Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Fishing int he Discount Bin - Spirited Away

Here we go again on Fishing in the Discount Bin.  I watch a movie I own and blog about it.  Simple as that.  This time out, we tackle the modern day animated classic Spirited Away.  This is in my notes at December 10, 2017.

Studio Ghibli, the highly regarded Japanese animation studio.  Hayao Miyazaki, perhaps their foremost director.  Many years ago, I decided to acquire every Hayao Miayazki film on DVD.  This Christmas, they just all got nice, shiny new Blu-Ray releases, and I've been debating whether to pick them up or not.  I finally decided to spend a little money and get Princess Mononoke, because it was one of my earliest DVDs, and Spirited Away, as it's arguably Miyazaki's most famous film.  Maybe, someday, I'll also get Kiki's Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro, as those are personal favourites.  And Castle in the Sky, as that DVD has always been a little wonky.

*sigh*  I'm going to buy them all again, aren't I?  It'll be worth it, though, as watching Spirited Away tonight, it looks breathtaking in HD. 

So a little bit of the history.  Spirited Away hit Japanese theatres in 2001, was a gigantic hit, and a pop culture phenomenon.  Because Disney scuttled their Studio Ghibli distribution plans following Princess Mononoke (I'll get into that when I do Princess Mononoke), the question among many an anime fan was when or if Disney would ever release it in North America.  Enter a likely savior in the form of Pixar head and Miyazaki superfan John Lasseter.  After returning from Japan, where he had seen Spirited Away, Lasseter went into the Disney offices and said, "You are doing the world a great disservice by not releasing this into theatres."  So, Disney handed the job of producing an English language dub over to Lasseter.  Lasseter got some A-list talent to do the voices, and enlisted Beauty and the Beast director Kirk Wise to handle the directing.  The English language dub of Spirited Away hit North American theatres in the fall of 2002, and went on to win the second-ever Oscar for Best Animated Film. 

Pretty good for the film that Miyazaki came out of retirement for.  Miyazaki had said that Princess Mononoke was his final film and he was going into retirement...a claim he made during the release of three other films after Mononoke.  As the legend goes, he was inspired to come up with the story when a friend's daughter came to visit.  He was stuck by her melancholy, and wanted to create a film to cheer her up. 

When I arrived in Japan for my year of teaching English in the summer of 2002, it was still very much a pop culture phenomenon over there, and it was all that a lot of people were taking about.  I remember riding the train with a friend.  At one stop, all the doors on the train opened, no one got off and no one got on, and then our journey resumed.  I remember turning to my friend and going, "When that happens, do you think that maybe ghosts are getting on and off the train?"  He just looked at me and said, 'How have you not seen Spirited Away yet?"  I finally saw it that Christmas, visiting another friend, who had it on DVD. 

Our heroine is Chihiro, full of pre-teen angst, as she and her parents are moving to a new town.  Her dad takes a wrong turn, and they soon find themselves at an abandoned amusement park.  They surprisingly find a restaurant in the park still open, and being to chow down on all the food that's been laid out.  Chihiro does not partake, as something about the set-up doesn't sit well with her.  She begins to explore the park, and at sundown, a variety of spirits begin to emerge from the shadows.  Starting to panic, Chihiro returns to her parents, only to find they've been turned into pigs.  Chihiro is soon rescued by a boy named Haku, who becomes her guide through this world. 

Turns out it's not really an abandoned amusement park, but a resort town for spirits.  Owned by the witch Yubaba, the centerpiece is a massive bathhouse where the spirits come to unwind.  For stealing food from the town, Chihiro's parents were cursed, hence their turning into pigs.  The only thing Chihiro can do to rescue her parents is to get a job working for Yubaba in the bathhouse while she works on a solution to their predicament.  Chihiro soon makes many allies in addition to Haku.  There's Lin, her sassy supervisor; Kamaji, the grumpy old man who works the boilers, and No-Face, a spirit who's pretty much the crazy homeless guy who hangs around. 

I originally said the film kind of reminded me of Coraline in its basic set-up:  young girl, spirited away to another realm, where she has to engage in a battle of wits with the otherworldly being who rules this realm in order to rescue her parents.  But watching it again tonight, if anything, it reminded me more of The Shawshank Redemption.  Chihiro is very much like Andy Dufrane, able to survive her confinement simply by being kind to those around her, no matter their circumstance. 

This is best hammered home in one of my favourite parts, the sequence with the stink spirit.  Everyone in the bathhouse is repulsed by the arrival of a stink spirit...a massive, foul-smelling ooze of a supernatural being.  Yubaba assigns Chihiro to look after him, hoping to torture the young girl.  But, Chihiro rolls up her sleeves and gets to work, and soon finds a foreign mass stuck in its side.  With the help of Lin and the rest of the staff, they pull it loose, and out comes a cascade of garbage.  Turns out the stink spirit was actually a river spirit.  He'd been turned into a stink spirit by years of pollution in his river.  But Chihiro removed the trash, and saved the river.  All because she was kind when others ran away. 

From what I remember from the English dub, Disney did a pretty good job.  Chihiro was voiced by Daveigh Chase, fresh off voices Lilo in Lilo and Stitch.  Lin was voiced by Susan Egan, best remembered for voicing Meg in Disney's Hercules.  And Haku was voiced by voice acting vet Jason Marsden.  I did not watch the dubbed version, though.  I watched it subtitled, because one of the selling points of these new Blu-Rays is they have the real subtitles.  Disney got a lot of flak for their initial DVD releases.  True, they included the original Japanese language tracks, but the subtitles were...the transcription of their English dubs.  For these new Blu-Rays, for the subtitles, they use a more literal translation of the original Japanese dialogue, that were prepared by Studio Ghibli for their international releases.  It's a subtle thing that a lot of fans have been raging for over the years in my home theatre forums.

Anyway, Spirited Away is animation at its finest.  If you haven't seen it yet, rectify that. 

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