What makes the films of
Hayao Miyazaki feel magical? Like any great magic trick, the secret to Miyazaki's magic hides in plain sight. In the case of "Spirited Away," in a simple moment such as this. Or this. On the surface, moments like this where nothing happens might seem like filler, but the six-minute
sequence of "Spirited Away" in which nothing really happens might best exemplify the secret to why the world of Miyazaki feels so spectacularly magical. The scene in question occurs
44 minutes into the film, the morning after our heroine, Chihiro, takes a job at a magical
bathhouse for gods and spirits, which happens to be
owned by the same witch who turned Chihiro's parents into pigs.
Here's how the scene starts. Haku: Meet me at the bridge. I'll take you to your parents. [Chihiro gasps] Narrator: Here's a question: What shot would you
guess comes after this? In most cases, it would look like this: cutting straight to the bridge where they had promised to meet. But instead, Miyazaki does this: painstakingly showing Chihiro's
journey from the bedroom all the way to the bridge, all locations that we've seen
her pass the other way around. This is why Miyazaki's
world feels so real. Because as magical as it is, there is a sense of space portrayed through time, distance, and scale. That's why a quick moment
that introduces a location like this is so simple, yet genius.
Because despite being a location
we've never seen before, by the time Chihiro gets there, we know exactly where it is compared to the rest of the world. Going back to the story, this specific six-minute sequence is what's referred to as
a pinch in a screenplay – a moment that occurs approximately three-eighths of the way into a script that gives the audience
a moment to breathe and reminds them what's going on, like all the side
characters that will later play a vital role in the story and, most importantly, what's at stake. The short interaction between
Haku and Chihiro at the farm is full of these reminders
of what's at stake. Like the fate of Chihiro's parents. Chihiro: Mom! Dad! What's wrong with them? Haku: They don't remember being human. So look hard. It's up to you to remember which ones they are. Narrator: Or Chihiro's own identity. Chihiro: Chihiro.