Spirited Away: Live on Stage - Blu-ray Review

Michael Scott

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Apr 4, 2017
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Spirited Away: Live on Stage

Movie: :4stars:
Video: :4stars:
Audio: :4stars:
Final Score: :3.5stars:

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I remember when being an anime fan was something to be embarrassed about, or at least hide from your friends. I grew up as a 2nd generation anime fan (first generation belonging to the 1970s and 80s stuff like Voltron), being introduced to the animation style in the mid 90s. I still remember working out at the gym during high school, going to martial arts practice in the afternoon, then coming home to check out the VHS tapes of Rouroni Kenshin or Slayers I had rented from Blockbuster the night before. This was back in the days when 2-3 episodes fit on one tape, and cost an absolutely FORTUNE to watch, so my anime friends and I would swap tapes that we had gotten, or the crummy Real Player fansubs that we “ahem” acquired from the internet (half of them mis encoded or containing viruses of course. Limewire anyone?). Back then we were considered “nerds” or “weebs”, and the cool kids would laugh if you told them about your hobby. Fast forward 30 years and Anime is the new cool thing. It has gained mass market pop culture appeal, with studios like Funimation, Discotek, etc pumping out more Anime content from Japan than ever before. We have entire conventions where everyone from the nerdy guy who looks like he came from The Simpsons, to big name actors and soccer moms coming to check it out. Cosplay is an entire thing online, and you can stream Anime as easily as you can login to Netflix or Hulu. So I’m not surprised that decades after it’s creation, we get an actual Broadway style stage production of Miyazaki’s Spirited Away.

I’m not gonna lie to you, but I went into the Blu-ray that Shout Studios sent me with some trepidation. I mean, the people who watch Stage Productions are USUALLY not the people binge watching anime. But I guess those “nerds” and “weebs” grew up years ago and are now businessmen, bankers, mothers and fathers, so it makes sense that anime culture would seep into a more “adult” (so to speak) avenue for entertainment. I remember hearing about it coming out on Toky’s historic Imperial Stage last year and didn’t think twice about it (I’m not a massive stage production fan. I have enjoyed many, but not on a regular basis), but upon looking further it has a better pedigree than I would have expected. The play was directed and adapted by none other than John Caird himself, who is made famous for winning the Tony award for his adaptation of Les Miserables on Broadway years ago. The man has a talent for bringing epic to the stage, and he did it here as well.

The story follows the plot of the movie to a T. Ten year old Chihiro and her parents are driving to their new house, and her father takes a wrong turn and has to take a country shortcut to get back on the beaten path. They end up in the middle of nowhere in an abandoned amusement park which happens to be a spirit trap for those who are greedy and gluttonous (mom and dad take advantage of the strangely working restaurant setup there), and poor Chihiro and her parents are sucked into another realm. One populated by Dragons, monsters, gods, and a controlling caretaker named Yubaba who has turned her parents into pigs and gives Chihiro till the next dinner time to figure out a way to free her parents.

It’s a lovely story, and probably one of Miyazaki’s best films. The stage production is utterly lavish and gorgeous, with a million set changes and props to bring the magical world of Spirited Away to life. Caird hired two casts for the production, as Japan had almost double the performances a week than Broadway has. So instead of burning out the cast by running them ragged, he hired two separate casts and had them run half of the show, while the other cast runs the OTHER half (being that the production was almost 3 hours including intermission, that was kind of understandable. 10 shows a week would kill a crew). The Studio Ghibli Blu-ray release of the film gives us BOTH productions, with one cast being set on the first Blu-ray, and the second cast being on the second (duh). Either option you choose should be fine as both sets of actors do a fabulous job. Caird is a master at creating epic, and while this will not feel as raw and emotional as something like Les Miserables, he turns a dark fantasy anime into a spectacle worthy of wearing a suit and tie in a prestigious stage show.


Not Rated by the MPAA

Video: :4stars:
The production carries with it the standard pros and cons of a broadway style play captured live on video. That is most of the quality of the shots will be based off of a couple of cameras all pointed at the same dimly lit stage. The results of the disc itself are quite nice. You can see everyone just fine, and outside of faces looking pasty under a massive spotlight (pretty common in live action stage productions), everything is well detailed and perfectly clear. I was genuinely surprised at how little noise the digital shoot produced, as it was a VERY clean and smooth looking image. Even when the cameras went down we didn’t experience swarming or buzzing digital noise. We did get some crush with the lighting being focused on the center of the stage, and blacks can look a bit milky at times, but overall this was a very pleasant experience on disc.

Audio: :4stars:
The same can be said of the 2.0 DTS-HD MA track found on the disc. Since this isn’t a feature film, we’re listening to a VERY dialog heavy stage production captured live. That means microphones strewn throughout the stage, as well as ear mics to pick up vocals near the beginning. Simple 2.0 stereo track production, and everything sounds about what you would expect. The vocals are clean and clear for the most part, with the typical echo that happens in a massive theater, and the live music is rich and robust. It’s not a full 5.1 mix sadly, but I’m of the opinion that a 2.0 track for a stage production imitates the experience of being there a LITTLE better than a fake 5.1 mix, so I’m nonplussed. All in all, a very nice sounding 2.0 track (pretty much the same on both discs for each cut).


Final Score: :3.5stars:

Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect from a live action stage production of Miyazaki’s work. My wife and I have both watched the Studio Ghibli Blu-ray and DVD for the better part of 20 years, and have a great love of the source material, but I had NO idea how that would translate to the stage. End result for this guy, I enjoyed it. My wife enjoyed it more than I did being that she’s a stage actress and most of my stage production history with is with classic literature. But I still enjoyed this way more than I thought I would. The production is utterly lavish, and the complete “go the distance” mentality for bringing the more bizarre aspects of the Anime to life started to really grow on me. Definitely a fun watch for those anime fans who want to experience something new with their art.

Technical Specifications:

Starring: Kotaro Daigo, Kanna Hashimoto, Mone Kamishiraisha, Hiroki Miura, Fu Hinami, Satoshi Hashimoto
Directed by: John Caird
Written by: John Caird, Maoko Imai, Hayao Miyazaki (Original Animated film)
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 AVC
Audio: Japanese: DTS-HD MA 2.0
Subtitles: English
Studio: Shout Factory
Rated: NR
Runtime: 320 minutes
Blu-Ray Release Date: November 14th, 2023

Recommendation: Fun Watch



AV Addict
Jul 13, 2017
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Thanks for the review. I will check this out. the anime of course is awesome, worth having. This one, will check it once available streaming. :)
By the way, I was impressed with live action One Piece on netflix..
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