We are back with another collector’s edition from Shout Factory. This time we tackle the much celebrated Spirited Away, directed by Hayao Miyazaki, which was released in 2001, when it did so well that it ended up on our domestic shores in the following year. It was absolutely adored by critics, and here is a fun fact. I have never seen it. Little did I know that the American trailers I was seeing around this time were warping my idea of what the film was really about. Finally, after all of these years I have had the opportunity to watch and digest such a fantastic film.
Chihiro, a ten-year-old girl, is trying to relax in the back of her parents’ car. They are on their way to a new city, with a new school, and the young girl is having none of it. As they search for the house where they are going to live, the father decides to use his four-wheel-drive and take off into the forest in hopes of making a shortcut. But rather than finding their new house, they end up at a long building with a dark tunnel that appears to go somewhere exciting according to the parents.
But Chihiro is not excited; in fact, she is very afraid. The parents at first to decide to leave the girl alone by the car as they explore the tunnel, but eventually she runs up to catch them. The tunnel opens up into a train station, and then that leads to a lush countryside and what appears to be an abandoned theme park. The parents keep exploring as Chihiro stops to ponder the situation. A strong breeze hits, and then the girl runs again to keep up with her eager parents.
All of the sudden, her father smells something in the amusement park and runs towards it with the mother in tow. He finds a large feast of food but nobody around to serve it or be able to give money to. The two parents eventually decide just to start eating the food, but Chihiro resists the urge to dive into the bounty of gluttony. Instead, she leaves to take a further look around the park. As she searches through the area, she finds an area that appears to be operational, complete with a working train.
This is about the time she runs into a boy named Haku, who seemingly comes out of nowhere. He tells her she has to hide from the darkness. Chihiro runs, and that is when the shadow creatures start appearing, and then she makes her way back to her parents. But her parents aren’t humans any longer. They have turned into giant pigs as they continue to eat and eat. That is when the real weird stuff starts to happen, and Chihiro works to save her and her parents’ lives from certain doom.
Spirited Away does an amazing job of establishing characters and executing on giving us a wonderful story to delight audiences. The chill of the sequences as they unravel keeps us on the edge of our seat as we really want to know what’s right around the corner but are a little concerned to find out. But the viewer does want to know and keeps watching anyway. However, I do fear that behind this masterpiece might be a few viewers here in the US specifically that might have avoided this movie, mostly because the domestic trailers play like a Disney Princess film.
I, too, was one of those people. This was playing in the early 2000’s; I was in my mid to late 20’s, trying to be every foolish male stereotype I could be. Now mid-40’s, with a kid and not really caring what anybody thinks outside of my family, I can sit down and watch a film with little to no pretense. Spirited Away is not a Disney Princess film; it’s not even close (despite what the marketing here says). It’s a straight-up horror film.
Sure, there are moments that bring some light (or attempt to) to the situation. The ending is hopeful and should bring about many smiles on people’s faces. There is a strong heroine. But the movie has chilling ghosts, creepy spirits, and slave labor. Think about it. A girl finds herself alone in a creepy theme park with ghosts, her parents have turned into pigs, she loses her name, and the only way for her to possibly get this back is working as a slave for the bath houses.
It’s a scary situation, and any parent might want to think twice before showing it to their young child thinking it is just another animated film. With that said, it is a great film, and I really wonder if the Academy realized they were giving the Academy Award for an animated feature to a horror film. Which wouldn’t be surprising if it weren’t for the fact that the Academy to date has only given an Oscar to Silence of the Lambs (which is more of a thriller in my eyes) for Best Picture. Think about that.
The film is shown in a 1.85:1 widescreen picture. Despite this being a dark picture in tone and story, the movie offers much in the way of lush colors and captivating scenery. Every time we turned a corner, I was excited to see how the next scene would play out and what they would have to show me in terms of detail and vibrancy. Flesh tones are accurate. The movie has a touch of grain to give it that fantasy story feeling, and each scene is alive despite the apparent stench of despair that follows the story up until almost the ending credits. The Blu-ray does a great job of capturing all of this, and I would struggle to find any animated film, or any movie for that matter, that looks as good as this presentation does.
The audio tracks are DTS HD 5.1 in Japanese and English (French Dolby Digital 5.1 also included) . English (SDH and original) and French subtitles are provided. The sound presentation is almost as equally good as the video, with dialog coming in very clearly from the onset. Environmental and action sequences lend themselves to the surrounds on your home stereo to give them a rousing workout (but thankfully don’t go overboard either). The bass is subtle but also picks up as needed when it is most timely.
I personally listened to most of the film in Japanese with the original English subtitles. This is the track that will most lend itself to the true nature of the story, the horror element. While the English-speaking actors certainly did their job, it very well gives a different tone to the proceedings. It doesn’t nearly have the same intensity and power that one would expect. I mean, scrubbing a giant bath tub and peeling away layers of decaying spirits and gods that left their waste all over the place shouldn’t be such a happy experience.
Feature Length Storyboards 2:04:35 : In black and white with splashes of color, it’s hand-drawn storyboards for the entire length of the film. It’s a lot of scribbles, but an interesting look at what went behind the creation of this film. I imagine you wouldn’t watch this straight through, but for a few scenes it would be fun to go back and forth and take a look as the action unfolds.
Behind the Microphone 5:43 : This takes us to the studio where the English-speaking cast is performing, and we get to take an intimate look (well, in six minutes of time anyway) of how it all works. We get to watch people like Jason Marsden (Haku) and Daveigh Chase (Chihiro) (who is now nearly 30, if you want to believe that). We also get to see Suzanne Pleshette and David Ogden Stiers, who are unfortunately no longer with us, in their roles. It’s a good featurette and perhaps a little unintentionally sad but should be a whole heck of a lot longer.
Original Theatrical Trailers 17:59 : All right, these are a bunch of trailers from the July 2001 time frame from the Nationwide roadshow. There are eight trailers. The first, second, fourth and fifth trailers are pretty much the same, just different lengths depending on purpose. The third and sixth trailers are very different from anything else and alternate takes on how to depict the story to audiences. The final two trailers are musical ones and very different in tone. Keep in mind that all of these are the Japanese trailers, no American ones. However, from the American ones I have seen, they are more similar to the musical ones at the end, making it all whimsical and fantasy-like.
TV Spots 3:58 : Ten different television spots are provided, we have the 15-second and 30-second variety; some are musical, some are sad, and some are happy. A little of everything to appeal to the widest of audiences.
Audio CD: On the second disc, we get roughly 60 minutes and 21 audio tracks to enjoy. All of these tracks are by Joe Hisaishi with the New Japan Philharmonic with the exception of the last track which is written by Wakako Kaku with music & vocals by Youmi Kimura.
I have provided some pictures at the end of my review in case my words don’t make sense. This release is bigger than your standard Blu-ray package as you see in my first picture; thicker, too. It’s basically a slipbox, and inside the slipbox are two books. There is a glossy book with many great-looking shots from the movie and some extra material such as Leonard Maltin’s thoughts on the movie. The other book is a very durable and thick piece of cardboard with the two holders for the Blu-ray and the audio CD. While this foam cardboard should hold up over time, the plastic for the discs I think will eventually break down (mostly because it takes a little work to get these discs out and you have to be very careful).
This set is very much one of those that sit up on a shelf somewhere to be admired by others. If you love the movie and want to view it often, it might actually be worthwhile to have a second copy, whether it’s the old Disney release or the basic re-release put out by Shout Factory.
As mentioned previously, this film won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. But as well regarded as it was over here in the states, it was a giant blockbuster over in Japan making close to 31 billion yen or roughly 220 million dollars, the first film in that country to ever hold that distinction. To show it’s power to this day it was released in China in June of this year. It went on to beat out Toy Story 4 in its first weekend and was second only to Spider-Man: Far from Home in its next. Not bad for a nearly 20 year old film.
I enjoyed this film greatly. It is a captivating story with a bounty of visuals that will make the viewer gorge on everything they see and wait in anticipation of what’s around the next corner. It is a horror movie (at least with the original soundtrack) but one that teenagers and adults can all enjoy. The only miss for me in this package were the extras which basically consisted of storyboards and a short featurette.
The real strength here is the collector’s edition packaging and soundtrack, something that’s worthy to be put on any bookshelf and sure to be an instant conversation starter. This package gets an easy recommendation from me and one that almost everybody can enjoy at least once. Maybe twice (what else am I doing tonight?). Enjoy.