Release Date(s)2001 (October 17, 2017)
Studio(s)Studio Ghibli/Nippon Television/Walt Disney Japan/Toho (GKids/Shout! Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: A+
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: B-
A 10-year-old girl named Chihiro is driving to a new home with her family, when they accidentally take a wrong turn. The road leads to a dark tunnel that her father thinks must be the entrance to an abandoned theme park. Entering the tunnel for the adventure, they find an enchanting village on the other side, where the smell of food leads them to a lavish buffet. While her parents begin gorging themselves, Chihiro explores the village and sees strange spirit creatures as well as a boy named Haku, who warns her of danger. Chihiro tries to leave, but finds that her parents have transformed into pigs. Now she must work in the village’s bathhouse, as a servant of the witch Yubaba, in the hope of finding a way to rescue her parents from their magic spell.
Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away is the other film many consider to be Miyazaki’s best work, on a par with Princess Mononoke, and I have to confess that it’s my favorite of the Ghibli catalog. Its story recalls classic Lewis Carroll tales, in that a young girl is drawn into a magical realm, representing the boundary between childhood and adulthood, and must learn to navigate her way through it. But there are larger issues being depicted here too, not the least of which reflects the generational changes in Japanese society. There’s a kind of yearning for the old ways, as it becomes clear that greed and consumerism are taking a toll on the natural world. This is seen most clearly in Chihiro’s encounter with the stink spirit and also the character No Face, who distributes gold while devouring everything around him. This film is very much about the need to find a balance in life. It’s also one of the most gorgeous examples of hand-drawn animation you’ll ever see, with yet another restrained but evocative score by Joe Hisaishi. Spirited Away is by turns strange, mysterious, funny, endearing, and thrilling.
GKids’ new Blu-ray edition presents the film in its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio in 1080p HD. The source for this presentation is the original Ghibli animation master. Comparing the image here to the previous Disney Blu-ray, you’d be hard-pressed to tell any difference between them. This image is clean, stable, and absolutely gorgeous, with bold colors. Note that when you choose either English or Japanese audio, the opening titles and credits appear in that language too, via seamless branching.
In terms of sound, the previous Disney Blu-ray included both dubbed English and the original Japanese in lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, along with French 5.1 Dolby Digital. The GKids disc includes these same options too. Both lossless audio tracks are terrific, with smooth channel-to-channel panning, a fine sense of atmospherics, and good clarity, though of course the Japanese track is always the preferred experience on these films. The problem with Disney’s Blu-ray was that it included subtitle tracks in English SDH, English, and French… and both of the English tracks were “dubtitles” based on the English dubbing script. Neither was a proper English translation of the original Japanese language dialogue, so all of the original cultural context was lost. Thankfully, GKids has corrected Disney’s mistake. The English SDH for the hearing impaired (“dubtitles”) are still available here, as are the French subs. But you also get English subtitles for the Original Language Version (aka proper Japanese-to-English translation of the original script) – the same ones that are on the Ghibli Japanese Blu-ray.
As with other GKids Ghibli discs, the menus are simple – there are no promos, no extended BD Java load times. You get a static film-themed menu that allows you to get right to the content. The GKids’ Blu-ray includes about two hours worth of extras, some in HD and some in SD. Most of it is in the original Japanese with English subtitles (though there is also a bit of English material carried over from the Disney Blu-ray). Content from the original Studio Ghibli Japanese Blu-ray is included too (indicated by * below), which may be new to you. The full list is as follows:
- Feature-Length Storyboards (124:35)*
- Behind the Microphone (5:43 – from the Disney BD)
- Nippon Television Special (41:53 – from the Disney BD but included on the GKids DVD only)
- Original Theatrical Trailers (7 Japanese trailers – 17:49 in all)*
- TV Spots (10 Japanese TV spots – 3:59 in all)*
There are only a couple items missing from the Disney Blu-ray, including:
- Introduction by John Lasseter (1:09)
- The Art of Spirited Away (15:12)
You won’t really miss either of them. Note that the Nippon special listed above isn’t on the GKids Blu-ray, but it is included on the DVD in this package. The only item missing from the Japanese Ghibli Blu-ray is an image gallery that allowed you to read the original Japanese script for the film – of course, that was all in Japanese, so there’s little point in including it here. Back to the DVD: As usual, the GKids package includes a DVD disc that offers the film in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen SD, with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (but not lossless) in dubbed English, the original Japanese, and French, with optional English SDH dubtitles, English translation for the original Japanese version, and French. It features some, but not all, of the same extras as the Blu-ray. There’s no Digital Copy code, but the package does include another nice booklet featuring statements on the film by producer Toshio Suzuki and director Hayao Miyazaki.
Spirited Away is a masterpiece of storytelling and traditional hand-drawn animation. When you finish its 125 minutes, you’ll certainly have taken a rewarding journey through an extraordinary world. If you’re new to the work of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, this is a good film to start your exploration with. GKids’ new release is the definitive English-language edition of this film on Blu-ray, combining the key extras from both the Ghibli and Disney Blu-rays, while offering superior A/V quality, and correcting the Disney Blu-ray’s subtitle mistake. If you’re a serious fan, and you haven’t already imported the Japanese edition, this GKids disc is a must. As of the time of this review, it’s just $17 on Amazon. Highly recommended.
- Bill Hunt