Free-association imagery is a part of every Hayao Miyazaki movie, but perhaps never more so than in Spirited Away. Set primarily in an abandoned theme park that transforms each night into a bathhouse for weary spirits, the movie is a parade of unusual creatures (who often change shape) and bizarre rituals.
There is a framing device for us poor humans – 10-year-old Chihiro gets trapped in the bathhouse after her nosy parents are turned into pigs – but that mostly seems like an excuse for Miyazaki and his animators to explore every recess of their imaginations. And so we get a boy-dragon named Haku, a silent, hooded specter called No-Face and a spider-like boiler operator who goes by the name of Kamaji.
Above all we get Yubaba, best described as a demonic grandmother. Her giant head crowned with a sensible bun (at least until it unravels to reveal tentacles), Yubaba runs the bathhouse with a greedy fist and occasionally takes the form of a screeching crow. Did I mention that she’s often accompanied by three ghoulishly green, decapitated heads? Part Alice in Wonderland and part Hansel and Gretel, Spirited Away eventually generates enough imaginative oddities to qualify as a landmark fairy-tale fantasy of its own.