Studio Ghibli Hits The Stage

Japan can never get enough of Hayao Miyazaki’s classic Studio Ghibli films so it wasn’t a surprise when his beloved Spirited Away was adapted for the Japanese stage by Tony winner John Caird (Les Misérables). Animation label GKIDS brings over a couple excellent stage performances from the hugely successful 2022 run starring two different actresses playing Chihiro, Kanna Hashimoto and Mone Kamishiraishi.

Oscar winner Spirited Away is one of Miyazaki’s most acclaimed films. The story follows a courageous girl hoping to save her parents who have been trapped in pig form while dealing with her own issues in the spirit realm, inside a monstrous bath house filled with mischievous creatures. Aided by the mysterious Haku, Chihiro must overcome Yubaba and her minions. Spirited Away: Live on Stage translates Studio Ghibli’s animation into a wondrous play using puppetry, musical numbers, engaging production design, and a wide variety of costumes.

Spirited Away: Live on Stage translates Studio Ghibli’s animation into a wondrous play using puppetry, musical numbers, and a wide variety of costumes

I was anxious this adaptation wouldn’t work outside the animation medium given the fantastical setting filled with witches, dragons and wandering stink gods. Those fears were unfounded as the play mostly captures the indelible essence of Spirited Away with pluck and vigor. The sets are clever and often gorgeous, if not the same eye candy seen from the beautiful animated film.

Maybe a little something is lost in the transition from the screen but the play shines with heart. Some of the directorial choices and camerawork don’t always glow with the same level of craftsmanship we get from the entertaining cast and innovative production design.

The lavishly-staged adaptation plays it straight, hardly deviating from the original film’s screenplay. Many of Spirited Away’s iconic moments, including Chihiro landing a job working for Yubaba, are nicely captured with all the same wonder and even fright Miyazaki invested into his movie. The song-and-dance numbers jump off the screen with energy, a joyous expression of Chihiro’s exploration discovering this magical world.

If we’re splitting hairs, Mone Kamishiraishi’s take on Chihiro was more to my liking as she commands the stage better. Kanna Hashimoto’s performance is fine but a touch forgettable, feeling her way through the character until she hits a groove during the back half. The supporting cast is fantastic, veteran performers who add new heights of emotion and physicality to many beloved characters like Haku.

Spirited Away: Live on Stage makes for a good time if you’ve ever wondered how a classic Studio Ghibli film could be pulled off as a play without losing most of its innate charm.

Video

The 1.78:1 presentation for Spirited Away: Live on Stage features steady, unspectacular 1080p video. Clarity and definition are both nice, highlighting the colorful puppets and exotic costumes. There is a tempered color palette emulating the wonderfully eclectic animation of Miyazaki’s classic. This isn’t a Blu-ray with enormous amounts of depth and detail, reflecting choices made by the director.

Camera angles are sometimes less than flattering, possibly limited by the venue. The play was held at Tokyo’s Imperial Theatre. Proper lighting and inky black levels produce a consistently smooth contrast.

GKIDS gives each performance of the play its own BD-50, encoding each main feature in competently executed AVC encodes. The extra space is needed given how long both performances run. The performance starring Kanna Hashimoto runs 154 minutes. The performance starring Mone Kamishiraishi runs slightly longer at 160 minutes.

Audio

Both performances are heard in excellent Japanese 2.0 DTS-HD MA audio. The soundtracks are largely comparable in quality, if differing in minor ways. Each enchanting musical number takes full advantage of the stereo mix with moderate bass and glistening fidelity. Dialogue does have a tendency to wander around the soundstage; these are live recordings after all.

While a surround mix might have helped project a bigger sense of space and separation, there’s nothing in the soundtracks which lessen Spirited Away’s material appeal. Surround mixes just aren’t especially popular in Japan, the intended market for this play.

Optional English subtitles play in a white font. For those wondering, no English dubs are offered.

Extras

No bonus features are offered in this two-disc set from GKIDS. Each Blu-ray is coded for Region A. A glossy slipcover is available in early pressings.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided by the label for review. This has not materially affected DoBlu’s editorial process. For information on how we handle all review material, please visit DoBlu’s about us page.

Spirited Away: Live on Stage
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
4

Movie

A loving stage adaptation of Miyazaki’s classic animated film, brought to life through puppets and veteran stage performers

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User Review
4 (2 votes)

The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 43 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots ripped directly from the Blu-ray:


2 thoughts on "Spirited Away: Live on Stage Blu-ray Review"

  1. The Phantom Stranger says:

    Target has an exclusive retail edition Blu-ray which comes with a poster.

  2. The Phantom Stranger says:

    I forgot the actual link for the Target exclusive:

    https://www.target.com/p/spirited-away-live-on-stage-target-exclusive-blu-ray/-/A-89733961

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