SPIRITED AWAY (2001)

(Also listed as “Miyazaki’s Spirited Away”)

 

Format: 125-minute feature

 

Rating: PG (scary moments)

 

American Production: Disney

 

Japanese Production: Studio Ghibli

 

Grading

 

Premise:

A

Story:

A

Writing:

A

Character Design:

A

Animation:

A

Artistic Merits:

A

English Dub:

A

Musical Score:

A

 

 

Humor Content:

B+

Action Content:

A

Drama Content:

A

 

 

DVD Presentation:

B+

DVD Extras:

A-

 

 

OVERALL:

A

 

Synopsis

      Chihiro, a rosy-cheeked girl, is traveling to her new home with her parents when they come across a strange tunnel. She reluctantly joins her parents as they investigate and discover what they at first believe to be an abandoned amusement park. It’s actually a different world, though, one which they become trapped in as night falls. Separated from her parents and desperate to find some way to save them from a calamity that has befallen them, Chihiro ultimately falls in with a boy named Haku who explains that the only way for her to be safe from Yababu, the head mistress of the place, is to seek a job in the tall building soon revealed to be the Bath House of the Gods (“for the spirits” in the English version). There she interacts with an array of odd and wondrous characters as she tries to figure out a way to get out of her predicament.

 

The Long View

      Whether or not Spirited Away is the best anime movie ever made is a matter for debate, although it is certainly worthy of being considered among the top three or four. What is not debatable is that it is the most successful anime movie ever. It beat out even Titanic and Princess Mononoke to become the top-grossing movie of all time in Japan, was the first movie ever to gross more than $250 million worldwide prior to its U.S. release, and sold 5.5 million copies when it was released on DVD in Japan in 2002. It won Best Picture awards in both Japan and at the Berlin International Film Festival and took the Oscar for Best Animated Picture at the 2003 Academy Awards in a victory considered an upset by some and an unremarkable win by others, since the competition was fairly weak and it had proven capable of competing for top honors in other countries. Although its American theatrical release fared better than Princess Mononoke, it was still less than stellar at the American box office (its promotion and distribution wasn’t much better, IMO). That doesn’t lessen the fact that this most recent masterpiece by legendary director Hayao Miyazaki is an incredible film which features the best English dub of any anime film to date.

      According to interviews with Miyazaki, the basis for Spirited Away were Miyazaki’s own observations about the apathy of a preteen girl. These observations spring to life in the form of Chihiro, who is depressed about a move by her parents that is taking her away from her old friends. For her the trials and challenges she faces in adjusting to life in the spirit world become an exercise in confidence-building, so much so that by the end of the movie she no longer regards her new school and new life with dread. Adults and children alike will delight at (and perhaps learn a lesson from) the way she overcomes obstacles through a combination of determination, devotion, and good old-fashioned pluck, all without setting aside the respectful behaviors that would naturally be expected in Japanese society. What makes Chihiro even more endearing is that she is quite an ordinary girl; a little quick-witted, perhaps, but not especially intelligent or physically capable (she is, in fact, fairly clumsy) and certainly not impudent. She isn’t above shedding a few tears when things get to be too much for her, either, and her decision-making is hardly perfect. In many ways she is one of the most appealing animation heroines ever to come across the big screen.

      Although Spirited Away has no substantial flaws, its greatest strength is its character design. Here Miyazaki entertains us with a dazzling display of wonderfully inventive characters, from the sumo-like radish spirit to the bathhouse guests that look like marshmallow peeps to the amorphous white-faced No Face to the disembodied heads that hop around to the “stink spirit” that is actually something else to the paper birds to the ribbon-like river dragons. And then there’s the giant baby that gets transformed into a giant rat and the accompanying bird that gets transformed into a fly, which together account for many of the movie’s funniest moments. And let’s not forget the many-limbed boiler operator or. . . well, I could go on and on. Complementing the characters is lush, vibrant artistry and animation that is among the best you will find anywhere. The writing is also superb, telling a mostly serious story without letting it get too serious.

      The soundtrack for Spirited Away is perfect, and the voice work is fabulous, in English as well as in Japanese. Daveigh Chase, who voiced the lead in Lilo and Stitch and also had a supporting role in the American version of The Ring, further solidifies her status as one of Hollywood’s top young actresses with a brilliant performance in the lead role, and the entire rest of the cast - among them veteran actors David Ogden Stiers and Suzanne Pleshette - are great.

      Spirited Away has pulled a PG rating for its U.S. release. I think it’s appropriate, as the only objectionable scenes are a bit of blood in one scene where a character is injured and a couple of “scary moments.” Although distinctly slanted towards younger audiences, there are parts that may be a little too much for extremely young children, though anyone 6+ should be able to handle it. Skipping it on the rationale that it’s a kid’s movie would be a gross injustice, however. This is a movie that adults can appreciate every bit as much as kids.

      If animated movies have lost their thrill for you, then Spirited Away is something you need to see. If this movie - and in particular the sequence with Chihiro riding through the sky on the back of the sinuous wolf-faced dragon – doesn’t restore that thrill then I don’t know what will.

 

DVD Extras

      Extras on the main disk include:

·           A brief introduction by John Lasseter (head of Pixar Studios)

·           Anime-related Disney trailers

·           The Art of Spirited Away – a 15-minute English feature about the movie narrated by Jason Marsden. Covers some of the same ground as the “Behind the Microphone” feature on the second disk.

·           Easter Egg: a brief interview with Miyazaki, accessible by going up from the “Introduction” entry in the Bonus Features section

 

      Extras on the second disk include:

·  Japanese Trailers

·  Nippon TV special (approx 42 minutes, provides extensive behind-the-scenes documentation on the creation of Spirited Away)

·  A storyboard-to-scene comparison feature that allows a viewer to use the “angle” feature to flip back and forth between the regular animation and the storyboards for a given scene (English and Japanese language options available)

·  A “Behind the Microphone” feature about the creation of the English dub (about 6 minutes)

 

Principle English Voice Actors

Role

Voice Actor

Chihiro/Sen

Daveigh Chase

Haku

Jason Marsden

Yubaba, Zeniba

Suzanne Pleshette

Lin

Susan Egan

Kamaji

David Ogden Stiers

Chihiro’s mother

Lauren Holly

Chihiro’s father

Michael Chilkis

Assistant Manager

John Ratzenberger

Baby

Tara Strong

 

 

 

Home   |   Anime Reviews   |   Manga Reviews   |   References   |   Links   |   Bibliography