Spirited Away Blu-ray Review
Sometimes the hardest thing to summarize is your favorite movie. If I had the means, I could talk (well, write) for hours, and go on and on in this review about Miyazaki movies. They are the most wonderful, imaginative, creative, and beautiful things you will watch. Now, give or take, there are those that aren’t as stupendous as the others and some just can’t hold a candle to his true gems. I’m here to talk about one of those gems, SPIRITED AWAY.
I remember SPIRITED AWAY lingered around at the movie theaters for months. For the longest time, I had no interest in watching it because at the time I was a clueless teenager who only enjoyed anime that was violent or garnished more than a PG rating. A rousing review by Roger Ebert had me swallow my phony pride and led me back to the theaters. I’m not sure if it was Ebert specifically that swayed me or if I finally gave in to the other rave reviews, but I’m glad I went and saw it on the big screen.
It definitely stuck with me. Back in 2013, I was unaware that Miyazaki had also done PRINCESS MONONOKE, which I am also incredibly fond of. Upon realizing this fact, I watched his other movies, no matter how childish I thought they were. Each one was a feast for the eyes and a storytelling pleasure, but nothing really matched my initial reactions to PRINCESS MONONOKE and SPIRITED AWAY. If I had to be perfectly honest, PRINCESS MONONOKE is my favorite. I remember renting it from Blockbuster and wearing out the VHS like a teenager wears out that scene in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (you know what scene). But SPIRITED AWAY is right up there as one of my favorite animated movies.
So why do I regard it so highly? It’s such a difficult movie to pitch. Most of the people I know don’t necessarily enjoy anime and always have the SAILOR MOON or DRAGONBALL Z stereotype stuck in their head. Or like my father, his mind immediately goes to the cheesiness of SPEED RACER. So I don’t really pitch SPIRITED AWAY as an anime. It’s pure, gorgeously hand drawn art. There’s so much happening and so many moving parts, it gives you arthritis just thinking about the people who sat down and painstakingly drew this.
As much as Miyazaki emphasized hand drawn animation, he put an equal amount of effort into his stories. SPIRITED AWAY follows the story Chihiro (Hiiragi), a 10-year-old girl, who’s less than thrilled about moving to a new home with her parents. Just like how INSIDE OUT captured the growing and challenging emotions of a young girl, SPIRITED AWAY does that in a more grand and fanciful fashion. On their drive, to their new home, they become sidetracked by an uninhabited theme park. Exploring the abandonment leads them to a bizarre sight, food that’s hot, steaming, and ready for consumption. Chihiro’s parents quickly scarf down food without regard for why it’s there or whose it even is. Although they acknowledge they’ll pay when the chef who cooked up this feast arrives. Through unforeseen magic Chihiro’s parents are turned into pigs and Chihiro now finds herself trapped in a bizarre world filled with spirits, witches, and other mysterious creatures.
I don’t want to reveal too much more if you’ve never seen it because there’s so much in terms of uniqueness. But what I can reveal is the magnificent messages this movie presents. In many ways, it’s a coming-of-age movie, but it has this essence of generational conflict. Is Chihiro maturing because of the events in this movie or is it criticizing the misunderstandings between traditionalists and the next generation? There’s a case to be made for both, but I’d believe Miyazaki is smart enough to say both. It’s a universal problem that always arises, respect for a passing generation and an upcoming generation.
There are plenty of themes that are solidified during its two hour time span. I won’t bore you with all of them, but there are a few ideas I particularly enjoy because they come across subliminally, such as environmentalism and the inherent greed that grows in free enterprise. Also if you were to watch this with somebody, there are plenty of debatable themes within SPIRITED AWAY. At the center of everything in SPIRITED AWAY, is the notion that growing and learning doesn’t stop in our lives.
This is actually my first time watching the movie in its native tongue and unaltered by an American production company. SPIRITED AWAY, like other Miyazaki films released in the states, was altered by the Walt Disney Company. Like the original Mad Max in the states in the early 80’s, some language and sentences are changed as to not create confusion amongst American audiences. While the English actors did a great job dubbing, I’ve always, and will always, prefer watching a foreign movie in its original language. I feel like my appreciation for this movie has deepened listening to the passion of the Japanese actors. Chalk that up to Miyazaki’s vocal directions.
Like most children’s classics, SPIRITED AWAY is able to convey and enchant a youthful audience and adult audience. My words of admiration for this movie can only be stretched so far before I begin to repeat myself or before I begin to consider writing a scholarly article and one of the greatest animation movies of my generation. All I can tell you is that if you have yet to watch SPIRITED AWAY, the best way is on blu-ray and the time to watch it is now. You won’t regret it.
Video: (1080p Widescreen 1:85:1) Crisp. Clean. Vibrant. Stunning. Just a few of the words I would use to describe SPIRITED AWAY and it’s better than ever on this blu-ray presentation. You deserve reward money if you can find a single thing wrong with this presentation.
Audio: (English and Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) Just like the video, the quality of the audio is flawless.
Introduction by John Lasseter (1:09): John Lasseter introduces the movie. Feels like an introduction attached to the original DVD of SPIRITED AWAY.
The Art of SPIRITED AWAY (15:12): A very interesting feature that is an American look at the production of the movie. It touches upon Miyazaki’s art and how he designs his characters, visually and through writing. It then talks a bit with the American cast that dubbed the movie. This feature was obviously created years and years ago.
Behind the Microphone (5:42): This is almost like a continuation of what we watch at the end of the previous feature. I will say that it does give me a deeper appreciation for the difficulties in dubbing for an American audience.
Original Japanese Storyboards: This might be one of the coolest things I’ve seen done on a movie feature. You get to watch the movie entirely comprised of all the Japanese storyboards. This is in the original Japanese voice cast and comes with English subtitles.
Nippon Television Special (41:53): In this feature, a Japanese television station visits Studio Ghibli. Even the simplest things in the feature are hypnotic. A moment where Miyazaki cooks ramen for his staff while they’re hard at work on the movie is a mesmerizing look at the world Studio Ghibli work environment. It goes over nearly step of the creative and creation process. One of the best behind the scenes look at a movie I’ve ever seen.
Original Japanese Trailers (18:26): All the Japanese trailers and trailer versions lumped together.
Original Japanese TV Spots (3:57): Features several TV spots.