Hayao Miyazaki's SPIRITED AWAY
Movie review by Dennis D. McDonald
Back when I first heard the story of Spirited Away I thought that this would never go over big in the U.S. (young girl gets lost in an abandoned amusement park populated by vacationing spirits and seeks a way to turn her parents back into humans from pigs?) I thought it would make an excellent candidate as a simultaneous theatrical/DVD release, given its probable small target audience.
The film has certainly been much more popular than I would have anticipated. For example, it played theatrically here in Northern Virginia in Japanese for several weeks at a nearby multiplex that caters to foreign and more adult-themed films, where I saw it twice. I still believe that a simultaneous release in multiple formats would have been a good idea and could very well have significantly increased its total North American revenue.
But that is still speculation. We now have the DVD. Despite the annoyances of Disney commercials and introductory lectures by the head of the US team, the movie glows on this DVD.
After several viewings, here are a few observations:
- The English dubbing is excellent and puts a very interesting spin on the movie. For example, I did not know that the large white spirit in the elevator was a Radish Spirit, nor did I realize that Sen recognized Haku when first viewed in his dragon form.
- The personalities and mannerisms of the characters are extremely well drawn. Chihiro/Sen is about as real a representation of a young girl in an animated film as I have ever seen. This has less to do with her being realistically drawn than with her expressions. Again, the dubbing of her voice is excellent.
- I usually prefer to watch foreign language films in the original language with English subtitles turned on. This is still true here, but it is interesting to note that there does not appear to be perfect synchronization between the lip movements of the main characters and the spoken Japanese. I don’t know why this is.
- The most useful extra (on DVD #2) is the television documentary which allows us to hear Hayao Miyazaki discuss the origin of the story, characters, and setting.
- The music soundtrack is splendid. The variety of themes penned by Joe Hisaishi is incredible and serve to reinforce and expand what we see on the screen.
But my main impression of this movie is that it is simply awash with incredible sights, characters, and situations. It starts out with a drive in the country and quickly moves to one jaw-dropping sight after the other. Yet it maintains a sweet and affectionate tone at the heart of what sometimes are simply terrifying sights and situations. It is this simultaneous extravagant complexity combined with Miyazaki’s respect for the sensibilities and bravery of his young characters that makes this film, very simply, a work of art.
Movie review copyright (c) 2007 by Dennis D. McDonald