Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi): Limited Edition (2001)

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Released 6-Jun-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Anime Main Menu Audio & Animation
Featurette-Making Of
Storyboard Comparisons-5
Notes-Themes of Spirited Away
Theatrical Trailer-3
TV Spots
Gallery-Feature Images; International Art
DVD-ROM Extras-Study Guide
Trailer-12
DVD Credits
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 2001
Running Time 124:23
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (54:52)
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Hayao Miyazaki
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Daveigh Chase
Suzanne Pleshette
Jason Marsden
Susan Egan
David Ogden Stiers
Lauren Holly
Michael Chiklis
John Ratzenberger
Case Gatefold
RPI $39.95 Music Joe Hisaishi


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Japanese dts 5.1 (768Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.20:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures Yes
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Spirited Away is being released in two versions here in Region 4: a regular single disc, and a special limited edition two disc version. You'll find my review of the single disc here. The limited edition uses that single disc for the movie (which is a fine idea, given that it is a magnificent presentation of the film), and adds a disc of extras. Because the movie is the same, the synopsis and discussion of the transfer remain the same, so don't be surprised by a bit of deja vu if you've read the other review. There is one thing I do want to add, though. Miyazaki is the classic auteur — he writes the script, draws all the storyboards, directs, and even checks all the key frame animation. That's a lot of work. Fortunately, with this film, he is learning to share the burden (he's letting a man he's only worked with for ten years do some of the checking...) — this is wonderful news, because it means that we may well get more Miyazaki films, and that can only be a good thing.

    The name Hayao Miyazaki towers above most, if not all, in the world of anime. He has been responsible for some of the biggest anime features — fans remember titles like Kiki's Delivery Service (with the English dub featuring Kirsten Dunst), Castle of Cagliostro, and My Neighbour Totoro — even non-fans have heard of Princess Mononoke (with a dub that included Gillian Anderson). Now we get his biggest release so far, Spirited Away. This film set box-office records in Japan, and took the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. It's for more than just the anime audience, and I'll try to keep that in mind in my review (that's why I may seem to be explaining things I wouldn't normally in an anime review).

    One of the reasons that this film extends beyond the normal audience for anime is that it starts in the real world, and shows the impact on normal people of an encounter with another world. Admittedly, that other world is one populated with 8 million gods, witches / sorceresses and talking frogs, but there's still a point of contact for the non-anime fan.

    Our story begins as Chihiro (interesting name — juxtaposing Chi, or energy/spirit, with hiro, pronounced hero — maybe I'm reading too much into that...) a 10 year old girl who is thoroughly peeved because she's being dragged out of the place she knew to move to a new town with her parents. They are almost at the new house when her father takes a wrong turn ("this is how you always get us lost...") and they find themselves in front of a mysterious building with a tunnel through it. Like all good movie characters, they have a little explore, and find a restaurant. The parents gorge on the food, but Chihiro doesn't eat (there's something to be said for children being sullen — it saves them from traps set with food!). Chihiro goes for a wander, and is warned by a mysterious young man that she must leave before it gets dark. She can't find her parents (there are pigs where they were), and she doesn't make it. Now she is trapped, and she must rescue not just herself but her parents, too — a heavy burden for a young girl.

    The animation style is gorgeous, using a fairly simple style for the characters, over exquisitely detailed backgrounds. This is really a delight to look at.

    They recruited some interesting voice talent for the English dub. Chihiro is voiced by Daveigh Chase, who has since gone on to voice Lilo in Lilo and Stitch. Yubaba is voiced by Suzanne Pleshette (I remember her in If It's Tuesday This Must be Belgium — that's a long time ago); and David Ogden Stiers voices Kamaji. The other main characters are voiced by experienced voice actors, too. I can't comment on the Japanese vocalists, because of the interesting way the credits have been done. If you choose Japanese dialogue, you get credits in Japanese; if you choose English, you get credits in English — a nice touch, but unfortunately I can't read the Japanese credits for the voice actors. This must have been done with seamless branching, because it happens regardless of the subtitle setting.

    It's quite obvious that this project has been given the highest priority, both in Japan, for the original film, and in the US, for the dubbing into English. The English dub matches the mouth movements of the animation very well — that doesn't happen by accident!

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The DVD is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. It is 16x9 enhanced. The original aspect ratio is reported to be 2.20:1, while the DVD cover claims to be in the ratio 2.00:1. It's really 1.85:1; it is window-boxed (it has black bars around all four sides that aren't visible on most displays as they disappear into the overscan — you can see them on a PC). This window boxing ensures that the whole of the glorious image is visible (that's real attention to detail!). Maybe, just maybe, the claimed 2.00:1 includes the black bars on the sides, but not top and bottom?

    The image is clear, and rather sharp. There is no film grain. There is no low-level noise. Shadow detail is a meaningless concept in animation.

    Colour is awesome. Backgrounds are filled with delicate details in all manner of shades. Foreground characters are coloured from a broad palette, too. Reportedly, the Japanese DVD is heavily tinted in red, but there's no sign of that on this disc — there's plenty of red, but only on red objects. There are no colour-related artefacts.

    UPDATE: There's been something of a mail-storm (or should that be maelstrom? It certainly seems to go round in circles) over the red-tint issue. One of the popular screenshots "proving" this is of the main title, a scene that is part of the seamless branching section of the film (which therefore must have been accorded fewer bits when compressed) — I wonder if that extra compression has something to do with it? I certainly didn't see anything out of the ordinary on my primary reviewing setup, nor on the system I use for spot checking things; these discs looked pretty much the same as the Region 1 discs to me. Someone has suggested that the main reports of the tint came from people watching on PCs — an interesting observation that I don't know what to make of. Anyway, one thing is agreed: the red tint problem, if present, is far less of a problem on these discs than on others.

    I saw no film artefacts at all. The lack of film artefacts makes me wonder if this transfer was done digitally — another thing suggesting this is that the run time of the Region 1 and Region 4 discs is identical, which would not be the case if the transfer were from film. The other possibility is that this is a conversion from NTSC to PAL — there is some interleaving, which would support that supposition (it's not visible when the movie is playing, only when you single-step frames that have a lot of motion) — but if this is a conversion, it is a superb one.

    There is virtually no aliasing, which is astonishing, given the fine black lines that outline every character — aliasing is usually a real problem on this kind of animation. I suspect that this disc is using a lot of bits, and that's why a two hour film is almost alone on the two layered disc — if that's the case, then it is an excellent choice on the part of the disc authors.

    There is no moirι, and there are no MPEG artefacts. This is a beautifully clean transfer.

    There are two sets of subtitles, both in English. The first are standard English subtitles; the second are English for the Hearing Impaired. They seem well-timed, and easy to read — they don't match the spoken English dialogue, but that's normal — anime subtitles are usually a literal translation of the Japanese dialogue, while the dub dialogue is adjusted to make it match the characters' mouth movements (that's been done very well here) — the story is the same either way.

    The disc is single-sided and dual-layered, formatted RSDL. The layer change comes at 54:52 — it is reasonably obvious, because the rain stops for a moment, but it's not annoying.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are three soundtracks on this disc, all 5.1. The English soundtrack is Dolby Digital 5.1; the Japanese soundtrack is provided both as Dolby Digital 5.1 and dts 5.1. I listened to the Japanese dts and the English Dolby Digital all the way through, and I spot checked the Japanese Dolby Digital (yes, it's there).

    The English dialogue is clear and easy to understand. The Japanese dialogue sounds clear. There are no obvious flaws in audio sync, not that sync is easy to check on animation.

    The score, from Joe Hisaishi, is very good. It's spread across the front soundstage, and laps against the surrounds. It supports the action well, and extends quite deep into the bass, giving the subwoofer some good LFE to chew on.

    The surround speakers get some neat directional sound effects. This is not limited to the rears — the front speakers get a range of directional sound, too. The subwoofer isn't neglected, either (but it comes in and out). All up, this is a good demonstration of 5.1 sound.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    The extras are mostly on the second disc, the one that only comes in the Limited Edition..

Menu

    The menu on the feature disc is animated with music, and a nice introductory transition. The menu on the second disc is not animated, but has smooth backing music.

Trailers

    On the feature disc, once you've watched the movie a small extras menu pops up, showing the DVD Credits, and giving you access to a stack of trailers (the kind that is normally labelled Madman Propaganda). There are twelve trailers, with one image displayed at a time — you can play the trailer for the image by pressing Enter. The trailers are:

    An alert reader added a comment (within the first hour of posting!) to the review of the movie-only disc, pointing out that there's an Easter egg on the main menu, which allows you to get to this page from there.

DVD Credits

    A single tasteful screen showing the credits for the Madman team responsible for this DVD. There's one of these on each disc.

Featurette: Making of Spirited Away (41:53)

    On the Region 1 disc this is titled Nippon TV Special, but it is the same thing. It is a long and detailed look at the process that resulted in the film, recorded during the production process. It is quite entertaining. Don't let the fact that it is in Japanese, with subtitles, put you off — this is one behind-the-scenes look that really delivers. We even get to see Miyazaki-san cooking ramen to feed the team during one of the many late night work sessions.

    One of the many interesting sections covers the voice acting, and shows many of the voice actors at work.

Storyboard Comparison

    On the Region 1 disc this comparison is presented in a less-that-perfect manner — there are 10 minutes of comparison, running continuously, with the storyboard on one angle and the final feature on another — all you can do is flip between them. Not all that satisfactory. On the Region 4 disc they have done a much better job — the comparisons are broken into five scenes, and each one can be viewed (as angles) in three ways: storyboard, final feature, or split screen (which I prefer) with the storyboard on the left and the final on the right. The scenes available are:

    As you can see from the durations above, we get a lot more footage in this comparison, as well as getting a better presentation.

Notes: Themes of Spirited Away

    Seventeen pages of notes explaining some of the finer points of Japanese culture. They cover:

Trailers and TV Spots

    This is divided into three unequal sections, each free-running.

    The Japanese trailers and TV spots segment is also present on the Region 1 disc, but the other two are not.

Galleries — Images

    This is divided into two sections:

Study Guide

    This is a DVD-ROM feature: a PDF file containing a study guide for children (aimed at 5 to 8 year olds).

Easter Egg — Japanese advertising (7:49)

    This is interesting, but I'm not sure what it is! It's in Japanese, without subtitles, and it's advertising something — I think it's a collection of Miyazaki film, but I'm not sure. I'm not going to tell you how to get to it (yet!). Let me just say that it's on the main menu of the second disc.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This title is available on DVD from Disney in Region 1. It is a two disc set, just like this one. The differences surprised me for a while, then I worked it out. The featurettes that are on the Region 1 discs that are missing from this Region 4 version are the ones made specifically by Disney.

    The Region 4 package is missing:

    The Region 1 disc is missing:

    The Art of Spirited Away featurette is only a small loss - it's more than a bit gushing, very "Disney", and repeats some of the material from the Nippon TV featurette (some of it with an American voice-over). This is narrated in a rather patronising way by Jason Marsden. The interesting parts are the comments from the Disney and Pixar technical people, and the (interpreted) interview footage with Hayao Miyazaki.

    The Behind the Microphone featurette is quite a loss. It covers the recording of the English dub. The Disney and Pixar people are funny. They make a big thing out of the need to synchronise the voice acting to the existing animation (usually these companies record the voices first, and animate to fit them), and the director talks about having the animation on display in front of the voice actors so they can sync their delivery to it as though this is a momentous idea — my first reaction was "So what? That's how anime is always dubbed." — that's when I realised that this was a new kind of work to these people. They did an excellent job under the circumstances, but it is funny.

    In the end, I'm glad that I bought both the Region 1 and the Region 4 versions — you might think that's an excessive solution. If you prefer to watch your anime with the Japanese soundtrack, then the Region 4 is an obvious choice — the dts soundtrack offers slightly better definition than the Dolby Digital. I also think the Region 4 discs and cover look slightly nicer — the Region 1 cover and discs are mostly black. The quality of the transfers, however, is pretty much equal — you could be happy with either, from that point of view. Despite what you might read in Region 1 reviews, the Region 1 transfer is presented in exactly the same way as the Region 4, with window boxing. Don't forget, too, that you can choose the single disc Region 4 version if all you want is the movie. The best part, in my opinion, is that you have a choice of three versions, and none of the choices is bad!

Summary

    Spirited Away is a lovely anime feature film, beautifully drawn and voice-acted, presented superbly on DVD.

    The video quality is excellent.

    The audio quality is excellent.

    The extras are ample, and on a second disc so the feature can be presented really well.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Tony Rogers (bio-degrading: making a fool of oneself in a bio...)
Monday, June 09, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony VPH-G70 CRT Projector, QuadScan Elite scaler (Tripler), ScreenTechnics 110. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE
SpeakersFront Left, Centre, Right: Krix Euphonix; Rears: Krix KDX-M; Subwoofer: Krix Seismix 5

Other Reviews
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impulsegamer.com - Dean Malandrini

Comments (Add)
Themes of Spirited Away -
Easter Egg — Japanese advertising - Kakio (This is my biography)
That ubiquitous red tint! -
Sen to Chihiro - REPLY POSTED
Subtitles for the hearing impared -
Comparing the R1 and R4 LE packaging - Juha REPLY POSTED
Culture and kanji -
It's the Ghibli Ga Ippai Collection Ads - REPLY POSTED
Studio Ghibli trailers -
There is no red tint on the R4. - grug (there is no bio.)