While moving to a new town, 10 year old Chihiro (voice of Daveigh Chase) and her parents (Michael Chiklis and Lauren Holly) take a wrong turn. They find a strange tunnel that takes them to what seems to be an abandoned amusement park. When night falls however, it emerges that the “amusement park” is in fact a huge bathhouse complex for spirits. Humans aren’t welcome in this world; and Chihiro’s parents are quickly turned into pigs. Chihiro manages to escape, and is found by Haku (Jason Marsden), who convinces her that the only way to save herself and her parents is to get a job in the bathhouse. She convinces Yubaba (Suzanne Pleshette), the witch who runs the establishment, to give her work; and is assigned to Lin (Susan Egan). Now all she has to do is find a way out.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A rich and fantastic world awaits us in this extraordinary film from Hayao Miyazaki (and a crew of thousands), through which our little heroine has to progress and learn responsibility amidst great dangers and fearsome spirits. She is wide eyed and terrified yet finds her inner strength when it’s needed. Leaps of imagination provide thrills of surprise as we follow Chihiro on an adventure that is exotic, entertaining and exciting, even if you are grown up. Indeed, some of its best bits are best savoured by us oldies. Kids will be enchanted despite the two hour run-time; at my preview, there were several youngsters and they were spellbound. As was I. The voice cast create the characters with deeply satisfying results; Daveigh Chase captures the vulnerability and growing determination of Chihiro perfectly, and Suzanne Pleshette revels in the twin roles of Yubaba the bad witch and Zeniba the good witch. Her dialogue is perhaps the most sophisticated in the script. Susan Egan is great as Lin, the no-nonsense bathhouse girl who takes Chihiro under her wing. All the voices – including some for characters which are just sounds, like NoFace or the Stink Monster, are effective as triggers for our imaginations. (This is the English language version, but the Chauvel in Sydney and the Nova in Melbourne are showing the subtitled version.) The English version is superbly voiced, and offers an intriguing experience for anyone interested in the power of sound. Language carries with it enormous amounts of cultural baggage. The mood of a film is profoundly affected by the language, by the timbre of the voices (different for different languages) and by the cultural and historical backdrop of the language spoken. An American girl talking to her parents, for example, evokes a different cultural context to a Japanese girl saying similar things in Japanese. Yet Spirited Away overcomes this potential obstacle with a strong, well crafted script that balances mood and tone very successfully. (No doubt due to the fact that director Hayao Miyazaki worked with the Disney people on it.) There is humour and whimsy, all accessible without ever talking down to its audience. There are magic moments of animation wizardry and a sweeping orchestral score, as well as sparkling fun.
Review by David Edwards:
With the technical brilliance of today’s anime combined with a great story that explores the sheer wonder of being a child, Spirited Away is a Wizard of Oz for the 21st century. The analogy isn’t all that far-fetched either, since like the earlier film, Hayao Miyazaki’s film centres around a young girl, swept away to a land beyond her understanding, and her struggle to get home. Certainly, the film is steeped in Japanese mythology and Shinto beliefs (a feature shared with many fine anime films), but this shouldn’t detract from its enjoyment by a Western audience, as the film works on many levels. For younger viewers, the concept of a child hero seeking to rescue adults in a fantasy world populated with both bizarre and cute characters will be instantly appealing (a word of warning though – very young children may find some scenes distressing). For adults, the story is timeless and the visual look is just amazing. Japan has been outdoing Hollywood in the animation stakes for years, and this is another notch in its belt. The design and realisations of the scenes are so ambitious, yet so skilfully executed, there are times you could be excused for thinking you’re watching a live action film. There are a couple of miscues (the No-Face monster being one of them), but these are readily forgiven. The English language version thankfully doesn’t suffer from the translation problems that plagued Perfect Blue, and the voice cast of name American talent does a good job with the material. Spirited Away is destined to be an anime classic. Everything about this film works, and it comes together in such a cohesive way, it’s almost impossible to dislike. What makes it a great film though is its timeless story and wonderful empathy for its characters. One for the ages.
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HAYAO MIYAZAKI - in his own words
SPIRITED AWAY (PG)
VOICES: Daveigh Chase, Lauren Holly, Suzanne Pleshette, John Marsden, David Ogden Stiers, and John Ratzenberger
PRODUCER: Toshio Suzuki
DIRECTOR: Hayao Miyazaki
SCRIPT: Hayao Miyazaki
EDITOR: Takeshi Seyama
MUSIC: Jô Hisaishi, Yumi Kimura
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Norobu Yoshida
OTHER: ART DIRECTOR: Youji Takeshige
RUNNING TIME: 124 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Niche Pictures
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 12, 2002