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Info:

  • Audio Rating: A-
  • Video Rating: A+
  • Packaging Rating: N/A
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: A+
  • Age Rating: 12 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Buena Vista Home Entertainment
  • MSRP: 29.99
  • Running time: 125
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.0:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Spirited Away

Spirited Away

By Chris Beveridge     March 21, 2003
Release Date: April 15, 2003


Spirited Away
© Buena Vista Home Entertainment


What They Say
A young girl is 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.

The Review!
One of the most anticipated anime DVD releases to come in quite some time, as Spirited Away is most definitely a crossover hit, this release shows that Disney does indeed have much love for Miyazaki.

Audio:
Having seen all Ghibli movies in Japanese before, I?ve come to continue that tradition with each new piece and try to make my first viewing that. Since this is the first time I?ve seen Spirited Away, we watched it in the original Japanese 5.1 Dolby mix. This mix is very expansive overall with a lot of very subtle moments that use the rear speakers. The forward soundstage is nice and deep, providing some excellent scenes where the audio really sounds like it?s coming towards you or across the screen. The English track from what we listened to manages to accomplish much the same and sounds excellent. The French track is only in stereo, but still comes across well, just not quite as crisp and deep sounding.

Video:
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.0:1 and enhanced for widescreen sets, this is one of the most film like viewing experiences I?ve had with a Miyazaki movie yet. Having seen everything that?s been released to date in Japan, this one manages to provide the right balance in looking like a film than any of the others. The most thankful thing is that the heavy red tint found on the Japanese release is nowhere to be seen. There are many scenes where there is a significant amount of red, but that?s all intentional. The print simply looks stunning from start to finish with nothing I would consider even worth nitpicking over.

Packaging:
Due to this being a checkdisc, we have no packaging to review.

Menu:
The menu system is quite nice overall, with each menu playing a different piece of music from the film while the main menu is a simple animated piece showing Sen flying on the dragon with the logo above them and the quick selections below. There?s a bit of slowdown as there are transitional animations in moving to submenus (but not back). Language selection is a tad longer since audio and subtitles are in separate sub-submenus, but overall this is pretty standard for a Disney film. The only thing to note is that so far on two separate players you cannot change audio on the fly, but you can change subtitles. This is a disappointing aspect.

Extras:
With this being a two disc set, there are extras on both the main feature disc and the second extras-only disc.

Disc one has a surprisingly nice extra when I would have normally expected nothing at all. The simple extra here is the separate introduction by John Lasseter. I found this one to be pretty much on par with the ones found on other discs, which means that they?re so close to seeming like a gushing fanboy that you?re almost embarrassed to have it there. The second extra is a Disney produced fifteen minute ?Art Of Spirited Away? which goes over both the English language production as well as some of the Japanese aspects, including spending time with Miyazaki and the films production itself. It?s a rather nice extra overall and gives the English voice actors a bit more time to chat than we saw in the other releases in Kiki and Laputa.

Disc two is a treasure trove of goodness. The Behind the Microphone section, running just over five minutes here, has several good moments with the folks behind the English language production, from the actors to the director to the folks at Disney and their thoughts on Miyazaki and his films. I ended up enjoying this segment a lot since it was interesting to see actors I know and enjoy talk about the differences in dealing with a show like this.

The select storyboard to scene section runs about ten minutes and provides a great look at the concept to end result that we?ve gotten in the Japanese releases (though those cover the entire film). With this, there?s the option to hear it in both Japanese and English, but no subtitle option.

The best extra here though is the 41 minute Nippon TV Special. This special goes into great detail on the films production, going from key moments where Miyazaki realizes his young staff is lacking certain life experiences to understand what he wants (such as the movements of a dog, which cause them to go to a vet to videotape some dogs for research) to the voice recording sessions and the scoring of the film itself. This really does cover it all and provides so many wonderful moments with the man and his staff that it really does enlighten even the most die-hard fan with new things to see and understand. While enough of it is fluff, there?s a lot here that American fans will love to see, especially the amount of time actually spent in the studio itself. Language fans will enjoy seeing the unique recording experience and the efforts of the actors there, especially after seeing the U.S. actors segment and looking at the different approaches.

And to round things off, there is nearly thirty minutes of trailers of JUST Spirited Away to be had here, from the original teasers down to the ones where they were touting the success of the release. I?m stunned at how many trailers are actually here and had a great time going through them to see the differences as they progressed through it.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Ever since its Japanese premier, we?ve heard how Spirited Away has reached all sorts of heights in attendance, weeks in the theater and overall gross. It?s been a film that has managed to really capture the wider audience in Japan, something that Miyazaki movies typically do, but even wider this time around due to the general theme of the plot. With it centering around a ten year old girl and starting based in the real world, it becomes much more accessible to the average person than something like Princess Mononoke.

The film opens with young Chihiro on a journey with her parents to their new home. They?ve moved to a new town, having just left their old one and a small going away party. Chihiro is like most kids at this age and upset at leaving all her friends and everything she?s ever known. She lays stretched out in the back seat sulking about the entire situation, clutching her first bouquet of flowers so hard that they begin to die even more quickly.

As they get closer to their new home, her father realizes that they?ve taken a bit of a wrong turn and ended up on a true back road. But being the type he is, he decides to take it as far as he can as a little adventure to see where it takes them to. Going a bit too fast, they wind up coming to a sharp stop just outside of a massive old building with a small entrance, much like a mixture of an old church or a train station. They travel through, the parents curious about what it is but with Chihiro wanting to turn back.

On the other side, the landscape is nothing like they?d expect, instead of more of the town they saw before, it?s a large open terrain with a strange looking mixed architecture town just across a wooden bridge. There?s proof of life throughout all the buildings, but no signs of any. At one of the restaurants, they come across loads and loads of strange but appealing freshly cooked foods. With the intent to pay, Chihiro?s parents dig and partake of the tasty morsels, but Chihiro becomes even more afraid and ends up looking around the town a bit more, mystified by the strange design and eerie feel.

It?s at this point that the eerie becomes creepy and almost scary, as Chihiro is suddenly whisked away by a young man named Haku who tells her she must get her parents and leave quickly, or they will become stuck here in this world where the Gods come to unwind and rest. She races to her parents, but they?ve since turned literally into pigs and are no longer capable of anything. She starts to panic as the town comes to life while the sun sets, as all sorts of creatures begin to emerge. But Haku comes to her aid again, and spirits her away to safety for a few moments.

As she learns, the town is a place where gods of all types come to unwind, feed and relax, and those who work here are often stuck here for their lives, willing or unwilling. The stench of a human will cause an uproar as they don?t belong here, so Haku gives her instructions to head to the boiler room of the bath house, where she can ask for work and hide away from the towns main ruler, a birdlike woman named Yubaba. Though in the end Chihiro does end up in front of her, she follows Haku?s instructions and simply and repeatedly asks for a job. And thus, she ends up becoming the latest work in the bath house.

That set up is where things then shift into the larger story, where Chihiro, who has now taken on the name of Sen (as Yubaba controls the names, she controls the lives), she has to work towards her goal of regaining her name, freeing her parents and returning home. Of course, she gets to learn more about Haku along the way and his secret, and then there?s the mysteriously creepy transparent spirit named "No-Face" that develops an attachment to Chihiro and ends up providing plenty of trouble for her along the way. When it isn?t eating other people at least.

Spirited Away for me has the honor of being the first Miyazaki film that I simply have not cared for at all after seeing it. While I had a certain level of anticipation for it, particularly since I bought the region 2 release but never watched it due to the red tint issues, I never placed it in a range where my expectations couldn?t be matched. I kept from reading much about it, so most of it was fresh and new to me.

Unfortunately, I found it to be one of the least enjoyable of all his films. With its running time of just over two hours, the pacing of film felt far to lazy at times with things taking too long to move towards the next moment where something interesting would happen. What happens instead is that we get a lot of areas where there is a lot of activity and cute moments, but with the overall length of the film, it ends up feeling like too much and almost being overwhelmed by it. The visuals are definitely interesting from the larger perspective, but with so much of it being crammed into such a small area in a sense, it just doesn?t work for me.

There are many excellent moments, but as a whole it just didn?t work for me. By the end of the first hour, where the plot had just finally settled on where Chihiro, now as Sen, fits into the scheme of things, I was almost nodding off. A good part of it was that during that first hour, I found the character of Chihiro to be wholly inaccessible and uninteresting in general. While the leads in Miyazaki movies haven?t exactly been all that deep, since they just need to carry a particular movie as opposed to something longer, Chihiro just lacks any kind of hook that really got me to be caught up in the situation she found herself in.

Visually and technically, Spirited Away is a stunningly gorgeous film that has a lot to offer, but only a few areas really ended up interesting me in the end. With its running time and overly packed areas of characters and plodding pacing during the first half, it?s not a film I see myself revisiting any time soon.

Features
Japanese 5.1 Language,English 5.1 Language,French Language,English Subtitles,Introduction by John Lasseter,Behind the Microphone,Making of Spirited Away - Nippon TV Special,Art of Spirited Away,SElect Storyboard to Scene Comparison,Original Japanese Trailers

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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1 
animefanjared 8/12/2009 8:08:57 PM

I have to respectfully disagree with Chris.  I've seen many (though not all) of Miyazaki's films and "Spirited Away" is my absolute favorite.  It does run a tad long, but its filled with so much childlike wonder and joy that I find it entrancing.  If nothing else, it is a visual feast and a prime example of all that can be accomplished with traditional, 2D animation.

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