Miyazaki’s Spirited Away
Blu-ray | DVD
Directed and Written by Hayao Miyazaki
English Voice Cast: Daveigh Chase, Lauren Holly, Michael Chiklis, Suzanne Pleshette, Jason Mardsen
Disney Presents Studio Ghibli
Rated PG | 125 Minutes
Release Date: June 16, 2015
I’ve long been a fan of Disney films. They have a ridiculously spectacular track record, both in quality and sales. So why then would Disney reach out to a Japanese creator for access to that director’s catalog of animated works? Well, when that person happens to be Hayao Miyazaki it all becomes clear. Arguably the greatest animator to ever breathe, he has been celebrated the world over. And one work of his stands out even among the masterpieces he has brought to life. I speak, of course, of Spirited Away. Not only did it win the 2002 Oscar for Best Animated Film, it is the highest grossing film in Japanese history. Intrigued yet? Of course you are, so read on.
First, let’s talk about the creator/writer/director/amazing man, Hayao Miyazaki. You’ve probably heard of, or hopefully seen, several of his other films. Be it Castle In The Sky, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle or any of the many others, you will recognize the mastery of the craft. Not only does he write the screenplay but he storyboards the entire thing and oversees the direction of the project. Recurring themes of feminism, empowerment, and ecology seem to be well received. His accolades are virtually limitless, with many artists and animators claiming his work as inspiration. I will say he is like the Michael Jordan of the animation world, he retires fairly regularly but his innate need to create draws him out again and again. He has worked in the animation industry, in one capacity or another, since 1963 though his first interest was to become a manga artist (a dream he aspired to since childhood). The path was long a varied, but the man that emerged from the journey stands above most, if not all, of the others.
Spirited Away was originally released in Japan in 2001 to critical acclaim and quickly became, as I mentioned earlier, the highest grossing film ever in Japan. Make no mistake, 30.4 billion yen is nothing to sneeze at, it equates to about $300 million U.S. dollars. It won the Japanese Academy Prize, a Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, that Academy Award I mentioned earlier, and several others. There have been a myriad of releases the world over, most notable of these is that it has sold more than 2.4 million home video copies in Japan and was a strong seller in the U.S. and U.k. the following year. 2014 saw the Blu-ray release in japan and the U.K. with the North American English language translation being released through Disney earlier this month.
The story itself is about a young girl, Chihiro, who is traveling with her parents to their new home when they are inadvertently sidetracked by making a wrong turn. Coming across what they consider to be an abandoned theme park, they begin to explore but end up unable to leave through some nefarious conditions and poor decisions. Escaping the fate that befell her parents, our young heroine must brave many enemies and complete many tasks in order to gather the resources and companions necessary to rescue her beloved parents. Along this journey, she finds herself growing more independent and courageous. For you see, this adventure is about more than finding her way home. It’s about finding her chosen path in life, becoming a self-reliant person and creating an inner strength that will serve her forever. At times, you will forget this is animation and will find yourself in awe of the emotion that the characters emit. Small nuances of everyday life can be seen in the motion and mannerisms of our protagonist. You will see this ten year old girl become more confident but at the same time remaining full of wonder and youth. You will love this film, it’s almost guaranteed. There is so much humanity and so much life in it, you’ll see.
The Bonus Features are no less amazing. There’s an introduction from John Lasseter, who supervised the translation in depth. There’s my favorite: The Art Of Spirited Away, which really gives us a look at how it is all done and how Miyazaki works his magic. Behind the Microphone is all about the translation and dubbing of the film, watching the voice actors do take after take to perfect their lines in conjunction with the on screen mouth movements is remarkable, the drive for perfection is inspiring. The viewer also gets to see original storyboards, a plethora of original teasers, trailers and television releases. The Nippon Television Special gives a wonderful and impressive behind the scenes look at Studio Ghibli. In summation, the extra features are almost as awesome as the film itself.
This was definitely something I would recommend. as a matter of fact, I’ll be giving it to my daughter to watch in the very near future. The lessons and knowledge that the film carries within it are exactly what my little one will appreciate. A strong role model who overcomes adversity and any obstacles in her path to achieve her goals, all without sacrificing her morals or well being. It’s powerful in that it gives hope, shows love and, quite frankly, builds character. Like I said, you’ll see. This is too good to pass up.