The most successful Japanese film ever - it took over $200m
before its release in the US - tells the story of Chihiro,
a young girl who, with her folks, accidentally stumbles into
the invisible world of the spirits. When her parents are turned
into pigs for eating the deities' food, Chihiro must take
work under the greedy witch Yubaba, at the bathhouse where
the Gods come to rest from mankind - and hope that she can
find a way to get her family home...
here in the US, Disney has just released a magnificent DVD
edition of a fabulous animated feature. But my advice is,
however tempted you may be, don't buy it. At least, not yet.
Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki has won immense status among
animators over the last 20 years or so. More recently, his
profile has been raised among mainstream audiences by the
international releases of his 1997 epic Princess Mononoke
and now this even greater work Spirited Away (Sen
to Chihiro no kamikakushi).
The newer film reaches UK cinemas this autumn, via the good
graces of Optimum Releasing, in an English-language version
overseen by two near toon titans themselves: John Lassiter
(head of Toy Story studio Pixar) and Kirk Wise (co-director
of Disney's Beauty and the Beast). But though the Lassiter-Wise
and Japanese versions are both on the Region 1 DVD, Spirited
Away should first be seen in the biggest cinema you can
fills the screen with breathtaking panoramas, populating them
with apparently incidental but ultimately vital details and
characters. At the same time, while this is essentially a
'family' film, it also successfully goes for big themes -
there is a depth and a wit to the movie that again deserve
the fuller concentration that comes from being otherwise immersed
On the DVD, Miyazaki reveals that he envisaged Spirited
Away as a film for 10 year-olds. The plot concerns a girl
moving from preteen indolence to understand her inner strength
as a young woman - all via an accidental journey into the
world of the Shinto Gods - and has obvious links to Alice
in Wonderland, something further emphasised by an anthropomorphic
cast and a drawing style for some characters that echoes Victorian
what makes Spirited Away stand out in the much-maligned
'family entertainment' category, and what has allowed it to
attract a much bigger following than perhaps planned, is its
refusal to patronise any part of the audience. This is inventive
and intelligent stuff.
the film often explores a left-field surrealism that certainly
sets it apart from just about any other kids' movie in recent
memory and, indeed, anything else you are likely to see this
year or next. Thematically, it toys with ambiguity. No-character
is all good or bad - indeed, the behaviour of most characters
straddles both camps - and this places the emphasis subtly
on the wider issues of discovery and choice.
complexity is hard enough to pull off in live-action movies;
achieving it as well as Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli do
here is astounding. And, trust me, I've road-tested this one
on an audience genuinely aged 6-60.
work on characterisation is also important and it's successfully
transplanted by a strong voice cast to the English-language
version. The heroine, Chihiro, is drawn as an very ordinary
youngster. By contrast, the twin witches, Yubaba and Zeniba,
may sound like something from Planet Vic Reeves, but are in
fact wonderfully realised Toby Jug golems. Indeed, the whole
range of gods, monsters and servants Chihiro encounters has
a great deal more depth and subtlety that the genre usually
be surprised if you get to the end of Spirited Away
and find that this combination has actually reached in and
touched your soul - it won't just be the fact that this is
quite so beautiful a visual experience that could draw the
you cannot wait until Autumn, the two-disc Region 1 DVD is
an excellent package. A Japanese TV documentary follows the
making of the film, showing how the painstaking production
process had Miyazaki and his colleagues working almost right
up to the original release date. It also fills in much of
the background on what inspired the director.
Other on-disc extras include two US documentaries, one introducing
the filmmaker to Western audiences and another looking at
how the English language version was produced. Finally, there
is an extremely detailed storyboard to film comparison, underlining
Miyazaki's own input to the finished product, and 16 trailers.
of all, though, are the rich Dolby 5.1 soundtracks in both
Japanese and English and a nigh-on perfect 2.0:1 anamorphic
transfer - no less than this masterpiece deserves.
should give this film the full 10, but just to try and underline
my point about patience and where you should see it first,
for now, it has to be (though I doubt it will make much difference
for many) I won't give it top marks.
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