This week’s Miyazaki Monday’s featured film is 2001’s award winning Spirited Away
The film is centers around a young girl named Chihiro Ogino. She and her parents are traveling to their new home when they take a wrong turn and end up in a magical world. She gets separated from her parents and meets a young boy named Haku. He warns Chihiro to leave before sunset. However, she is unable to and is trapped in this spirit world while her parents have been turned into pigs.
Chihiro gets a job at a bathhouse working for Kamaji, a spider like spirit. She meets a witch Yubaba who takes Chihiro’s name away and renames her Sen. Haku tells Sen that Yubaba controls people by taking their memory of their real names away. In order to leave, she has to remember her true name. Meanwhile, Haku is more than just a regular boy. He also can turn into a magical dragon. The two take turns protecting each other while she tries to regain her memory of her name and get her parents back to their real selves.
Spirited Away was a project that meant a lot to Miyazaki. He wanted to make a film for young girls so that they could have a peer role model to look up to. Strong heroine characters are a staple of Miyazaki films and this one was no exception. He was in a state of semi-retirement after making Princess Mononoke and was simply going to write the film. However, he would end up coming out of retirement to direct the film as well.
The budget for the film was about $15 million dollars. It was released in Japan on July 20, 2001. To say it was a success in Japan is an understatement. It would go on to be the highest grossing film in Japanese history grossing nearly $230 million dollars. It was also the first film to ever gross over $200 million dollars before a U.S. release. Interesting enough, Disney invested 10% of the cost of the film to have right of first refusal for distribution in North America. Both Disney and Dreamworks bid for the distribution rights to the film but Disney ended up winning the rights.
The English dub version was supervised by none other than John Lasseter. His friendship with Miyazaki played a big role as well for Disney getting distribution rights for the dubbed version. The English voice actors for the dub include Jason Marsden, Lauren Holly, Michael Chikis, Tara Strong, John Ratzenberger and Daveigh Chase. The English dub debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 7, 2002 and released theatrically in North America on September 20, 2002.
Spirited Away is probably Miyazaki’s most well known & successful film. Besides the money the film grossed, it received acclaim from film critics. It also was recognized with an Academy Award. it won Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards.
To close here’s John Lasseter talking about Spirited Away back in 2006 as a part of the month long celebration of Miyazaki films on Turner Classic Movies: