|Written by Tara O'Shea|
|Tuesday, 15 April 2003|
With animated films such as "My Neighbor Totoro," "Princess Mononoke" and "Kiki's Delivery Service," director Miyazaki Hayao is often referred to as "The Japanese Disney." However, such a comparison makes it sound as if Miyazaki merely follows in the footsteps of his Western counterpart. Nothing could be further from the truth, which is that the director brings a charming blend of sweetness, otherworldly danger, and character-driven drama that appeals to every generation that is almost completely unique in animation today -- in any country.
"Spirited Away," Miyazaki’s most recent release, takes all of the charm of "Totoro" and all of the drama of "Mononoke" and tells the story of 10-year-old Chihiro, lost in a dangerous spirit world run by the witch Yubaba, a terrifying figure straight out of a fairy tale, as she struggles to free her parents and return home. Aided by Yubaba's apprentice Haku, who may not be all he seems, sharp-tongued human serving girl Lin, and kindly spider-like Kamagi, Chihiro grows up, learns bravery and self-sacrifice, and frees not only her parents, but also touches the lives of everyone she meets as she works in a bath house for ghosts, spirits, and gods.
The Disney release of "Spirited Away", the most popular film in Japanese film history and the Oscar winner for Best Animated Film of 2002, is made available on this two-disc set, with both the English-language dub, directed by Pixar wizard John Lasseter, and the original Japanese voice-cast with English subtitles. The dub, which features Daveigh Chase ("Lilo & Stitch," "Donnie Darko") as Chihiro, is above average, although like all English dubs of Japanese animated films, the dialogue at times can sound unnatural and rushed as the American voice actors struggle to match the "lip flaps" of their animated counterparts. Of the entire English-language voice cast, Suzanne Pleshette as the terrifying Yubaba, and her kindly yet still slightly scary twin, Zeniba, succeeds best, turning in a terrific performance.
Visually, the widescreen presentation of the film is a jewel. One of the highlights of Miyazaki's work is the color palette, full of rich, vibrant blues, greens, reds and pastels, all of which come across crisp and bright in this American release. The Disney DVD transfer does justice to the visually stunning film, with almost no noticeable flaws or artifacting. This home video release actually looks better than what you may have seen in the theatrical release.
Longtime Miyazaki collaborator Jo Hisaishi's beautiful and haunting score is highlighted in the 5.1 mix, which is very active and really makes excellent use of the surrounds to fully realize the magical world of the film with sound effects such as footsteps, wind, rain, and birdsong come through the sides and rears. Of particular note is the sequence in which an injured Haku fights a squadron of paper birds, as Chihiro looks on. The full orchestral score makes great use of the sub-woofer and all channels, to create a complete sound experience that matches the film's beautiful visuals.
The extras on the release focus mainly on the English language release, with Jason Marsden (the American Haku) hosting a 15-minute segment on "The Art of Spirited Away." Extras also include a segment on ADR with the US voice cast, and brief interview segments with Lasseter throughout, who is a self-acknowledged Miyazaki fan and obviously has tremendous love for the project. The storyboard-to-screen comparison was created for the Japanese release of the disc, and contains the opening 10 minutes of the film, along with Miyazaki's storyboards, and available in English or Japanese.
However, the must-own for all die-hard Studio Ghibli aficionados is the subtitled half-hour "Behind the Scenes" special, which originally aired on Japanese television, which takes you into Studio Ghibli and shows how Miyazaki and his animation team create the lavish world of "Spirited Away." The Original Japanese trailers show over a dozen different versions of the trailer, with English subtitles, which is fascinating for those interested in seeing the original marketing campaign for the film. Finally, the discs contain trailers for other Disney releases of Studio Ghibli films, "Kiki's Delivery Service" and "Laputa: Castle In The Sky."
Echoing "Alive in Wonderland" as well as the Jim Henson classic "Labyrinth," this disc is must-own for anime fans and families alike.