The acclaimed Studio Ghibli film Spirited Away was adapted for the stage in Japan and, as a part of Studio Ghibli Fest, screenings of the show are taking place across the country. Here is my recap and review of the film.
For those who may be unfamiliar with Spirited Away, the story is about a 10-year-old girl named Chihiro who ends up in a mysterious realm of gods and witches after her parents decide to explore an abandoned theme park, eating from a staffless restaurant that results in them becoming pigs at the hands of Yubaba, the main attractions proprietor. Her only hope to save her parents and free herself from this world is to work for the witch at the bathhouse for the gods, where the pay is measly and labor is grueling. But with the help of an eclectic group, she may just have a chance.
I was pleasantly surprised by how faithful the stage show is to the original film. They didn’t cut anything, or if they did it was so subtle I didn’t notice. They did add musical moments with a few songs sung by the ensemble cast and a couple of dance numbers too. Even with the additions, the whole show was smooth and progressed well. It honestly didn’t feel like a three-hour show despite it being one.
The costumes were also incredible, especially when it came to the spirits. The way they handled No Face was very smart, and seeing how they managed to make him grow was clever. My personal favorite spirit is the Oshira-sama, or Radish Spirit which is pictured below, and the fact he was included really made me giddy. They balance screen accuracy with stage presence across all of the costumes really well.
The set was also incredible, even with how deceivingly simple it is. They managed to fit a whole world within the confines of a stage thanks to turntables, catwalks, ladders, and props. Elevators, bridges, barns, and a bathhouse all reside within the stage, and it never felt like we had to stretch our imaginations too far to know and believe we were where they said.
My favorite part is how magical the whole show felt thanks to the practical effects and staging. Having these magical moments like flying river spirits and dragons happen thanks to clever bunraku puppetry was truly special. Magic tricks give the witches and Haku the illusion of being powerful so it all feels so much more believable. The use of dance and body movement further adds a mystical quality to the creatures of this realm. Every spirit has its own way of moving, and puppeteers use different dances to give each unique character its own energy. Since I was a dancer for my entire childhood I appreciate the use of it in the show a lot because it really made the show more magical.
Kanna Hashimoto, who played Chihiro, did an amazing job in the role. She embodied her film counterpart well while also coming across as genuine. The acting overall was great, but I found that she left the strongest impression on me. The ensemble also deserves a shout-out because they bring so many facets of the show to life. Most of the magic we see is thanks to them.
Overall, Spirited Away Live on Stage is a beautiful adaptation of a beloved classic that fully respects the original work and brings it to life. From the costumes to the puppetry to the staging and acting, everything was crafted with care and love and it shows. I would have loved to watch this in person, even with a language barrier, because it is just that impressive.
You can still catch Spirited Away Live On Stage in theaters for a very short time! Only two more days are available to catch this spectacular adaptation before it is no longer available to American audiences.
What is your favorite Studio Ghibli film? Let me know with a comment.
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