As Spirited Away is the movie that helped Studio Ghibli become far better known in the West than it ever had before – particularly when it walked away with the 2003 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature – it’s a bit of a surprise that it’s never come out on Blu-ray in the UK before. However now it’s here, getting a release of its own before it becomes part of an 11 disc Studio Ghibli Blu-ray collection on December 8th.
It is undoubtedly a strange and often weird movie, but also a beautiful and incredibly involving one. There’s an odd sense of randomness to much of it, but then there also was to The Wizard Of Oz and Alice In Wonderland, which undoubtedly served as inspiration for the way the story is told.
Young Chihiro is reluctantly moving house now that her father has a new job. On their way to their new home Chihiro and her parents stop off to look at an old, rundown amusement park. However when her mum and dad decide to eat some of the food that seems to be on offer, they mysteriously turn into pigs. Chihiro then finds herself sucked into the strange and magical world of a bathhouse for spirits and gods. No humans are supposed to there, but Chihiro meets Haku, who advises her that only way to survive and perhaps escape is to get a job.
However that’s easier said than done, as the bathhouse is run by the terrifying Yabuba. It’s not a simple place to work either, with Chihiro having to deal with weird spirits and other creatures that are both dangerous and perhaps misunderstood.
It’s easy to think while watching Spirited Away, ‘What the hell is going on?’. Characters pop up and disappear, ideas are picked up and dropped and there’s an odd sense of randomness. However that works surprisingly well, as you are put in the same position as Chihiro, thrust into a world that seems to have rules, but they’re rules nobody has ever told you before even if you’re supposed to abide by them.
It’s very peculiar but it’s also absolutely gorgeous to look at, something that’s really brought out on the Blu-ray, as it’s a wonderful showcase for the imagination and immense artistry that went into the movie. Every creature is unique, strange and a feast for the eyes, while the bathhouse is a brilliantly conceived animated maze.
It’s the sort of film that many kids will love, and you’ll be pleased to hear that while connoisseurs can listen to the original Japanese audio, those with youngers members of the family can tune into the extremely well done English dub (as it was overseen by John Lasseter and other Disney/Pixar staff, you’d expect it to be good).
There’s nothing particularly special in the extras department, although the original Japanese ‘making of…’ documentary is worth a look.
Overall Verdict: Strange and oddly random, like Dorothy and Alice before her, Chihiro’s trip to a magical land is wonderful and baffling ride, which look gorgeous on Blu-ray. This is Studio Ghibli at its best.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac