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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:
The beautiful packaging of the Limited Edition prepares us for the wonderful work within its covers. This is a film that deserves and warrants long term cellaring, as it were, and repeated viewing by young and old alike. Drawn from contemporary life, Spirited Away is different to most Japanese animes – and is a remarkable achievement in cinema for many reasons - all of them evident on this DVD.

A rich and fantastic world awaits us in this extraordinary film from Hayao Miyazaki (and his crew), 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. 

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. 

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 Disney 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. 

Technically, the DVD is pretty well flawless, with excellent sound separation even more enjoyable than in the cinema, due to the proximity and arrangement of the speakers (if you have surround). 

The bonus material on the well designed and easy to navigate DVD is welcome, and lacks only one thing: a commentary by Miyazaki. 

Making of… unlike most Western DVD features of this kind, this doco is made like a story read over images to illustrate it; this works here because we discover, among other things, that everyone and everything in Spirited Away is based on real people and places. The revelation has a grounding effect and makes the film that much more accessible - and fascinating. The extensive and detailed 42 minute featurette develops a nice sense of narrative tension as it relates how deadlines made the work hellish for the team of 40 animators. And there’s some lovely fly on the wall footage, too, including in post production and the all important voice recordings, where there’s heaps of fun at other people’s expense. And surprises: like the tiny kid who voices the humungous Yubaba for the Japanese version. 

The extensive story board comparison for 5 longish scenes is available in split screen (best) format, but they are only in Japanese. However, this is for visual purposes so it doesn’t matter for non-Japanese speakers.

There are four subject headings in the (text only) Themes section, Bath Houses, Religion, Chihiro’s Name and Heroines. 

Published June 26, 2003

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CAST: Voices: Daveigh Chase, Lauren Holly, Suzanne Pleshette, Jason Marsden, David Ogden Stiers, and John Ratzenberger

DIRECTOR: Hayao Miyazaki

RUNNING TIME: 125 minutes (feature only)

PRESENTATION: 2.0:1 (16 x 9 enhanced), English DD 5.1; Japanese with English subtitles DTS & DD 5.1; English DD 5.1 for HI

SPECIAL FEATURES: Deluxe packaging (first 10,000 copies); The Making of; Storyboard to Scene comparison; Image gallery; the themes of the film; study guide;

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Madman Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: June 11, 2003

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