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DVD REVIEW

Miyazaki's Spirited Away  (2001)

 

Voices: Daveigh Chase, James Marsden
Director:
Hayao Miyazaki

Rating: PG

Studio: Disney

Review Posted: 4.10.03

Spoilers: None

 

Reviewed by Dennis Landmann

 

Synopsis

 

Hayao Miyazaki introduces us to a young girl trapped in a strange new world of spirits who must call upon the courage she never knew she had to free herself and rescue her parents.

 

Critique

 

I have never had much interest in animated films or Japanese anime. Hayao Miyasaki’s Spirited Away changed my attitude toward such films, however. Anime has a lot more leeway than a live-action film, because there are no limitations to what can be done. Surely, even films can now be attributed fewer limitations with the technology of special effects and blue screen photography. Yet, I find anime features have much more personality and life to them considering the amount of work and personal dedication that is involved in an animated film production.

 

Miyazaki’s previous film, Princess Mononoke, hit US screens in 1999, two years after its actual release in Japan. That film received much critical acclaim and admiration from critics and fans of the genre. Spirited Away continues Miyazaki’s streak of fabulous tales, characters, and animation.

 

Much like Alice in Wonderland, Spirited Away is a unique tale with strange characters in an even stranger place. One of Miyazaki’s trademarks involves human protagonists entering a strange land that is forbidden or otherwise accessible, in this case, the spirit land (the floating islands of Castle in the Sky, the forests in Princess Mononoke). Another of Miyazaki’s trademarks includes the reference to nature, ecology, and pollution, which in this film is somewhat subliminally hidden in the form of the bathhouse customers.

 

The main location of the film is the bathhouse where all the spirits come to rest and relax. Chihiro, the protagonist, with the help of Haku, a young boy with magical powers, finds a job inside the bathhouse and spends her time helping out the other employees, but more so trying to find her parents. The character is so innocent, yet so admirable and courageous. What the film benefits from most, aside from the great animation, direction, and screenplay, is the character of Chihiro and the way she carries herself. Most great films are in the hands of great characters and Spirited Away is a fine example to prove this statement.

 

Spirited Away is not only a film for ten year-old children, but also one for all ages. Its magical and inspirational nature is so evident and fine-tuned that viewers can imagine themselves in the role of Chihiro. An important element in the film is Jô Hisaishi’s musical score. It is fabulous and provides a great sense of adventure. But perhaps the most important element of all, naturally, is Miyazaki’s imagination and screenplay. His experiences and certain influences clearly guide his creativity. Now aged 60 years, I hope Miyazaki never stops working. It would be a good idea for him to find a talent with the same kind of voice and imagination as himself who can continue or at least keep in spirit the greatness in Miyazaki’s work.

 

The English production, directed by Kirk Wise, is quite extraordinary. It features great voice talents and dialogue, adapted from Miyazaki by Cindy Davis Hewitt and Donald Hewitt. Daveigh Chase (Chihiro), Jason Marsden (Haku), Susanne Pleshette (Yubaba/Zeniba), Michael Chiklis (Chihiros’s Dad), Lauren Holly (Chihiro’s Mom), John Ratzenberger (Bathhouse Assistant Manager), and David Ogden Stiers (Kamaji) all lend their talent to Spirited Away’s English soundtrack. John Lasseter (Pixar’s Toy Story) is the executive producer of the U.S. production and introduces Spirited Away on the DVD. His fascination with the film prompted him to bring Miyazaki’s extraordinary film to US screens with much love and devotion; all of this is evident in Lasseter’s introduction, but also because of his admiration and respect for Miyazaki. Hopefully Spirited Away continues and inspires other producers to bring future and past quality animation to US audiences.

 

9 out of 10

 

The Video

 

Animated films, or anime, tend to have an advantage of live-action films. First of all, no actual film is used in the photography, but rather the drawings of the animators. Second of all, animated films usually have a wide range of available and fresh colors. Third, I believe, artifacts or scratches usually don’t show up on an animated print. With that said, Spirited Away features great animation, great color schemes and detail. I noticed no signs of shadow flaws or scratches, as predicted I wouldn’t. Disney presents Spirited Away in widescreen (2.0:1) format and enhanced for 16x9 televisions. The print is fresh and glamorous, even pristine, adding to the experience of the film.

 

9 out of 10

 

The Audio

 

The English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound is obviously a dub, but it is very well produced. Most of the dialogue is right on target with the mouth movements of the characters, not an easy thing to accomplish. The music score and sound effects flourish and make all speakers work hard. In some instances the audio doesn’t protrude well enough and you might need to adjust your volume a little to get a better listening experience, but other than that I can’t say much more than this about the English Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Also part of the disc is the original Japanese language track and a French language track. These two are not as good as the English track, but they will work fine for whomever speaks Japanese and French.

 

8 out of 10

 

The Extras

 

This 2-disc DVD release from Disney is pretty neat and the extras here are pretty good.

 

Introduction by John Lasseter – I guess he wants to make a statement to voice his fascination with the film and the admiration he holds for Miyazaki. He calls the viewer “lucky” to be able to see the film. I agree with him after seeing it. However, as a whole, this introduction is nothing exciting and could very well have worked as a conclusion rather than an introduction to the film.

 

Behind The Microphone: Voice Talent featurette – Here we get a 5:40 minute behind-the-scenes look at the US production of the English language track. On-set interviews make statements about how hard it is to actually record a voice over the animation. We see all of the voice talents perform, but mainly hear from Jason Marsden and Susanne Pleshette. It’s an exciting look at the production, but it would have been interesting to get a more in-depth look.

 

The Art of Spirited Away – The art behind the film is the animation process, of course. This feature explains and shows the process from discussions to storyboarding and from drawing the images to the coloring of them. If this is a field of interest to you, definitely check this one out and you might as well use it for reference in one way or two.

 

The Making of Spirited Away – This Nippon Television special is very in-depth and shows the way from the creative side to the actual production of the film, such as drawing and completing the animation process. You get an interesting vibe for the young staff and Miyasaki as you’re watching them at a round-table discussion about the animation. Most of the staff consists of young males and only one out of the ten have had a dog, something Miyazaki can hardly believe (I’ve had one, too). This making-of is truly special and very well worth your time. Check this one out right after you see the film.

 

Select Storyboard To Scene Comparison – This feature is pretty self-explanatory, but worth looking at. You get a few selected scenes, which you can view as a storyboard and to the final product.

 

Original Japanese trailers – Any of these are worthy checking out once or twice. An obvious inclusion among extras nowadays, but these are not your average trailers. Very nice.

 

8 out of 10

 

Overall

 

Spirited Away is almost a classic by now, or at least it should become a classic in the near future. It’s a fabulous tale of love, loss, innocence, adventure, and courage. I guess I could go on and on about its fabulous nature, but the film makes that statement better than my words can describe. With a clean, colorful video transfer and a great English language track, in conjunction with an exciting behind-the-scenes look at the film, Spirited Away’s 2-disc set is worth buying; even if you’ve never seen an anime feature before.

 

Overall DVD Rating: 9 out of 10

 


 

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