Mania Grade: B
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- Audio Rating: A
- Video Rating: A-
- Packaging Rating: 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
By Eric McGillicuddy
June 29, 2003
Release Date: April 15, 2003
A few reviewers compare Spirited Away to Alice in Wonderland. I don't think this is a good analogy in that Alice ends up in a world inhabited by odd characters doing odd things, Chihiro ends up in a world inhabited by odd looking characters essentially doing everyday things. Much like working in a hotel during an anime convention. The technical quality is excellent, the execution of portions of the story is brilliant and there are a number of themes to occupy the adults, but overall I did not enjoy it as much as Kiki's Delivery Service or the masterpiece Princess Mononoke
Sound quality is good on all three tracks. I found the surround effects quite nice, but to appreciate some of the subtler effects, I would recommend headphones.
I don't speak Spanish, but the absence of a Spanish track on a Region 1 release irks me every time. I feel region 1 should always include English, French, Spanish and original language tracks plus subtitles.
Translation and Dubbing--
The English language track changes some exposition from the literal translation in a number of critical areas. Sen is looking for Kamaji, but she says she is looking for Haku. She says Haku is a dragon shortly after visiting her parents, but she shouldn't realize this until she sees the dragon fighting the paper birds. An unconscious realization fits better with the story and the mystical nature of the world. Yubaba's deal with Haku is to release Chihiro and her parents when he returns Baby, the deal is altered by Yubaba when they return and this is completely changed in the translation thus weakening the entire effect. Also extraneous and inane dialogue is inserted in a couple of places.
The French language track is much closer to the literal translation, but when it does deviate, it does a good job, Kamaji and Yubaba in particular get better lines. Kamaji: "You are just one person .... I have a whole army at my service.", then a bit later "...what is this, a revolution?". When Chihiro first arrives at Yubaba's door, with just the right tone of menace, Yubaba: "Come in my little dear.","Much faster than that." then Chihiro is pulled down the hallway. Later, Yubaba: "So, you call yourself Chihiro. That is much too long a name for such a little girl. Your name is now Sen.". Overall, an excellent tone throughout. The French track is vastly superior to the English in terms of voice acting and translation quality.
The cast on all tracks is very good, Lin in particular is excellent in English, as are Haku, Kamaji and Yubaba. Chihiro is a bit shrill at times. I dislike No Face and some of the minor voices. The French cast likewise did an excellent job, I found Yubaba and Sans-Visage far superior.
Generally good video quality, smooth motion by and large and generally crisp outlines. There are times when I found smaller animations blur out, it may have been my TV, my player or my aging eyes, I don't know which.
There appears to be a flaw in the master. When Chihiro reaches the bottom of the stairs on her way to Kamaji the quality of the motion goes down the toilet. It looks as if the scene is running at 6 frames per second, the movement is unnatural, like it's under a strobe light. I suspect this scene's final cleanup was missed in the rush to release and the inbetweeners didn't finish it for one reason or another. A similar effect also occurs later when Chihiro runs down a mirrored hallway on her way to help Haku. Total time, about 15 seconds.
A really nice effect is the vertigo inducing pullout and rotate when Chihiro is looking down off of the stairs. Makes me dizzy every time.
Simple, but effective. The most important aspect to me is getting to the main menu quickly. I really appreciate being able to skip the copyright warning when the option is offered, but I really hate having to sit through endless logo promos of all of the production companies. This offers a nice compromise.
When you select a different language, an alternate angle opening is played. The Japanese language opening is so difficult to get to play that it should be considered an Easter Egg. On this disc it ends up being a great idea poorly executed.
Somewhat static pose compared to other Ghibli releases, but it certainly stands out on the shelf at Blockbuster. I'm not sure it holds much meaning for the average person, I would have chosen Chihiro's regular clothes with a scene of the bathhouse workers and guests behind her. I think it could have conveyed the story a bit better. The short synopsis is adequate, but it talks too much about the director and this usually warns me away from a weak film. An old habit I suppose.
The flippy disc in a single unit form factor is far and away my preferred format for dual disc releases. I find the 1 ˝ unit form factors mess up my shelf alignment and separate cases waste space.
I always appreciate silkscreened disc images, it is that little extra imagery that gives a little extra value to the DVD. The image on the second disk is of No Face offering Sen more bath tokens, unlike Sen, I am always willing to accept more. Very nice touch.
The English "The Art of Spirited Away" on disc 1 is intriguing, unlike some purists, I am interested in how the people involved in the translation feel about their craft.
The John Lasseter Introduction is an extra that always plays before the start of the movie. This is interesting the first time, but SO ANNOYING every other time. Fortunately it is easily skipped.
Disc 2 includes a number of the original trailers, which unfortunately become repetitive very quickly. However the Nippon TV special is well worth the extra money. I very much enjoy watching the process, although the camera crew's presence likely didn't help them make any production deadlines.
Nobody draws children better than Ghibli, they are so realistic that you really can not believe that you are watching an animated film. This is one of the reasons "Grave of the Fireflies" is so heartbreaking and one of the most endearing aspects of Chihiro. You can actually see her make the mistake that causes her to slip, trip or fall as well as the everyday child quirks you never think about. The adults are also incredible, the scene in the kitchen between Yubaba and Haku is mostly just an exchange of facial expressions. Absolutely brilliant. There is so much detail, you really need to watch the film twice, once to see the foreground story and again to catch the background details. For instance when Kamaji is already removing the treat from his pocket before bribing Lin to help Chihiro or when Yubaba is praising Sen and Lin is pointing to herself as if to say "I helped too". Keep an eye out for the sootball trying for an Oscar and how Lin balances on one foot while closing!
the door with the other.
Animated films tend to stress visuals and sound effects, Spirited Away could easily have been entitled "All 5 Senses". The visuals are as stunning as any, and Joe Hisaishi's score is as great as always. Smell and taste play a large part in this story, when something smells or tastes good it is always referred to by some character or other. When something smells or tastes bad there is a dramatic reaction. Touch also plays an important part, when Chihiro is hiding, she only notices Haku after he puts his arm around her and she only knows she is not vanishing after touching his hand. There are a couple of times when the feel of something is disgusting, when Sen takes the money of the "Stink Spirit" and when she steps on the slug, and she responds accordingly.. The film goes to considerable length to show this is a solid, three dimensional world, everything has a solid feel that occupies a space and the characters respond to that space realistically.
Spirited Away deals with a number of adult issues inside the fantasy adventure. One prevalent theme is that of racism. Humans are despised by the bathhouse workers and Chihiro must survive in this environment. The only way to deal with the situation is to work hard and be courteous. There is no good way to deal with bigotry, but this is an overly simplistic approach. An interesting touch in the French track is the use of the term "cochon", instead of the more common "porc", which means swine, but when referring to a person it means swinish or slovenly, which adds to the feeling of contempt held for humans.
Another point explored is that of losing touch with your culture. Dad and Mom are quite Westernized, given the Audi Dad drives and the disdain Mom shows towards the spirit shrines. Chihiro is curious about the practice and far more willing to consider it, which prepares her somewhat for a later forced acceptance of their reality. At first I thought it was a dig at Americans, but I think it more a comment on modern Japanese.
A final point is that of offering compassion to others, none of the workers cares for anyone but themselves, Haku and Kamaji being the only exceptions, even Lin is rather detached and she truly has no idea how Chihiro is feeling. This is one reason why No Face seeks out Sen repeatedly, he needs compassion, but the offering of food and service is shallow, cold and unsatisfying. Sen's refusal to accept any form of payment for her friendship is confusing to all around her.
Now, I like this film better than 75% of the other films I have watched, however I consider it one of Miyazaki's weaker works. The opening leaves me annoyed with Chihiro and her parents, which is unusual for a Ghibli film. This is not how I want to start a film, so I always skip to Chapter 2 when I watch it. The train ride is too melancholy, the traveling in silence, the little girl at the station waiting for someone who may never arrive, I feel the trip should have been more of an adventure, the whole tone feels wrong. The ending also bothers me. The bathhouse workers cheering Sen makes no sense given the trouble she caused, even if inadvertently, there must be a scene missing that explains their change of attitude. There is some doubt as to whether Chihiro has learned anything given that she acts exactly the same as in the opening scenes, certainly her parents are none the wiser and this is a major loss. Overall, it leaves me unsatisfied and I usually skip this last bit as!
The middle portion is absolutely wonderful, but the beginning and ending cost the entire film a full grade point. I would recommend this film to anyone, but it is a three star film, all other Ghibli films are 3 ˝ or 4 stars.
Sony C600D DVD player. Toshiba TP43H60 TV. Also Panasonic M1212 DVD-ROM using ATI DVD software player