Spirited Away is arguably one of the best animated movies of all time. But while the new Spirited Away Blu-ray — which comes in a new Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, and marks this film’s high def debut — doesn’t have any new extras, unfortunately, just having this visually-arresting film looking way better than it ever has before makes this new version a must-have.
Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle), Spirited Away is, in a way, a Japanese take on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. While on their way to their new home, Chihiro (who’s voiced by Rumi Hiiragi [Ponyo] on the original Japanese voice track and Daveigh Chase [Lilo & Stitch] on the English language dub) and her parents find a food stand in an amusement park that seems to be unattended. But when the sun begins to set, Chihiro finds that the park has transformed into a magical place full of spirits and other exotic creatures. Thankfully, she’s rescued by a boy named Haku (Miyu Irino, Jason Marsden), who tells her how to get a job at the nearby bathhouse (a rejuvenating Japanese one, not a sexy American one; that would be a very different movie) until she can rescue her parents and leave the spirit world.
What follows is a mystical, magical adventure that is as visually playful and inventive as it is narratively engaging. And while it does get a little mushy, it’s also, like so many of Miyazaki’s movies, warm and emotionally effective, with wonderfully nuanced characters who are as detailed and multi-dimensional as the world they inhabit. Chihiro, for instances, feels as real as Boo in Monsters Inc., Lilo in Lilo & Stitch, or any number of real girls in live action movies. More so, in many ways.
Like Disney did with the Blu-rays of Miyazaki’s Nausicaa In The Valley Of The Wind, My Neighbor Totoro, and the also just-released The Cat Returns, the movie on the Spirited Away Blu-ray has been digitally remastered for high def, and the effect is quite astounding. Compared to the version on the original DVD, and even the DVD in this Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, the high-def version of the movie is noticeably cleaner, crisper, and, as a result, more detailed, a real benefit in such a visually-stimulating movie.
Along with the movie, the Spirited Away Blu-ray also includes a number of interesting and informative extras, starting with an introduction by Pixar’s John Lasseter (Toy Story, A Bug’s Life), who produced the English language version of Spirited Away. Thankfully, this intro is presented on its own, and not before the movie, where you’d want to skip it when you watch the film for a second, third, or fourth time.
The Spirited Away Blu-ray also has two making-of featurettes — “The Art Of Spirited Away,” which has the filmmakers, their Disney counterparts, and the English voice cast talk about the making of the movie; and “Behind The Microphone,” a quick look at the English language cast — as well as the “Nippon Television Special,” which covers all aspects of the film’s creation. All three are informative, but “Nippon” has the added advantage of both length and thus depth and of not being as tightly controlled by the Disney marketing department.
This collection also includes the original Japanese storyboards. But unlike on other movie Blu-rays and DVDs, which typically present storyboards the same way they do galleries of concept art or production photos, on the Spirited Away Blu-ray/DVD combo pack the storyboards have been cut together and set to the Japanese audio, which makes it like a really rough version of the film. Granted, it’s something only the biggest fans of the film will want to watch straight through, but it’s still interesting and appreciated that they included it in this collection.
Finally, the Spirited Away Blu-ray includes the original Japanese trailers and TV commercials. Though considering that it has all of them, which take half-an-hour to watch, it’s too bad they didn’t also include the American ones for completeness.
As good as these extras may be, it’s still a bummer that they didn’t add anything new, like a commentary track by Miyazaki and crew, and maybe a second one of the English cast looking back upon the movie. Or even just something about the impact Spirit Away has had since it’s release.
It’s also a bummer that, in creating the menus for the Blu-ray part of the Spirited Away Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, the designers didn’t watch it while sitting at a reasonably distance from their televisions. Because if they had, they would’ve noticed that the font size in the menus for the “Bonus Features,” “Scene Selection,” and “Set Up” sections is so small that they’re hard to read.
This, thankfully, isn’t a problem with the DVD included in the Spirited Away Blu-ray and DVD combo pack, if only because it’s the same as the first disc of the original Spirited Away two-disc DVD set. Not only is the version of the movie the same — it hasn’t been remastered or cleaned up at all — but it has the same menus, as well as just the extras that were on that first disc (Lassiter’s introduction and “The Art Of Spirited Away“), and not the others, which were on that collection’s second disc.
In the end, even with the hard-to-read menus and lack of new extras, the Spirited Away Blu-ray/DVD combo pack is as solid and the classic movie it presents. Which is saying something when you consider what an accomplishment Spirited Away is as a movie, animated or otherwise.