Studio: Walt Disney
Film Length: 125 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (2.0:1)
Get ready to test your imagination!
Folks, I just don't know where to begin to describe
the experience I had watching Writer/director Hayao
Miyazaki's animé fantasy epic Spirited Away.
Never before have I witnessed an animated film that
is so imaginative, so inspired, that this movie stands
on its own as a cinematic masterpiece.
Wow! What a way to start a review.
I had never heard of this film until last month's
televised Academy Awards where the film won BEST
ANIMATED FEATURE FILM. I was absolutely intrigued
by the very few seconds of film clip that was shown
during the ceremony, and I immediately knew that
this was a film I was going to have to see.
Spirited Away is the highest grossing domestic
film in Japan, and now it comes to the States in a
newly dubbed version from Disney.
To fully appreciate Spirited Away, one must
realize that within the Japanese culture, people
not only believe there is a GOD, but they also believe
that the natural world is filled with spirits. There
are spirits for various animals, forests, oceans and
everything in between. The world, in the eyes of the
Japanese, is filled with spirits good AND bad and
people need to be cautious in their lives so that
they do not offend the spirits. If a spirit is
offended, penitence of some sort needs to be made.
Understand this and you are ready to begin your
journey in Spirited Away.
I don't want to describe too much of the film's
plot, for doing so will ruin many of the magical
surprises that are in store. Here is the best that
I can offer you....
A ten-year-old girl named Chihiro (Daveigh Chase) is
on her way to her family's new suburban house with
her father (Michael Chiklis) and mother (Lauren
Holly). She is quite upset about the move and
spends the car ride quietly sulking in the back
seat. Along the way, her father decides to take a
shortcut down a dirt road through the forest, and
they discover a dark passageway/tunnel that seems
to be pulling them in.
On the other side lies an abandoned amusement park.
There's a pleasant odor coming from somewhere in
the area, and with Chihiro's parents being
incredibly hungry, they scour the vacant fair
grounds and discover a feast at one of the unattended
tents. While the parents stuff themselves, Chihiro
wanders away to explore. As night falls, she meets
a young man named Haku (Jason Marsden), who warns
her to leave immediately. As darkness falls upon
the park, spirits begin to appear, and when she
returns to her parents, she is shocked to discover
that something terrible has happened.
Chihiro suddenly finds herself stuck alone in the
spirit world, where no one but Haku seems to willing
to help her. What follows is a series of adventures
and meetings within this wondrous and astonishing
new world. Chihiro ends up working in a bath house
where spirits come to replenish themselves. It is
there she finds herself in a sort of Alice In
Wonderland trippy adventure involving frogs,
giant walruses, soot balls, heads with no bodies,
talking door-knockers -- and yes, Yubaba (Suzanne
Pleshette), the cantankerous boss of the
Most of the time one doesn't even have to understand
the story that is being told as it mostly takes
a backseat to the gorgeous visuals that flow into
each other like a glorious stream of consciousness.
Best of all, Spirited Away is traditional and
not dependant on computer effects as is the case
with many modern American animated films.
How is the transfer?
As one would expect from a fine animated feature
presented on the best video format to date, Spirited
Away looks incredible. The transfer is meticulous,
breathtakingly clear and reveals a tremendous amount
of detail. Colors are beautifully rendered and black
levels are nice and deep. Brightness and contrast
are just perfect throughout. If all that wasn't
cool enough, there are no blemishes, speckles or
film grain/noise to be seen anywhere.
The DVD contains the original 5.1 Dolby Digital
track as well as a newly dubbed 5.1 English track.
Although it is my policy to always watch foreign
film in their original language, I made an exception
here. I chose to watch this film in its newly dubbed
version with the voices of known American actors.
This is a serious 5.1 mix that adds remarkable
punch to the film's visual dazzle. This mix is
full of excellent sound direction that never ceases
to stun you with its carefully placed cues. One of
my favorite parts of the film takes place in the
boiler room where I was treated to a barrage of
sounds that emanated from every direction. Audio
is bass-heavy across the front channels with some
nice added rumbling support from the .LFE channel.
Audio is so very well detailed here that you can
hear the smallest sounds brought out with distinct
clarity. Finally, Jô Hisaishi's score can often
be heard wrapping itself around the rear channels,
though I noticed it remained mostly in the fronts.
An all-around excellent transfer!
Spirited Away has been released as a deluxe
2-disc Special Edition. The film which resides on
Disc One contains both the original 5.1
Japanese language track as well as an English
5.1 language track. A standard French language
track is also included.
We are now on Disc One...
Before the film begins, we are greeted with a
personal introduction by John Lasseter. Taking
time out from his duties at Pixar, Mr.
Lasseter executive produced the English language
version of this film. In this introduction, John
gives us a little background on the film and
introduces us to its creator, Hayao Miyazaki (who
looks a little startled in front of the camera).
Anyone opting to use the English subtitles during
the playback of the film will be disappointed to
find that the text doesn't always exactly match
the dialogue on screen. I would suspect this is the
kind of loss that is expected in a translation from
a foreign language.
The art of Spirited Away is a nice little
featurette that takes us behind-the-scenes where
we not only meet the actors who portrayed the
English voices, but producers and filmmakers John
Lasseter, Glen Keane and other noted creative
members of the Walt Disney animation studios.
Hosted by Jason Marsden (the voice of Haku), this
featurette begins with a quick overview of the
film's story. As we meet director Hayao Miyazaki,
we learn that the lead character of Chihiro was
inspired by a real-life girl -- the daughter of
one of the director's friends. Miyazaki admits
many of the creatures portrayed in this film are
out of his own personal real-life experiences.
Watch this featurette and see what I mean. As
we are shown clips from other Miyazaki films, we
hear from many Disney animators and creators who
talk about the various influences and inspirations
they have gotten out of Miyazaki's work. Finally,
we are taken through the task of translating and
voicing Spirited Away for American audiences.
An excellent featurette that you will certainly
(length: approx. 15 minutes)
Let's now move on to Disc Two which contains
all the bonus features....
Behind the Microphone introduces us once
again to Jason Marsden (Haku) who takes us through
the ADR process of Japane redubbing. Through split
screens, we watch actors Jason Marsden, Daveigh
Chase, Susan Egan, David Ogden Stiers, John
Ratzenberger, Lauren Holly and Suzanne Pleshette
standing in front of individual monitors as they
carefully speak their scripted words into the
microphone. Though all the character's voices were
redubbed for this English version of the film, the
filmmakers and voice talent were very careful to
keep Miyazaki's original intent intact. Very nice!
(length: approx. 5 minutes)
Select storyboard-to-scene comparison takes
us through the opening scene of the film, shown
entirely in storyboard form with the film's original
Japanese or redubbed English soundtrack.
(length: approx. 10 minutes)
The Making of the film is actually an original
Nippon television special, presented entirely in
Japanese with optional English subtitles. It's an
interesting watch for the fact that we get some
interesting background on director Hayao Miyazaki
and how real-life people and personal experiences
have inspired his animated creations. It's also
interesting to learn that the fantasy world that
Miyazaki created is actually based on the Edo-Tokyo
Open Air Architectural Museum located near Studio
Ghibli. Speaking of Studio Ghibli, we are taken
to the facility where we meet the countless amount
of animators who produce a tremendous amount of hand
drawings. The advent of digital animation hasn't
phased these animators who still stick to hand
drawings over computer creations. Through roundtable
discussions, we watch as Miyazaki and his animation
team put together storyboards and even map out the
movements of a dragon's mouth using a pet dog that
resides inside the studio. Only six months before
release date, we watch as animators scurry in an
effort to triple their output in order to finish
key animation. If you appreciate the amount of
talent Miyakazki brings to his animation, you'll
especially appreciate his talent for cooking a
noodle dish for his exhausted staff. Once the
film is completed, we are taken to the studio
basement where we meet the young Japanese girl
who is the original voice of Chihiro. We watch
as the voice talents deliver their lines, much to
the amusement of the filmmakers who sit behind the
recording console. Finally, we get a look at the
foley work (the creation of various sound effects)
that was done for the film as well as how composer
Jô Hisaishi orchestrated the film. This is a
sensational raw documentary that gives us in-depth
insight into the making of this film. Not to be
(length: approx. 41 minutes)
Rounding out the extras is 28 minutes worth of
original Japanese trailers that promoted
the release of the film.
Take a deep breath and be ready to be carried away
by the most imaginative, artistically stunning
and groundbreaking animated film made to date.
Spirited Away is unlike anything you have
ever seen and probably will see again for quite
With an on-line e-tailer now selling this 2-disc
set for a mere $20, the purchase of Spirited
Away is an absolute no-brainer.
I can't recommend the purchase of this DVD enough!
Release Date: April 15, 2003
All screen captures have been further compressed.
They are for illustrative purposes only and do not
represent actual picture quality