Review: ‘Spirited Away’

The magic (and original running time) of ace Japanimator Hayao Miyazaki's "Spirited Away" survives intact in BV's re-voiced version, which gets a U.S. theatrical airing Sept. 20. The film has become the biggest Japanese grosser of all time

The magic (and original running time) of ace Japanimator Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” survives intact in BV’s re-voiced version, which gets a U.S. theatrical airing Sept. 20, some 14 months after its release on home turf. The $19 million production grossed an astounding $230 million locally, becoming the biggest Japanese grosser of all time. Original version was reviewed in Variety (Feb. 25) on the occasion of its international preem at the Berlin Film Festival, where the toon shared the top Golden Bear award.

A kind of Nipponese “Alice in Wonderland,” in which a 10-year-old girl, Chihiro, spends a couple of days in a world of ghosts, animals and plug-uglies inhabiting a deserted traditional theme park, pic is very different from Miyazaki’s best-known previous toon, “Princess Mononoke” (1997) — with no eco-message hammered home. Result is equally accessible to both kids and adults, though the two-hour-plus film will have a longer life among the former on homevideo.

Revoicing cartoons from Japanese into English is always problematic, given the totally different flavors of the two languages, and some of the child-like lightness of the original has necessarily vanished in the harder, Anglo-Saxon dub. Dialogue has also been completely Americanized.

Still, Suzanne Pleshette’s throaty tones are an excellent match for the villainous double role of Yubaba/Zeniba, a grotesque Victorian crone straight out of Lewis Carroll, who rules her alternative world with grumpy glee. And though Daveigh Chase’s revoicing of Chihiro makes her seem a marginally more spoiled brat than the original, Miyazaki’s comic touches and often astounding flights of fantasy — enhanced by Joe Hisaishi’s thankfully intact score — still win the day.

Pic is being marketed as “Miyazaki’s Spirited Away,” though English credits on print hew to the original Anglo title, sans the possessory tag.

Spirited Away



A Buena Vista Pictures Distribution release (in U.S.) of a Tokuma Shoten, Studio Ghibli, Nippon Television Network, Dentsu, Buena Vista Home Entertainment, Tohokushinsha Film, Mitsubishi presentation of a Studio Ghibli production. Directed, written by Hayao Miyazaki. U.S. version: Produced by Donald W. Ernst. Executive producer, John Lasseter. Directed by Kirk Wise.


Japanese translators, Linda Hoaglund, Jim Hubbert; English language adaptation, Cindy Davis Hewitt, Donald H. Hewitt; associate producer, Lori Korngiebel; voice casting, Jamie Thomason, David Wright. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentations), Sept. 6, 2002. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 125 MIN. English dialogue)


Voices: Chihiro - Daveigh Chase Yubaba/Zeniba - Suzanne Pleshette Haku - Jason Marsden Lin - Susan Egan Kamaji - David Ogden Stiers Chihiro's Mother - Lauren Holly Chihiro's Father - Michael Chiklis Assistant Manager - John Ratzenberger Baby Boh - Tara Strong
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