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HTF REVIEW: Miyazaki's "Spirited Away" (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED) (with screenshots) (1 Viewer)

Ronald Epstein

Senior HTF Member
Jul 3, 1997
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

Tommy G

Sep 19, 2000
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 :rolleyes:)

Andy Sheets

Senior HTF Member
Aug 6, 2000
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.

Jake Lipson

Senior HTF Member
Dec 21, 2002
Real Name
Jake Lipson
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.

Anthony Thorne

Supporting Actor
Oct 10, 2000
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.

Richard Waller

Second Unit
Oct 24, 2001
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.

Craig S

Senior HTF Member
Mar 4, 2000
League City, Texas
Real Name
Craig Seanor
Nice review, Ron. I'm looking forward to this disc even more.
I had never heard of this film until last month's televised Academy Awards ...
You need to hang out in the Movies section more often! ;) Spirited Away was discussed quite a bit there, and ended up being #6 on the HTF top films of 2002 list (as compiled by Dana Fillhart).

Any chance of you reviewing the other 2 Miyazaki titles being release next week??

Heads up for everybody - You can get the 3 Miyazaki titles for under $16 U.S. apiece from Amazon.ca. Anybody found a better price?

Brent Hutto

Supporting Actor
Aug 30, 2001

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.

Adam Tyner

Sep 29, 2000
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.
Brent's description above is accurate, from what I understand. Subtitles (based on the original language track) are greatly preferred over "dubtitles" (a transcription of the English dub).

Michael St. Clair

Senior HTF Member
May 3, 1999
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.
Those who should be disappointed are those who are listening to the dub! Matching the timing of the onscreen action and lip-flap requires that dubs be compromised in their translation. The subtitles are the most accurate translation.

And start hanging out in the Forum's other areas. You never know about the best tv shows until they (hopefully) get a DVD release, and you are missing some great movies! I am very sorry that didn't catch Spirited Away in the theater.

Rob Lutter

Senior HTF Member
Nov 3, 2000
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.
YAY! That's a good thing... if they had just copied the ADR (dub) script, there would have been hell to pay. ;)

Ron, you GOTTA watch the film in the OSL of Japanese... Japanese voice actors are the BEST in the entire world at what they do. I'd like to see you review the Japanese 5.1 track because I have heard that it is a little less bombastic than the English (and inferior to the DTS on the R2/3 discs).

Are you gonna be doing a review for Kiki's Delivery Service or (Laputa:)Castle in the Sky?

Adam Tyner

Sep 29, 2000
I am very sorry that didn't catch Spirited Away in the theater.
Have you checked your listings in the past week or two? I live in Greenville, SC, and though we didn't get Spirited Away during its original run, it just started showing here last weekend, I believe. Only two showings a day on a single screen at one theater, but still... Even with as close as the DVD is, I'm still considering giving it a look this weekend if it's showing.

Edit -- nevermind, I took the "very sorry..." comment to mean that you hadn't seen it theatrically, but then I clicked over to "Movies" and saw your review in the Spirited Away thread. I misinterpreted. Sorry.


Senior HTF Member
Dec 11, 2000
Real Name
Steve Gonzales
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!

Nate Anderson

Jan 18, 2001

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!

Jeff Kleist

Senior HTF Member
Dec 4, 1999
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

Kenneth Cummings

Supporting Actor
Aug 7, 2001
Nice to get to see this movie finally. I heard great things, and this great review cement the purchase of the dvd next week. :D Good job again Ron.

Joel C

Oct 23, 1999
Jeff- I assume you are referring to the alternate "storyboard" version of the film?


Senior HTF Member
May 12, 2000
Real Name
I assume you are referring to the alternate "storyboard" version of the film?
Yeah, looking back at the review, it's only the first 10 minutes. Only slightly disappointing, since I'll probably never watch it anyways. I wonder if they ran out of room for it on the second disc...


Jeff Kleist

Senior HTF Member
Dec 4, 1999
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

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