Reviewed by Ivana Redwine
Length: 125 minutes
Winner of the Academy Award for the Best Animated Feature Film, "Spirited Away" is a Japanese animated fantasy written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki ("Princess Mononoke," "Kiki's Delivery Service," "My Neighbor Totoro"). Now Disney has released this movie on a two-disc DVD set, and when I watched it at home recently, I found it enchanting. This is a film that can be enjoyed by both kids and their parents. Also, the DVD comes with some good special features, and I have listed these below.
Although "Spirited Away" was made in Japan, the version most Americans saw in the theater was dubbed into English, using the voices of actors like Daveigh Chase, Suzanne Pleshette, and Jason Marsden. On DVD, you can choose between listening to the dubbed English dialogue or listening to the original Japanese dialogue while optionally reading English subtitles.
I was dazzled by the lyrical beauty of "Spirited Away." In his film, Miyazaki creates a whole alternate reality in somewhat the same way Lewis Carroll did in "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." The imaginative story in "Spirited Away" evoked in me a sense of wonder and make-believe.
In "Spirited Away," a 10-year-old girl named Chihiro (voice of Daveigh Chase) is traveling with her parents when they get lost. They walk through a tunnel into what Chihiro's father mistakenly believes to be an abandoned theme park. When Chihiro's hungry parents come upon an unattended buffet restaurant filled with delicious things to eat, they gorge themselves, whereupon they are turned into pigs. The movie then chronicles Chihiro's adventures as she undertakes a quest to rescue her mom and dad.
We gradually learn that Chihiro and her parents have bumbled into a resort for mythical spirits that eventually teems with strange and wonderful creatures such as a six-handed boiler operator, little soot balls, the homely radish spirit, and a lonely masked spirit called No-Face. Fortunately for Chihiro, she meets a boy named Haku (voice of Jason Marsden), and he helps her navigate this bizarre world where ordinary rules of logic do not pertain. She follows his advice and gets a job at the resort's huge bathhouse, which is ruled by the greedy witch Yubaba (Suzanne Pleshette).
The story in "Spirited Away" has several threads, but let me describe just one of them to impart something of the film's flavor. A large disgusting slimeball of something that looks like sewage comes to the bathhouse as a guest. It carries such a stench that Yubaba believes at first it must be a stink spirit and assigns new employee Chihiro to help it bathe. The plucky Chihiro not only cleans it up, she plays a key role in purging it of a junked bicycle and a lot of other debris. It turns out that what had been mistaken for a stink spirit is actually a water spirit altered beyond recognition by human pollution. Thus, Miyazaki gives us a little ecology lesson, even as we are entertained.
I suppose I should mention that "Spirited Away" has no pop culture references, no laugh-out-loud funny dialogue, and characters don't break out into catchy songs. It may take a little patience to get into the movie, but Miyazaki's genius can magically transport you to another world if you're willing to go there. I think "Spirited Away" is a masterpiece of animation that is likely to captivate audiences for decades to come.
Special Features of the DVDs:
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