Spirited Away - Regular Edition

Starring: Miyu Irino
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Runtime:  124 minutes

Region 4 (Australia)
Colour, PAL
Madman Entertainment
Notes:  Single disc. Japanese (DTS, DD 5.1) and English (DD 5.1) audio with English subtitles and captions.


Along with Neil Gagman's Sandman and Perdido Street Station by China Mieville, this 2001 Japanese animated feature is probably one of the few truly original works produced in what could be loosely be described as the fantasy genre over the past few decades.

While Spirited Away actually beat out the popular Ice Age to win an Oscar for best animated feature in 2002, it didn't quite set the international box office on fire. (Okay, it was the highest grossing film in Japanese box-office history - more than $234 million - but that's Japan for you. . .)

I suppose that audiences shied away from it because they sensed that it was wildly surrealistic and something wholly original - whereas cinemagoers prefer the predictable and staid equivalent of a McDonald's burger. Something like Bad Boys 2, where you know exactly what you're going to get.

With Spirited Away one instead got something completely unexpected and unpredictable, and I?ll be honest when I say that I peg people who didn't like it as being unimaginative dullards (hey, so I?m unfairly judgmental in that way).

Directed by uber geek-idol Hayao Miyazaki who also did Castle in the Sky, My Neighbour Totoro and Kiki?s Delivery Service (all of them excellent), Spirited Away is probably both a culmination and summation of this director's oeuvre.

So what's it about then? supplies the following plot synopsis: Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz and Lewis Carroll's Alice, Chihiro plunges into an alternate reality. On the way to their new home, the petulant adolescent and her parents find what they think is a deserted amusement park. Her parents stuff themselves until they turn into pigs, and Chihiro discovers they're trapped in a resort for traditional Japanese gods and spirits.

I'm afraid this doesn't exactly do it justice - Spirited Away is quite indescribable.

Incidentally, in the English soundtrack version Chihiro is voiced by Daveigh Chase - Lilo in Disney's Lilo & Stitch ? something I didn't quite catch even though I have seen movies quite a few times recently. (Disney having bought the U.S. distribution rights probably explains this.)

THE DISC: This is the Region 4 (Australia) single disc version distributed by anime specialists Madman Entertainment. There is a limited (to 10,000 sets) two-disc version as well. That version features storyboards (five scenes, three angles), Japanese/French/North American trailers, a featurette, and an image gallery.

This is not that disc. All one gets here is the movie (in its proper aspect ratio) with English and Japanese soundtracks as well as English and Japanese subtitles for the more purist amongst us. I know some anime are dubbed quite badly, but this isn't one of them.

Anime freaks may crucify me for this, but I prefer dubbed anime because it allows me to focus on the animation instead of the often clunky dialogue. Hey, let's face up to it: most anime aren't particularly noted for their sparkling dialogue and clever and comprehensible plots.

Speaking of which, according to this link there has been some disappointment with the image quality of this particular PAL DVD as opposed to the American NTSC DVD. While I did some fidgeting with the default settings on my television to achieve optimal settings I must say that the image quality was quite acceptable though unremarkable. Same goes for the sound.

Oh, by the way, there are some trailers for other anime trailers distributed by Mad Man such as FLCL, Robotech and the like. Interestingly enough, even though quite a few of these titles feature those clich? gigantic robots battling it out, the graphic styles are quite divergent but still recognizable as being anime. One title, FLCL, especially stands out as being something off-beat and original. Does anyone know it? E-mail me if you do.

Peculiarly enough, one cannot access these features except through a menu that appears at the end of the feature!

RECOMMENDATION: Anime fetishists would probably want the feature rich two-disc set. I however want my fifteen-month-old baby girl to see it one day when she's older and I doubt she'd be too interested in seeing how it was all done so this cheaper disc sufficed.

Anal high-tech fetishists would probably even want to buy the NTSC Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only) disc which has an altogether different feature list.

WORTH IT? If you do buy Spirited Away for your kids, then parents should however exercise caution. It is suitable viewing for children, but younger kids would be scared. When I saw it on the big screen I remember a poor little tyke who got so scared during the first five minutes or so of the movie that he practically begged his parents to leave - which they did!

Parents should check out the movie beforehand, but the recommendation on this particular disc that parental guidance should be exorcised for all kids under the age of 15 is good advice. (Don't let this put you off completely - older children would be enthralled by it.)



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