feature was so critically acclaimed that one American reviewer at The Financial Times gave it a six out of five rating (via The Guardian). 

The story of a little girl, Chihiro, who is forced to work at a bathhouse for spirits, is often downright frightening to the point that you may not want your kids to watch it. Yet the sheer imagination of Miyazaki's designs and animation is just one reason that drew both adults and children across the world to the movie. The director also chooses to feature more complex, rounded characters instead of sticking to traditional good vs. evil narratives. In one interview, Miyazaki mused, "I'm not a god who decides on what is good and bad. We as humans make mistakes," per The New York Times. The rich animation and moral ambiguity of his films, mainly released through his company Studio Ghibli, have made Miyazaki one of the biggest filmmakers in Japan.

Here's the one scene in "Spirited Away" that truly makes viewers collectively catch their breath. 

The train sequence hypnotizes fans

One poster on the Reddit thread r/movies, who also featured the clip from the movie, wrote that the train scene in the second act of "Spirited Away" is really when the film "delivers a sense of sadness and melancholia that is unmatched in my opinion." Based on the post's nearly two dozen comments and its high number of upvotes, many Redditors had similar reactions to watching Chihiro (also called Sen), No-Face, Boh, and the harpy ride the mysterious train. After so much chaos in the bathhouse, the characters just sit around the eerie shadow passengers and silently take in the view from the window.

U/dingyling replied, "It has always been my favorite scene in the film." Meanwhile, u/chaseism added, "It's one of a few scenes of this movie that has a sense of stillness and reflection." Several commenters pointed out as well that the characters merely sitting on the train doesn't move the plot forward. One deleted user wrote, "Sen finally gets a moment of reprieve as the movie comes to its denouement. It's when everything catches up and you're left with [sic] breathing with her." As these comments demonstrate, the effect on a viewer can be intense but also serene and very beautiful. 

Hayao Miyazaki likes to use stillness in his movies

One reason Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli films can feel so distinctive from Disney and Pixar projects is that, like many Japanese animators (per Nanners Knows Nothing), the director likes to use stillness as a technique for creating tension and atmosphere. In a 2002 interview, Miyazaki used the Japanese word "ma," meaning "emptiness," to explain this idea to Roger Ebert. Miyazaki clapped his hands and told the film critic, "The time in between my clapping is 'ma.' If you just have non-stop action with no breathing space at all, it's just busyness, [b]ut if you take a moment, then the tension building in the film can grow into a wider dimension."

Miyazaki also said of Western animators, "They're worried that the audience will get bored," which is why they may fill the screen with many details and quick pacing. In contrast, the filmmaker insisted that the emotions of the story will always draw the attention of children. Yet his ultimate goal as an artist doesn't sound too far off from the Disney works he's criticized in the past. Miyazaki has said he wants his movies to "comfort you — to fill in the gap that might be in your heart or your everyday life," per The New York Times. And for many viewers, films like "Spirited Away," "My Neighbor Totoro," and "Howl's Moving Castle" have wildly succeeded.