As the Edinburgh Film Festival’s Surprise Movie, Studio Ghibli’s SPIRITED AWAY split audiences right down the middle. The company is South East Asia’s best kept animation secret, but we reckon it’s time everyone got on its magic carpet ride. try/outs: Eddie Harrison

f you‘ll stop looking at the pictttres for a moment. I want

to tell you about a spirit. loose in our cinetnas. ln l‘)‘)l) l

was working as an All l‘ilm l‘estiyal ttsher in the lil (‘apitan cinetna. directly across Hollywood Bottley'ard from (irauman's (‘hinese Restaurant. It was owned by the Walt Disney Corporation. and the staff whispered nery'ously that it was haunted by the spirit of a tnan who went in to see a matinee performance of the limilio listeye/ kids-on-ice hockey drama. The .llig/ily Due/ts. After ten minutes. he realised he'd seen enough. so he produced a gun and blew his own brains across the back row.

.-\pparently this critical spirit was only seen in rotten films. so as l tore tny last ticket and tipped back my chair to watch I’rineess .Umtmmk‘t'. a two-and-a-half hour long Japanese cartoon about tree-hugging ecology. I feared the worst. I’d always had such scorn for anime and tnanga nerds in the corners of parties. dribbling on about Japanese animation. I thought cartoons were for kids. so I kept my torch pointing at the door.

When the lights came tip. I‘d been yisited by spirits and seen an adyenttn‘e story like I'd ney er witnessed before. It was something from another culture. something fresh. original and aliye. (‘reated at Stttdio (ihibli in Japan. l’rineess- .llonmioke offered some of the most beautifttl images l'd eyer seen. and some of the ugliest. When the two were together on screen. this wasn‘t just cinema. it was art. I wanted to take it home with tne and stick it to the wall.

The moyie that won the Best Animated Film at this year's ()scars is the latest Studio (ihibli project. Spirited Away. It‘s the story of (‘hihiro. a little girl who trayels through a tunnel to a spirit world. where her parents are transformed into pigs and she's forced to trade her own name in order to tind work in a spiritual bathhouse for gods. l.ils‘e Ittost (ihibli lilltts. Spirited Away draws on the Shinto religion. suggesting that eyetything in the physical world has a spirit that goyerns it.

Aside from these fabulous creatures (six foot liaster chicks. babies the size of houses, witches who turn into crows). it's ('hihiro's relationship with the masked man. a polluted riyer spirit whose intentions towards her are neyer entirely clear. which lends it such haunting pathos.

Now that I‘m a (ihibli junkie. l coy'ertly hunch oyer nty computer at work. trying to btty soot monsters or an inflatable 'l'otoro. then rush home to lly on my magical catbus. l eyen flew as far as America to buy a copy of Spirited .‘ltHH oti l)Vl) because Atna/on's shipping just wasn't fast enough.

Who are these gods at Studio (ihibli who toy with my emotions so'.’ Although he hates to be compared to \Valt Disney. llay'ao .\liya/ari is a one—man animation studio. who personally corrected. by hand. tnore than 30.000 of Princess .ilononoke’s l—l-l.000 animation cells. .\liya/ari‘s job title is 'shocho‘. which means head of the office. and though he's always threatening to retire he's so hands-on that he neyer quite manages it. He's eyen been known to cook noodles for his entire staff at tltc end of a hard working day.

The Stttdio (ihibli philosophy is a business-ttrientated one with 3 lls: lligh ('ost. lliglt Risk and High Return. But unlike Disney. (ihibli's merchandising is ttsually an afterthought. It took the company two years to realise that its cuddly 'l'otoros would be big sellers bttt the character is now tnore recognisable in Japan than Mickey House.

It also tries to take as mttch care with its animators as with its animation. Rather than hiring and tiring. (ihibli tised the success of their IUSU hit Is’i/s'i's Delivery Sert‘iee to introduce a fixed salary system for employees that dottbled their income. When they moyed from a rented floor to a new stttdio for which .\liya/ari had personally drawn up the blueprints. he made sure there were twice as many ladies' toilets as men's. eyen though the workforce is eyenly' split. A smart moye if you're a ‘sltocho‘.

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