Blu-ray and DVD Reviews

Spirited Away

Reviewed by: Scott Chitwood
Movie Rating:
6 out of 10
Extras Rating:
8 out of 10
Movie Details:
View here

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

Special Features:
Spirited Away Introduction by John Lassiter
The Art Of Spirited Away
The Nippon Television Special - The Making Of The Film
Select Storyboard-to-Scene Comparison
Behind the Microphone with Suzanne Pleshette and Jason Marsden
Original Japanese Trailers

Other Info:
Widescreen (2.0:1) - Enhanced for 16x9 Televisions
English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
Original Japanese Language Track
French Language Track
Running Time: 125 Minutes

Synopsis:
Chihiro and her parents are moving to a new neighborhood in Japan. However, along the way, they get lost in the woods. When they come up to a strange looking structure, Chihiro's father wants to go inside and explore. After going through a tunnel in the building, they enter into a strange new world consisting of an apparently deserted town. Chihiro's parents believe that it is an amusement park. Little do they know that they've entered into the world of spirits.

Soon after Chihiro's arrival, the spirits begin coming out of the woodwork. They congregate at a bathhouse in the center of town run by Yubaba, a bizarre monster of a woman. Chihiro flees in terror only to find that her parents have been turned into pigs. Alone and scared, she has no idea what to do until a young boy by the name of Haku comes to help her. Haku explains the ways of the spirit world to Chihiro and sets her on the path to saving her parents and returning home. The first step is to get a job at the bathhouse.

While facing a fantastic parade of outlandish spirits, Chihiro slowly learns her way around the world. Little does she know that she holds the key to turning the spirit world into a better place.

"Spirited Away" is rated PG for some scary moments.

The Movie:
As you know, "Spirited Away" won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Before that it was the highest grossing Japanese film and it won numerous awards all over the world. So is it worth the hype? That will depend heavily on your point of view. Animation fans will be thrilled with it. General American audiences may find it a mixed bag.

Some familiarity with Japanese culture will help greatly in understanding the bizarre plot. Knowledge of Japanese spirits in nature, bathhouses, and anime will put you well ahead of the game in figuring out what the heck is going on. Otherwise, it may seem like the creators were on heavy drugs when making the film. You cannot go into this movie expecting your typical Disney animated feature.

The plot is incredibly psychedelic if you approach it from an American point of view. There's a wide array of bizarre monsters and strange spirits floating around. Crazy creatures jump around in the background. A freakish large headed witch is the main antagonist in the story. The film is also at times violent and gross. A "stink spirit" oozes smelly goo all over the place. A spirit named "No Face" eats people in a scary manner and vomits all over other characters. Chihiro is frequently chased by scary monsters that want to kill her and her parents are turned into pigs. Little kids might really, really freak out while watching Spirited Away. Fortunately my child is thoroughly de-sensitized by hours of watching scary things on TV, so we were OK.

Despite the strange plot, the animation is absolutely fantastic. While nothing new as far as Japanese anime is concerned, it's still a pleasant change from typical American animation. The scenes of flight with Chihiro and the dragon are stunning. The chase scenes with the monsters and the paper airplanes are really exciting. The bizarre monsters in the film rival anything seen in Star Wars. There's an amazing fine attention to detail throughout "Spirited Away". You could take any single animation cel from this movie and have a beautiful painting.

The English dialogue is excellent. The whole cast does a fantastic job and the translation from Japanese appears to be seamless. If you're a fan of animation or fantasy you'll want to check out "Spirited Away". I will say, though, that as much as I enjoyed the animation I had a hard time warming up to the weird story. This is my reason for rating it lower. Also be warned that it's over 2 hours long, so if you find yourself bored, you may not want to sit through the whole thing.

The Extras:
Considering that this is a two disc set, there are surprisingly few extras on this DVD. Luckily they make up the quantity with quality.

Spirited Away Introduction by John Lassiter - Pixar guru John Lassiter helped spearhead the importing of this film from Japan to Disney in the U.S. He opens the film by gushing about creator Hayao Miyazaki. That's fine if you're familiar with his work, but it doesn't mean much if you have no idea who he is. The introduction is a little frustrating if you just want to start the movie right away.

The Art Of Spirited Away - This feature is mainly American animators and directors gushing about Miyazaki and Spirited Away. It does point out some of the detail about the animation and how little touches are added to the characters to make them more human. Unfortunately, though, the Japanese creators have little voice in this feature. For that you have to look on the next extra.

The Nippon Television Special - The Making Of The Film - This is one of the more interesting extras on the DVD. Straight from Japanese television, this subtitled feature follows the entire moviemaking process. It gives you a real taste of what Japanese television and culture is like. You see Miyazaki meeting with his animators to plot out the story and discuss the scenes. You see him cracking the whip trying to get them to speed up their drawing to meet deadlines. You see him recording dialogue with the actors and attending the scoring sessions. You get a real sense that Miyazaki is a Japanese cross between George Lucas and Walt Disney. He's involved with every step of the creative process and he truly thinks outside of the box. I was particularly interested to find out that in Japan, they animate the movies first then come back later and add the voices. It seems to be just the opposite everywhere else. It truly shows where the priorities of the Japanese animator lie. This documentary gives you a greater appreciation for Miyazaki and the animators than anything else on the DVD.

Select Storyboard-to-Scene Comparison - This is a simple comparison of the storyboards and the final film. You can toggle the angle button and switch between the two. Unfortunately, they don't give you any directions on what to do before it kicks off. You have to figure it out for yourself. You also have the option of watching it with Japanese or English dialogue.

Behind the Microphone with Suzanne Pleshette and Jason Marsden - This feature shows how the English dialogue was recorded for the movie. It was interesting to see the American actors have to time their lines exactly with the lip movements of the animated characters. Though this seems backwards, it's how the Japanese actors had to record their dialogue, too. It's fun to see them recording the lines. It's quite bizarre to hear how years of smoking have made Suzanne Pleshette's voice almost unrecognizable.

Original Japanese Trailers - This is yet another taste of Japanese culture. The trailers in Japan are very different from those in the US and this is a great example of it. They're fun to watch.

The Bottom Line:
Animation fans, fantasy fans, and adventurous moviegoers are going to get the most enjoyment out of "Spirited Away". Everyone will enjoy it depending on their personal tastes.

Order this DVD @ Amazon

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