As an anime that won an Oscar, you’d expect Spirited Away to be something special. Not a tall order for the company that created Nausicaa, Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service, but Spirited Away rises beyond even it’s predecessors when it comes to sheer quality.
Spirited Away is the tale of a young girl named Chihiro, who moves to a new town with her parents. Young Chihiro is none too pleased about being uprooted, and is particularly whiney in the car on the way to the new house. Being a typical male, he takes his own brand of shortcut and ends up hopelessly lost (but not before enjoying the four-wheel drive capabilities of spanky Audi by flooring it through a forest - a subtle touch and a nice wink to all of we males who would do exactly the same thing in the same situation).
The family end up at what they believe is an abandoned theme park, and decide to look around. Snacking at an unattended bar (which spookily has plenty of fresh food laid on) Chihiro’s parents start to turn into pigs! The theme park, it turns out, is actually a health spa for spirits, and the movie shows us how Chihiro adapts to her new surroundings, grows as a person and struggles to return her parents to normal - all set in a fantastical world populated by some unforgettable characters.
One of the nicest things about Spirited Away is the pace of the film. It always seems to have time for the finer details, with lovingly crafted shots of the mysterious world in which Chihiro finds herself, but you're never left waiting for a moment of interest or excitement. Chihiro soon finds herself in a bath-house for Spirits, and the world presented to the viewer is so detailed and well thought-out that you find yourself totally engrossed in everything that happens. Even mundane details like stoking the furnace contain moments of sheer magic (the dust mites steal this movie) and at the end of the film you're ready for another visit.
Another pleasing aspect of the film is the characterisation. It may only be small details (Chihiro’s father getting excited at utilising his Audi’s 4 wheel drive at top speed through a forest is typical of every would be boy-racer’s attitude to nature) but it all adds to the “feel” of the film, and makes for a far more involving experience.
The production values are superb. Computer graphics mix seamlessly with the cel animation, creating moments of breathtaking beauty. The backgrounds are suitably detailed and lovingly crafted, whilst all the characters are distinctive and interesting. One of the great shames about Ghibli films is that the stills never do the film justice - the character designs seem so simple at times, and yet on-screen they come to life in a way few other animated films seem to manage.
Happily the English voice talent is up to standard, with fine performances from the cast - purists will want to watch the subtitled version, and happily that's available too.
So we can safely say that the film itself is well worth the investment, but this is predominantly a DVD release, so what about the extras? Well, you get 2 discs, packed with storyboards, an introduction from Toy Story's John Lassetter, A Nippon TV Making Of Special, A short about Miyazaki himself, features on the studio, the vocal talent and the original trailers. Basically, if there's an aspect of the film that interests you, there's more than likely a feature to cater for your needs.