HTF REVIEW: Miyazaki's "Spirited Away" (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED) (with screenshots)

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Ronald Epstein, Apr 7, 2003.

  1. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder

    Jul 3, 1997
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    Real Name:
    Ronald Epstein

    Spirited Away

    Studio: Walt Disney
    Year: 2002
    Rated: PG
    Film Length: 125 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (2.0:1)
    Subtitles: English

    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
    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
    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!

    Special Features


    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.

    Final Thoughts


    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
    some time.

    With an on-line e-tailer now selling this 2-disc
    set for a mere $20, the purchase of Spirited
    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
  2. Tommy G

    Tommy G Screenwriter

    Sep 19, 2000
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    Ron, just wondering what gives it a PG rating. I have 2 kids that would probably love to see this but I am wondering if there is anything inappropriate or if it is simply the MPAA's idiotic rating system (Lilo & Stitch PG rating [​IMG] )
  3. Andy Sheets

    Andy Sheets Cinematographer

    Aug 6, 2000
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    I would say that PG rating comes from a scene involving a main character getting some serious, bloody wounds. It's not excessive but it's probably enough that kids who fear the sight of blood might get queasy.
  4. Jake Lipson

    Jake Lipson Supporting Actor

    Dec 21, 2002
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    It was rated PG for "some scary moments," a rating that I actulally agree with (as opposed to Lilo & Stitch, which should have been G.) When I saw this in theaters a couple weeks ago, I was astonished with its brilliance, but there were several adults who took their kids (2-to-6-year-olds by the way they looked) out of the theater when it got wierd, or rather untraditional for animation as we know ir. Your kids could probably enjoy it as it really is a family film and is very accessable. But I would watch it with them the first time they see it since it does get a little intense for younger kids. However, I cannot reccomend this movie enough. Upon seeing it for the first time recently, it quickly became my favorite movie of all time, and I will own it on April 15.
  5. Anthony Thorne

    Anthony Thorne Supporting Actor

    Oct 10, 2000
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    Answering that question (why the PG rating?) produces some very mild SPOILERS...

    At one point midway through the movie, the flying dragon creature (the one you see in one of the menu shots presented here) is wounded at one point, and you see some blood. The creature whips about and flies around in pain before coming to rest, breathing heavily, to be calmed and comforted a little by Chihiro. The creature remains sympathetic and its discomfort isn't dwelt on. It's equivalent to something you might find in a fairy tale, and children are likely to be concerned for the creature, rather than scared by it.

    There are a couple of dark, near moody scenes with a mysterious character who reappears throughout the film. You can see this pale-faced character peeking out from the bottom-right of the DVD cover, and also sitting next to Chihiro on the red seat in another screenshot here. The artwork gives a good indication for the 'feel' of this moodiness - mysterious, but not too creepy for kids. This unnamed creature/god/spririt actually later grows in size and EATS a couple of characters during the film - gobbles them up in harmless cartoon fashion... There's no real violence at all, it's treated with some humour, and the same folk are coughed back up later, unharmed, scratching their head a little at the experience. Again, this moody character is shown to be fairly placid and friendly by film's end. The sequence is perhaps like something out of a Roald Dahl story, but without any of his meanspiritedness.

    There's a lot of stuff in this movie that kids will absolutely love. The little dust creatures that become lazy and shirk their work... The fly huffing and puffing and picking up a mouse (the two of them happily fly around together)... The magical sights that Chihiro sees on her train journey... The amazing colour and architecture of the locale... It's all wonderful stuff, very involving, and leads up to a cheerful and quite uplifting ending. Kids will want to talk about some of the stuff hinted at in the final scene ("Was that part real? Was that part a dream?") and adults should find themselves fairly captivated. The music is lush and memorable, the animation is great, and the film has a good heart. It deserved to win its Oscar and I highly recommend folks make the effort to watch it.
  6. Richard Waller

    Richard Waller Second Unit

    Oct 24, 2001
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    Looking forward to this, as well as the other Miyazakis being released on the 15th. I'm glad they're finally getting released in Region 1 so I can stop paying $40 each for the Region 2 versions.
  7. Craig S

    Craig S Producer

    Mar 4, 2000
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    League City, Texas
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    Craig Seanor
    Nice review, Ron. I'm looking forward to this disc even more.
  8. Brent Hutto

    Brent Hutto Supporting Actor

    Aug 30, 2001
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    Ron, if I'm not mistaken the English subtitles are a transliteration of the original Japanese language soundtrack. The voices we hear in the English-language version are working from a separate, English-language script that was written for that version of the movie. The same thing occured with Princess Mononoke in that there can be noticable differences between the two scripts.
  9. Adam Tyner

    Adam Tyner Screenwriter

    Sep 29, 2000
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  10. Michael St. Clair

    May 3, 1999
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  11. Rob Lutter

    Rob Lutter Producer

    Nov 3, 2000
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  12. Adam Tyner

    Adam Tyner Screenwriter

    Sep 29, 2000
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  13. SteveGon

    SteveGon Executive Producer

    Dec 11, 2000
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    Ron, thanks for the review - my appetite for seeing this film is now thoroughly whetted!

    I'll be picking up two copies each of Spirited Away, Laputa: Castle in the Sky, and Kiki's Delivery Service - one set for me and one set for the nephews who have probably worn out their VHS copy of KDS!
  14. Nate Anderson

    Nate Anderson Screenwriter

    Jan 18, 2001
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    I look at this picture and all I can think of is "The NeverEnding Story."

    Nonetheless, I will have to see this in the theater before the DVD comes out!
  15. Jeff Kleist

    Jeff Kleist Executive Producer

    Dec 4, 1999
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    Ron, had you listened to the film in OSL, you would have gotten a much better one. Chihiro (horrifically pronounced by the dub cast) is cast 5 years too young, Haku about 10 too old. On top of this the mixing on the English version is bordering on amature. Absolutely no reverb correction half the time retaining that "Hey, I'm in a recording studio" sound.

    As for the video/audio, There are some serious issues with this disc, all of which will be revealed in my review for the Bits. Not only that, but the film is missing almost 2 HOURS of extras that were included with the foreign release, that would have been no effort to include
  16. Kenneth Cummings

    Kenneth Cummings Supporting Actor

    Aug 7, 2001
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    Nice to get to see this movie finally. I heard great things, and this great review cement the purchase of the dvd next week. [​IMG] Good job again Ron.
  17. TheLongshot

    TheLongshot Producer

    May 12, 2000
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  18. Jeff Kleist

    Jeff Kleist Executive Producer

    Dec 4, 1999
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    Yes I am, nd it's on Kiki and Laputa

    Given that the R3 contained everything BUT the craptastic "Behind the Microphone" I don't see why they couldn't have squished it a bit more and made it work
  19. Tim Glover

    Tim Glover Lead Actor

    Jan 12, 1999
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    Monroe, LA
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    Tim Glover
    Haven't seen this movie. Obviously it deserves at least a rental. From the reviews, it looks great!

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