“For the people who used to be ten years old,
And the people who are going to be ten years old.”
Miyazaki‘s ―Spirited Away,‖ a Walt Disney Studios presentation of a
Studio Ghibli film, is the latest cinematic triumph from Japan‘s most renowned
filmmaker, Hayao Miyazaki. Adding to his impressive body of work, which
includes such remarkable animated features as ―Princess Mononoke‖ and ―My
Neighbor Totoro,‖ this exciting new film is a wondrous fantasy about a ten-year-old girl named Chihiro, who is whisked away to a spirit world and must learn to
overcome her fears and face unique challenges in order to save her parents and
herself. The most successful film ever to play in Japan, ―Spirited Away‖ became
the first animated feature in fifty years to win the coveted Golden Bear Award at
the 2002 Berlin Film Festival. This newly crafted English language version of the
film, guided by executive producer John Lasseter (Pixar‘s executive vice
?president, creative and Academy Award-winning director of ―Toy Story,‖ ―A
Bug‘s Life‖ and ―Toy Story 2‖), veteran Disney director Kirk Wise (―Beauty and
the Beast,‖ ―The Hunchback of Notre Dame‖) and producer Don Ernst
(―Fantasia/2000‖), enables English-speaking audiences all over the world to experience this animated adventure in an entirely new way.
Lasseter comments, ―‗Spirited Away‘ is, to me, a real classic Disney film.
Because like all classic Disney films, it has humor, heart, and tremendous
character growth. A bit scary at times, a little bit strange, and wonderful – it
sucks you in at the beginning and you forget about everything until the movie is
over. It is a real privilege to be involved with one of Miyazaki‘s films and to help
bring it to a whole new group of moviegoers. ‗Spirited Away‘ is a magnificent film and deserves to be seen by everyone who loves good storytelling and great
characters. I became the film‘s number one fan and strongly encouraged my
friends at Disney to release it. I think American audiences are really going to
love this film. They‘re going to see images and visuals that they‘ve never seen
before in their lives.
―We‘re incredibly busy at Pixar, but when I was asked to help with this I
said ‗yes‘ without any hesitation because I wanted to see this film come to
America,‖ he adds. ―And I wanted it to happen in a way that would be really
respectful of the masterpiece Miyazaki created. He is one of the greatest
filmmakers of our time and he has been a tremendous inspiration to our
generation of animators. At Pixar, when we have a problem we can‘t seem to
solve, we often look at one of Miyazaki‘s films in our screening room. ‗Toy
Story‘ owes a huge debt of gratitude to him.‖
Wise observes, ―‗Spirited Away‘ is truly an amazing film. Like all of
Miyazaki‘s movies, it has such a wonderful magical quality to it and is so
beautifully staged. I like to think of him as the David Lean of animation.
Working on the English language version was like getting a chance to study at
the feet of a master because I got to watch it over and over and over again. I
think all of his works are fantastic, but this one stands the best chance of crossing
over into the American market because it‘s rooted in the same kind of
storytelling traditions as Alice in Wonderland and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
Both of those classic tales involve little girls who take a journey to this kind of
parallel fantasy world, populated by all these amazing creatures and characters,
and learn a valuable life lesson along the way when they finally come full circle
back to their own world.‖
Pam Coats, executive vice president, creative affairs, for Walt Disney
Feature Animation adds, ―All of us at Disney fell in love with ‗Spirited Away‘
and felt it was important to bring it to audiences over here. It‘s a beautiful movie.
Miyazaki is truly a visual storyteller and this film is fascinating to watch. He is
never afraid to tackle difficult issues and yet he confronts them without
preaching to his audience. Ultimately, this film has characters that you
remember and take home in your heart. It teaches strong values and has a lot to
offer moviegoers of all ages.‖
Adding to the fun and excitement of the English language version of
―Spirited Away‖ is an impressive vocal cast that includes Daveigh Chase (who
voices Lilo in Disney‘s animated hit ―Lilo & Stitch‖), Suzanne Pleshette, Jason
Marsden, Susan Egan, David Ogden Stiers, Lauren Holly, Michael Chiklis, John
Ratzenberger and Tara Strong. Cindy Davis Hewitt & Donald H. Hewitt wrote
the English language adaptation.
―Spirited Away‖ is the eighth feature film from director/writer Miyazaki.
Rejoining him on this latest project is veteran animation producer Toshio Suzuki,
who co-founded Studio Ghibli with Miyazaki in 1985 and has served as producer
on three of his previous films. Another longtime collaborator, composer Joe
Hisaishi, lends his impressive musical talents to the film. He has worked on all
of Miyazaki‘s Studio Ghibli features.
Studio Ghibli was founded after the success of Miyazaki‘s 1984 film,
―Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind‖ (released in the U.S. as ―Warriors of the
Wind‖). Tokuma Shoten Publishing founded the studio with animators
Miyazaki and Isao Takahata (―Grave of the Fireflies‖). Ghibli is an Italian word,
coined during World War II, meaning ―hot desert wind.‖ The term was also
used for the name of Italy‘s scouting planes in North Africa. Miyazaki, a vintage
aircraft buff, decided to adopt the word for his new studio, hoping to be a ―hot
wind into the world of Japanese animation.‖ Studio Ghibli focuses all its attention on producing theatrical feature films of the highest quality. Its success
has been remarkable: virtually all of its twelve animated features have been
critical and commercial successes worldwide and rank among Japan‘s all-time
box office champs. Many have become classics of anime.
Commenting on ―Spirited Away,‖ Miyazaki says, ―Up to now, we have
made one film for very young children, ‗My Neighbor Totoro.‘ We made another
film in which a boy sets out on a journey to find a lost city, ‗Laputa: Castle in the Sky.‘ And we made a film in which a teenage girl learns to be herself, ‗Kiki‘s
Delivery Service.‘ However, we have not made a film for girls around the age of
―I do not like weak female characters,‖ adds the director. ―I think, in a
sense, that things have become boring with so many strong males being held up
to us as heroes. In reality, the males have lost the battle! It‘s the females who are
really tough these days.
―Our story is one in which the natural strengths of the character are revealed by the situations she encounters. I wanted to show that people actually
have these things in them that can be called on when they find themselves in
extraordinary circumstances. That is how I wish my young friends to be, and I
think that this is also how they themselves hope to be.‖
Production of a Hayao Miyazaki film is generally begun when work on
the script has only just started. He explains, ―I don‘t have the story finished and
ready when we start work on a film. The story develops when I start drawing
storyboards. The production starts very soon thereafter while the storyboards
are still developing. We never know where the story will go but we just keep
working on the film as it develops.‖
John Lasseter notes: ―What‘s interesting about the way Miyazaki works,
which is different than the way we at Pixar or the animators at Disney work, is
that we always record our dialogue before we create the animation. Miyazaki
works the other way around. He always animates first and then fits the dialogue
to the performance.‖
Disney began its association with Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli in 1996
when Disney executive Michael O. Johnson (then president of Buena Vista Home
Entertainment Worldwide) negotiated a deal to bring nine of Studio Ghibli‘s films to audiences worldwide. In 1998, Buena Vista released the heartwarming
coming-of-age family comedy, ―Kiki‘s Delivery Service.‖ Miramax Films, a
division of the Walt Disney Studios, released Miyazaki‘s epic ―Princess
Mononoke‖ in 1999. Disney‘s Home Entertainment division plans to release
several of the director‘s earlier titles on video and DVD in the near future.
Johnson notes, ―Disney has had a great working relationship with
Miyazaki and his associates at Studio Ghibli over the past six years and we
consider it an honor to be bringing these exceptional works of art and
entertainment to movie fans all over the world. Miyazaki‘s films have universal
appeal and ‗Spirited Away‘ is sure to find a receptive audience in theaters
In addition to winning the Berlin Film Festival‘s top honors, ―Spirited
Away‖ was voted Best Asian Film at the 2002 Hong Kong Film Awards and
recently won the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature at this year‘s San
Francisco Film Festival. It remains the highest grossing film in Japanese box
office history with a total of 29.3 billion yen ($234 million) to date. This figure
surpasses the two previous record holders – ―Titanic‖ at 26 billion yen ($208 million) and Miyazaki‘s ―Princess Mononoke‖ at 19.3 billion yen ($154 million).
According to Miyazaki, ―In my grandparents‘ time, it was believed that
gods and spirits existed everywhere…in trees, rivers, insects, wells, anything.
My generation does not believe in this, but I like the idea that we should treasure
everything because gods and spirits might exist there, and because there is a
kind of life to everything. In fact, in Japanese, there is an expression –
‗yaoyorozu no kami‘ – which means ‗eight million gods.‘ However, as far as I
know, nobody has actually seen any of these gods and spirits. So I had to make
up their faces and shapes. Some of them are based on beliefs, traditions, legends,
and other materials. For example, it is generally believed that a river god is a
snake or a dragon.‖
Set in rural Japan, ―Spirited Away‖ opens with ten-year-old Chihiro and
her parents on their way to a new home in the suburbs. Having taken a wrong
turn, the family arrives at what they believe to be an abandoned amusement
park. Chihiro‘s parents are soon tempted by a buffet of irresistible food, which
nearly consumes them as they consume it. They are quickly transformed into
large squealing pigs.
When Chihiro searches for help, she finds a friend in Haku, a mysterious
boy with magical powers. He introduces her to the spirits that inhabit the
amusement park at night. Chihiro must go to work for Yubaba, a fierce old
woman with a huge head and short body, who runs a hot springs resort for all
manner of fantastic creatures and gods. Her experiences with these spirits,
monsters and beings from ancient legends, lead to a series of extraordinary and
entertaining adventures beyond her wildest imagination.
Miyazaki‘s films are always built around strong characters, and ―Spirited
Away‖ contains some of the most strikingly original creatures ever seen. At the
core of the tale is Chihiro, the ten-year-old heroine. She begins as a rather sulky,
spoiled child with a tendency to panic when things go wrong, but she develops
the ability to remain calm when others are not. She never gives up once she has
set her goals. Haku is her mysterious friend and ally with a dark side – he turns
into a dragon and serves as apprentice to the sorceress Yubaba.
Yubaba is the greedy, short-tempered boss of the hot springs. Her
unusual appearance, and her ability to change into a bird to spy on others,
enables her to control all who dare to stand in her way.
―At the beginning of the production, I explained to my staff that the Yuya
(the bathhouse) is Studio Ghibli,‖ says Miyazaki. ―When a new employee comes
to the studio for the first time, even though it‘s a small place, it‘s not easy to
figure out where to go. If that person were to happen to wander up to the third
floor, he or she would encounter our very frightening producer (Toshio Suzuki)
yelling and shouting all the time, just like Yubaba! Many of the staff also
commented that I resemble Yubaba. I admit that my head is big, but even so I
cannot agree with that comparison. I am just a simple craftsman working on
making a film, just like the character Kamaji in ‗Spirited Away.‘ Only I don‘t
have six hands.‖
Chihiro meets and befriends a variety of beings in the spirit world,
including Lin, the tough human bathhouse girl who teaches her the rules of
survival; Kamaji, the wise, spidery old man who tends the bathhouse furnace;
the Frog Men who work the resort; and Boh, Yubaba‘s giant-sized baby boy.
Even more fantastic are Kaonashi (or ―No-Face‖), the mysterious semi-
transparent figure who poses danger to anyone who approaches him; an army of
animated soot-balls who carry large lumps of coal to feed the bathhouse furnace;
and the ―Stink-God,‖ a lumpish creature who emerges from a coating of foul-
smelling sludge as an ancient and powerful River God.
Miyazaki explains, ―I had been creating the leading roles in my films the
way I thought they should be to please myself. But this time, I wanted to have
the leading role be a more typical girl, so that a ten-year-old could actually
recognize herself in that role. It would be really important that the leading role
not be someone extraordinary, but more like an everyday real person. This kind
of character is more difficult to create.
―The film is set in a hot springs bathhouse frequented by various Japanese
gods and spirits,‖ Miyazaki continues. ―I have some strange impressions of
Japanese bathhouses dating from my youth. I always wanted to stage a film in
such a strange place and I thought a bathhouse for gods would be even more fun.
I suppose the gods of Japan go to a hot springs bath and resort to rest their
bodies for a couple of days just as we do. They want to stay there for a while
longer, but they leave reluctantly when the weekend is over. I suppose the gods
in this day and age must be really busy. Thinking this way is how I decide how
the backgrounds and structures should look.‖
John Lasseter observes, ―One of the things that I really admire about
Hayao Miyazaki is that he makes movies for a reason. He met this young girl,
the daughter of a friend, and he was surprised at how apathetic she was about
everything. He noticed that this was a problem in Japan with young girls. They
just didn‘t care; they were bored. So, he said, I want to make a movie for them.
―He set out to tell the story of a young girl who is moving to a new town,‖
Lasseter adds. ―She starts out being bored but is swept away into this world and
has to learn responsibility. She has to learn hard work and to care about things
in order to get her parents back. And through this you see tremendous growth
in her character. It‘s heartwarming and so special. I think this film is probably
the most special film he has made. It takes the tremendous scope of ‗Princess
Mononoke‘ and mixes in the humor and heart of ‗My Neighbor Totoro.‘‖
CREATING THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE VERSION:
Heading the effort to bring ―Spirited Away‖ to English-speaking moviegoers were several of today‘s top animation filmmakers – executive producer John Lasseter, director Kirk Wise and producer Don Ernst. Together
this trio was responsible for crafting an English language script that would be
faithful to the Miyazaki original, and casting an ensemble of vocal talents that
would retain the flavor and entertainment of the Japanese version.
Lasseter explains, ―When Disney decided to bring ‗Spirited Away‘ to
America, they got the absolute best people to help with the English language
version. Don Ernst, the producer of ‗Fantasia/2000,‘ did a great job of bringing
the fantastic team together. I worked closely with my good friend and colleague,
Kirk Wise, who was in charge of directing the English voice cast and supervising
the writers to get the words to fit with the mouth movements that were animated.
Kirk directed them in such a beautiful way and the result is perfectly natural.
―We all had the same goal: to protect Miyazaki‘s vision and bring it, in its
complete intact form, to the American audiences,‖ adds Lasseter. ―We‘re really
proud of the results. We didn‘t cut it; we didn‘t change anything about it. We
just translated the script from Japanese to English, made sure that it was all in a
language we could understand, and cast the right actors.‖
Disney Feature Animation creative affairs executive Pam Coats adds,
―When you watch a subtitled movie, you‘re really focused on following the
dialogue. With this English language version, the audience is able to listen to the
dialogue and not have to focus on the bottom of the screen. And with a
Miyazaki film, it‘s important to see everything because he does visual things that fill up the screen. John, Kirk and their entire team lent their expertise to creating
a version of the film that protected the intent of Miyazaki‘s story and translated it
in a way that English-speaking audiences could fully appreciate.‖
Kirk Wise, a veteran Disney filmmaker who directed (with partner Gary
Trousdale) ―Beauty and the Beast,‖ ―The Hunchback of Notre Dame‖ and
―Atlantis: The Lost Empire,‖ recalls, ―Casting is half your battle. If you cast right,
everything falls into place. I think the casting choices really made the process
easy and we ended up with a great ensemble of actors.
―We compiled lots of lists of actors and ended up casting the film the
same way we would a traditional animated film shot in the States,‖ adds Wise.
―Usually we would take a tape of the actors we were interested in and play it
with footage of the character. You have to be able to hear and see if the marriage
of voice and picture is going to work. It‘s a very instinctual thing and when you
work in animation long enough, you start to develop a feel for it. Don (Ernst)
and I did the same thing when we worked together on the Disney live-action
feature ‗Homeward Bound.‘ We‘d show footage of the cat and listen to a track of
Sally Field from ‗Soapdish.‘ That really clued us in as to whether this voice
would be a match for what you saw on-screen.
―Daveigh Chase was so wonderful as Lilo in ‗Lilo & Stitch‘ that she kind
of shot to the top of the list for Chihiro,‖ he observes. ―We played her tracks
against the picture and it just fit. She seemed the right age and she had a real
handle on the character. Daveigh is a terrific actress and she was able to match
the mouth movements quickly. She took to it like a duck to water.
―Suzanne Pleshette had this wonderful throaty quality and a great sense
of humor. She brought a great theatricality to the twin roles of Yubaba, the
greedy sorceress, and her infinitely more compassionate sorceress sister, Zeniba.
Susan Egan, who had voiced the character of Meg in ‗Hercules,‘ provided a very
natural and relaxed voice for Lin, the tough bathhouse girl who teaches Chihiro
the rules for survival. Her voice worked so well with the image of that character
and she was great fun to work with.
―David Ogden Stiers (whose Disney credits include five animated features
with roles ranging from Cogsworth the clock in ―Beauty and the Beast‖ to the
evil genius Jumba in ―Lilo & Stitch‖) is my good luck charm. I would use him in
anything that I do and he was great as Kamaji, the wise and businesslike tender