Spirited Away (DVD, 2003, 2-Disc Set) Reviews
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Spirited Away (DVD, 2003, 2-Disc Set)

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Good Movies Write Off - "Spirited Away"

Oct 8, 2007 (Updated Oct 9, 2007)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Great animation, story, humour, dialogue, characters, very surreal...

Cons:... unless it's too surreal for you then really there are no cons at all!

The Bottom Line: I loved "Spirited Away" in every way.


We decided that it was high time we saw some anime, since it was something that had previously eluded us but we’d heard so much about it. Getting hold of anime in high street stores in the UK isn’t necessarily very easy even in the bigger stores, but it’s gaining a decent fan base over here. Companies such as Optimum Releasing are now catering for this niche market and producing English releases with proper dubbing on region 2 DVDs. I suspect that we’re rather behind the US market in the anime stakes, but maybe we can catch up.

So where does someone with no real idea about anime start? Having seen good reviews and had a personal recommendation for “Grave of the Fireflies”, we’d already decided on that one. In the small anime section at our local HMV store, we noticed that almost everything there proudly boasted that it was “by the same people as Spirited Away”. That film looked quite cool and was evidently revered by its makers, plus it had won the 2003 Oscar for Best Animated Film and the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Awards, so we thought we’d give it a go.

Anime is a style of animation brought to us by the Japanese (or at least, they’re the originators and experts at it!). The style is very distinct and I’m not sure I can successfully explain it, but to me what characterises the style (this is as a newcomer to the genre admittedly) is the characters with their relatively simple forms but very expressive faces combined with backgrounds created with loving detail in the style of classical Japanese art (presumably watercolour but I don’t really know for sure). The animation is fluidly brought together with an effect that is seems completely different to traditional 2D animation yet must share almost all of the same common routes. It’s just a style thing I guess…

Anyway, Spirited Away is the story of a young girl) Chihiro, who is rather upset at having to move house and away from her friends and school, and a little scared of having to start all over again in a new location. Her parents tell her not to worry and she will later, in Alice In Wonderland style, find out that there are much more difficult things that she has been able to deal with and thus can face her fears more easily. The difference to Alice is that this is no dream - the extreme weirdness that happens to Chihiro really happens…

It all starts when her parents lose their way on route to their new home. They find a tunnel that leads to what seems to be a deserted theme park. Oddly though, there is fresh food set out in one of the shops. Hungry, her parents ravenously start to devour this food, claiming that they will pay for it later when the shopkeeper arrives - but Chihiro stubbornly refuses to eat. While exploring she encounters a boy who tells her that she must flee - and when she goes to get her parents, she finds them… somewhat different. 10 year-old Chihiro must, in fact, face a Sorceress Yubaba (who is foiled by a daft rule that she herself made in one scene) who runs the bath-house in this ghost town, meet many weird and wonderful (or just weird) creatures, go on perilous journeys, and show true love if she is to ever return her parents to their proper form and escape this place. All in all, not an easy task for someone not yet hitting puberty.

She finds an ally early on in Haku, the young man who first warned her about this place and tells her what happened to her parents - but he is known to be Yubaba’s lackey, so can he possibly be trusted? What’s up with Yubaba’s baby who can talk and is giant-sized? Where do the three green bouncing heads (personally my favourite characters - I thought they were just hilarious!) come into all of this? Just what is Haku - human, spirit, dragon, or something in between? There are many mysteries to be solved, many intriguing characters to meet, and a heart-warming story backing up all of it.

Here’s what I didn’t’ like about Spirited Away - nothing. Seriously, there was nothing I didn’t like about it. (For anyone else, the only thing I can think of is that it may be a little too surreal for your taste.)

What I did like about Spirited Away - well, saying “everything” would just be a bit too easy I guess. The animation was very good, with seamless and realistic character movement and wonderful background art. There were also a lot of little touches hidden away that made it look even more wonderful - and bizarre.

Yes, there is a lot of bizarre here. The characters, the setting, the situations, are all pretty weird - but, at least to me, weird in the most wonderful way. Everything made perfect sense in the context of all the other odd events happening around it, and all were easily relatable to the real world - I don’t think it set out to be obviously allegorical, but even the most strange of events in the spirit realm can be paralleled with real life events in one way or another. Chihiro is a great character - she starts out as a little girl but develops a necessary toughness, but despite everything refuses to lose the gentle humanity and warm personality that characterise her - and, as it happens, prove so essential to her eventually succeeding in her quest. Haku also is interesting - it seems pretty obvious whose side he’s on, but it’s just not possible to put the idea that he might be on the other side out of your head completely. Yubaba is mean but also strangely touched by Chihiro’s tenderness at times. The three bouncing heads don’t really have much personality, but they are hilarious so that’s okay then :-D

There are other fascinating characters too - Kamajii, a many-limbed guy who runs the boiler house and magically turns soot into workers; Lin, who Chihiro ends up working with - she seems pretty stern at first but does mellow; NoFace, a strange creature who is indebted to Chihrio for an act of kindness but doesn’t seem to know when to stop; a creature who seems to be a Stink Spirit but may just have a secret identify… and several others.

The plot is expertly propelled and perfectly paced by Director Hayoa Miyazaki (the English release was Co-Directed by Kirk Wise), it’s an ideal blend of action, comedy, drama, and the surreal. The only problem may be that by watching this first, I’ve condemned all future anime I watch to be “good, but not as good as Spirited Away” - but we shall see. In case you need me to reiterate, I really loved this movie. Oh and the music deserves a mention too - the score by Joe Hissaishi, which was evidently inspired by tradition Japanese music but was not as such traditional Japanese music - was absolutely superb. I watched the English dubbed version for I can only speak for the English voice acting, but it also was great. In the interests of fair play I’ll list the voice talent for both the Japanese and English versions.

I will most definitely be getting Miyazaki’s other well-known anime (well-known in that even I’ve heard of it), Princess Mononoke, and then maybe search out his less well-known work, though I’ll probably have to import that. At any rate, as an introduction to anime, I don’t think it will be possible to get better than this - and if you’re already a fan, then you’ve probably already seen it (but if not, go watch it now!).

The Optimum DVD release consists of the original Japanese version, also dubbed into English, and a reworked version in stereo. The only extra feature to speak of is that storyboard - you can actually view the entire movie in storyboard mode if you want. I looked at a couple of minutes of this (you can swap between the two at any time using the angle button on the DVD remote too), but honestly wasn’t interested enough to view the whole storyboard. Something for those involved in or interested in the movie making business, methinks, or perhaps for real fanatics!


Voice cast (Japanese Version)

Rumi Hîragi - Chihiro / Sen
Miyu Irino - Haku
Mari Natsuki - Yubaba / Zeniba
Takashi Naitô - Chihiro's Father
Yasuko Sawaguchi - Chihiro's Mother
Tatsuya Gashuin - Aogaeru, Assistant Manager
Ryunosuke Kamiki - Boh
Yumi Tamai - Lin
Yo Oizumi - Bandai-gaeru
Koba Hayashi - Kawa no Kami
Tsunehiko Kamijo - Chichiyaku
Takehiko Ono - Aniyaku
Bunta Sugawara - Kamajii

Voice cast (English Version)

Daveigh Chase - Chihiro / Sen
Suzanne Pleshette - Yubaba, Zeniba
Jason Marsden - Haku
Susan Egan - Lin
David Ogden Stiers - Kamajii
Lauren Holly - Chihiro's Mother
Michael Chiklis - Chihiro's Father
John Ratzenberger - Assistant Manager
Tara Strong - Boh


Other Information

Apart from the Oscar, Spirited Away got 35 wins and 18 nominations in various film awards around the world.

Year of release: 2001 (Japan) 2003 (UK)
Rated PG for some scary moments
Runtime:
125 min

Japanese title: Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi

Produced by Studio Ghibli


More about Hayao Miyazaki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hayao_Miyazaki

Spirited Away is listed at #58 on IMDB's all-time Top 250 films list at the time of writing this review.


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This was an entry to my Good Movies Write Off - if it’s still October 2007 when you read this, there’s still time to join in the fun!


Recommend this product? Yes

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