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September 21, 2002 10:11 PM   Subscribe

More than a year ago, MetaFilter discussed a petition to bring "Spirited Away," the newest full-lenth animated movie by Hayao Miyazki, to the US. Released in Japan as Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, it is the most popular movie ever released in Japan and has it's US limited release this weekend. Do you think "Spirited Away" will "break through" to a wider American audience when Princess Mononoke didn't? What a wonderfully fantastic movie!
posted by gen (31 comments total)
We went to see the subtitled version (only one theater in NYC; others are showing the Disney dubbed version) and the theater was pretty full but not packed. I'm definitely going to go see the dubbed version just to see how different of an experience that is.

I loved it, but I can see potential confusion for people who aren't as familiar with Anime or Japanese culture or the Shinto religion. That said, it's the most beautiful animation I've seen, even in comparison to the technically superior work from Pixar.
posted by gen at 10:21 PM on September 21, 2002

Anything that Disneyâ?¢ touches loses some of it's brilliance, I certainly hope that this is not the case with this film. I am encouraged to find that there was a subtitled version in the theater, but I don't expect to see that anywhere near where I live... Hopefully the DVD release will have an original (non-Disneyâ?¢) version of the film.

I also hope that people's ignorance of Japanese culture doesn't stop them from enjoying a film. If anything, that would make me enjoy it even more - it's something new and unfamiliar.
posted by hotdoughnutsnow at 10:31 PM on September 21, 2002

Do you think "Spirited Away" will "break through" to a wider American audience when Princess Mononoke didn't? What a wonderfully fantastic movie!

I seriously doubt that anime will ever "break through", other than crap like Pokemon. Anime is an acquired taste, and it passes most people right by (including me, and I like to think my tastes are pretty eclectic). Even really well done anime is fairly impenetrable to the average joe. All the craftsmanship in the world isn't going to save a film that seems to be a lot of running around and hand-waving to no purpose.
posted by RylandDotNet at 10:32 PM on September 21, 2002

The Miyazaki mailing list has been keeping track of reviews as they come out, and they have been almost unfailingly glowing. Rotten Tomatoes shows 100% positive reviews out of 53 total. Maybe this really is the breakthrough anime film.

Disney's deal with Studio Ghibli specified that no changes were to be made to their films, except for English dubbing. There's a limit to how much Disney can 'Disnefy' these films, even if they wanted to. Their DVD release (Beuna Vista's, actually) of Princess Mononoke was an excellent anamorphic transfer, with subtitle tracks. I think Disney is doing okay by Miyazaki. I just with they'd release the rest of the Ghibli canon a little faster.

I'm planning on seeing Spirited Away tomorrow night. Doubt either of the places it's showing in Philly has a subtitled print, though.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 10:46 PM on September 21, 2002

I'm actually curious to see the dubbed version--
From LYThompson (SFWeekly):
"...released by Disney simultaneously in two versions -- one in the original Japanese, with subtitles, and another in a painstakingly dubbed translation, supervised by Toy Story director John Lasseter, with the English dialogue matched to character mouth movements".
posted by G_Ask at 11:26 PM on September 21, 2002

It opened this weekend in Seattle. On two screens. Both of them are art houses that draw the usual cult audience, but are certainly not going to attract a large mainstream audience. As much as I like what the Neptune theater represents, I hate seeing movies there because the auditorium is an echo chamber and the screen nothing to shout about. The seats are as uncomfortable as hell.

When Mononoke came out it played on several top-notch screens with the projection and sound system to do it justice. I am eager to see Sen, but frankly I just don't see how it can break through to the mainstream with a release that (at least in this market) is a step down from the last Miyazaki film.
posted by Lokheed at 11:53 PM on September 21, 2002

This movie was absolutely phenomenal. I was lucky enough to see it at Pixar today, and if there's any justice in this world, Spirited Away will be the movie that introduces millions to Japanese animation.

I like that Disney is doing what they can to get more people to see anime, but as noted in this thread, it seems to be having a negative effect on people who automatically dismiss anything they assume Disney has gotten their grubby mitts on. So I'm trying to spread the word as much as I can that "Disney" changed not a single thing in Spirited Away. John Lasseter oversaw the creation of a dub that really impressed me, and the only thing the Mouse House is doing is putting the film in theaters.

Seriously, go see it. Tell your friends who eat up everything Disney to go see it because it's beautiful, and tell your friends who are Disney naysayers that it's an incredible film that's arrived to us intact with its heart.
posted by toddshot at 12:04 AM on September 22, 2002

I cannot wait to see this film.

All the craftsmanship in the world isn't going to save a film that seems to be a lot of running around and hand-waving to no purpose.

I suspect that you haven't seen "Princess Mononoke..." Characterizing that movie as "a lot of running around and hand waving to no purpose" is akin to characterizing "The Godfather" as a bunch of guys sitting around and shooting people.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:09 AM on September 22, 2002

Mononoke's dub, however, is terrible, and the DVD is hampered by the fact that the subtitles are simply the dub script as opposed to a translation of the original. (Extra narration was added, and lines were taken away, to tailor it to a western audience.)

I'm pleased to hear that the dub for this one's good; have to check it out.
posted by bwerdmuller at 12:40 AM on September 22, 2002

Even if I don't like the movie, all is not lost: I just got a note from saying that My Neighbor Totoro is available for pre-order and will ship in early December! As long as it has a subtitle track and original Japanese dialog a la Mononoke, I'm set.
posted by robbie01 at 12:55 AM on September 22, 2002

I like that Disney is doing what they can to get more people to see anime

I think that Disney is actually trying to get anime as little as audience as they can without downright degrading the work of studio ghibli. They could have made both Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away available to a much bigger audience then they did...
posted by zerofoks at 1:07 AM on September 22, 2002

bwerdmuller: ...the DVD is hampered by the fact that the subtitles are simply the dub script as opposed to a translation of the original.

On the North American (R1) release there are two English subtitle tracks. One is the dub script ('dubtitle'), but the other is a literal translation.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 1:11 AM on September 22, 2002

Ah, the link in what I just posted is screwy. Here's a better one.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 1:19 AM on September 22, 2002

Someone better check on Kikkoman, just to make sure he's okay...
posted by Newbornstranger at 1:31 AM on September 22, 2002

"Spirited Away" is a truly amazing, astonishing, magical film. I live in the U.K. so I had to resort to KaZaA to see a rather poorly digitsed fansub version.

The main problem that these films have, when away from their homeland, is the huge difference in the 'rules' of storytelling, characters, and good vs. evil in the "west".

This is most easily illustrated by the DVD cover of Princess Mononoke. On the cover is written, "The Fate Of The World Rests On The Courage Of One Warrior." Eh?? I don't think so. A more accurate tagline would be, "A whole bunch of different people clash in a forest and almost destroy it but manage to sort things out in the end. Oh and the guy with the curse gets better."

Other incompatible issues in Princess Mononoke are the fact that no-one is really good or evil, they're just trying to get on with their lives the way they think is best. Also, at the beginning when the young warrior is cursed, he has to leave his village forever. He can never go back, and he never does. There's no way that would happen in a Disney film!!

"Spirited Away" is a beautiful film, and I love it, but I suspect that most cinema-going people here in the U.K. would think it was utter nonsense.
posted by chrid at 4:48 AM on September 22, 2002

I saw the movie last night at the mulitplex downtown Boston (DLP!), the place wasn't quite half full.

The movie it self was just ok. Visually stunning, incredible really. But story seemed uneven at best. Maybe that's just my crude american sensibilities talking.
posted by rschroed at 8:32 AM on September 22, 2002

To second an earlier comment, I was really disappointed that Disney basically buried Mononoke and then complained about not generating enough revenues from it. Even for a foreign film, Mononoke was not given nearly the same attention as Y Mama Tambien, The Brotherhood of the Wolf, or even most of the Jackie Chan re-releases. I don't think it is entirely due to a culture gap. After all, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was based on an unabashedly Buddhist storyline but still made plenty of money at the box office.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:56 AM on September 22, 2002

An unfortunate factor as to why it's highly probable that Spirited Away won't do as good as it should, box office $$-wise, is that the vast bulk of the American audience simply flock to the familiar, and shun the fantastic.

This is why studios are so sequel-phrenetic with any flick that clears the $75-100M barrier, even when it's creatively clear that most sequels are going to bite serious tuckus. The multitude of recent Disney straight-to-video sequels is proof that the suits know it's an almost guaranteed way to make a quick few extra million rather than risk moolah on a breakthrough original production. It's a rare occasion when something decidedly non-formula breaks through, so I'm a bit pleased and surpised that Disney has tagged their name to this flick - there must have been an administrative error somewhere along the way ;-)

My typical fellow American would rather unwrap and chew the same entrées day after day at the same old Golden Arches than take a risk and experience something like Admiral Nissan's Cuttlefish Tempura. Novelty terrifies the average bloke, sometimes even after they are told that they'd be cool if they'd only try it.

I thought Princess was pure magic, but had to wait for the DVD to experience it. I'm sure the same holds true with this one. [sigh]

Heh. I'm surprised that Disney's support of Spirited Away hasn't yet been aggresively picketed/protested by outraged family organizations who naturally assume that this import is chock-laden with lots and lots of raw tentacle sex.

"What!? A Japanese cartoon distributed by Disney!? Gasp! We must protect our children from the tentacle sex! Warm up the Magic Markers and put on some comfy shoes! We're mobilizing!

"But first, lets stop at McDonalds and eat up some yummy Happy Meals with the free Bambi II toys."
posted by dakotadusk at 9:09 AM on September 22, 2002

I saw this yesterday at the Metreon in downtown SF, on a digital projector. It was stunningly beautiful. I'm not a huge anime fan, I've just seen a few of the standards. I don't think it's right to lump this in as "anime" anyway; the movie has crossover written all over it. Lots of beautiful things taken from Japanese mythology and anime weirdness, but a core story that's easy enough to follow from a Western background. And it has actual human relationships, something horribly missing in contemporary US animation. I think it has a good chance of being successful.

The audience at the 2pm show was about 3/4 full. A lot of families with kids. The Metreon is a mainstream theater.
posted by Nelson at 10:25 AM on September 22, 2002

I suspect that you haven't seen "Princess Mononoke..." Characterizing that movie as "a lot of running around and hand waving to no purpose" is akin to characterizing "The Godfather" as a bunch of guys sitting around and shooting people.

I have seen Princess Mononoke, actually. Yes, The Godfather is about a bunch of guys sitting around and shooting people, but I have enough of a cultural context to understand why they're doing it; with Princess Mononoke (and with most anime that I've seen) that cultural context isn't there, so it is just so much hand-waving to me. Not a critique of the movie, just saying that I didn't get it, and I suspect that mainstream movie audiences won't either. I could be wrong, though.

The only anime I've seen that I actually enjoyed are Akira (natch), My Neighbor Totoro, and Kiki's Delivery Service, and I can't say that I understood even them, but they were fun enough that I didn't need to. If those three films couldn't break anime out into the American mainstream, then IMHO nothing can. Princess Mononoke and Wings of Honneamise are examples of films that were spectacularly well animated, but painfully cryptic to anybody who isn't either native Japanese or otaku.

Anyways, why would you want anime to become mainstream? Isn't half the fun being able to enjoy something that most people can't understand? :)
posted by RylandDotNet at 11:34 AM on September 22, 2002

No anime/Miyazaki discussion (and certainly not one that touches on cultural accessibility) may ignore Lupin III: Castle Cagliostro. A terrific adventure film, and though it helps a little to have Rupan's backstory, it's not at all required. This is one of my favorite movies, and next to Totoro my favorite Miyazaki.

I think the desperate need to "break through" is getting old. Anime just isn't going to appeal to American audiences on a broad scale; I'd be happy to be proven wrong, but I think I'm not. It's taken several years' worth of competition in the American animated segment and most audiences still think that a cartoon is G-rated fluff for six-year-olds. If The Iron Giant couldn't break through, I doubt anything will, and it isn't because of Disney's or anybody's promotion -- they have a budget, they put it out there, and they hope people will come, and tell their friends. Promotion dollars don't force people into theaters at trident-point, anyway. (Insert rant about thinking of people as sheep.) I just hope Spirited Away does enough business for Disney to keep bringing them here; it can't cost that much to dub them, even the expensive way, especially if you don't go for a star-studded voice cast (as with Mononoke).

But, Lawd. Just watching the trailer makes my eyes wet. The guy's got more visual imagination in his little finger than almost anybody working in the movies has in their whole head.
posted by dhartung at 12:07 PM on September 22, 2002

Hmm. I'll see it because I live within spitting distance of the Neptune in Seattle, but I'm taking it with a grain of salt. The fact that it is the biggest movie of all time in Japan does not sound to me like the badge of honor it is being presented as. I think there's a weird double-standard at play here, where blockbusters in America are big hits because they're demographically-synthesized pablum, but the Japanese equivalent is all subtle and multi-layered. No, chances are it's just that you don't understand Japanese cultural mythology enough to take for granted what you're supposed to take for granted, so to you it comes as an epiphany. That's good and everything--heck, it's great--but let's call a spade a spade.
posted by Hildago at 1:11 PM on September 22, 2002

"No anime/Miyazaki discussion may ignore Lupin III: Castle Cagliostro."

And no discussion of Lupin III is complete without someone mentioning Cliff Hanger, at least in passing.
posted by majick at 1:17 PM on September 22, 2002

That's a very good point Hildago, and I never thought of that. I can't really agree, because all Studio Ghibli stuff blows my mind.. but you made me think, and I thank you.

By the way, did anyone see "Graveyard of the Fireflies"? I saw it recently and nearly died of dehydration due to the stupid unstoppable tears spewing from my stupid eyes. I'd be glad to hear anyone else's experience of this film..
posted by chrid at 1:47 PM on September 22, 2002

I have seen Princess Mononoke, actually.

I stand corrected. Sorry for jumping to conclusions. Of course, you have every right to your response to the film and I respect that. Sorry again for making an assumption!
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:14 PM on September 22, 2002

I think anime has already broken through, hell the Suncoast chain displays anime right when you walk in, and the market simply will not rival Hollywood blockbusters. Its not 1986 anymore, millions of westerners are aware of anime and many of them simply don't like it. Its pretty hard to deny that anime is an acquired taste and tends to serve a very specific audience.

I agree with all three things you say in this paragraph. Anime has just about made it as far into the mainstream as it will go. I don't think it's reached the apex of its popularity, but anyone who's waiting for a new revolution will probably be disappointed. It's a niche market any way you look at it, and it's a more or less saturated niche market at that.

I am, by the way, in the demographic of people who are well aware of anime's existence and have seen enough of it to know it's not really for me in general. It's hard to accept that something you really dig is just never going to be the talk of the town, which is a conversation I have with my otaku friends from time to time. I have the same problem coming to terms with the fact that I will never hear a Tom Waits song on the radio. We march on, I guess.
posted by Hildago at 5:23 PM on September 22, 2002

1. Spirited Away is one of the most gorgeous movies I've ever seen. Also fun and scary and original. Go, go, go to the theater.

2. Pixar's work is brilliant, but no more "technically superior" just because it's 3C-style CG instead of computer-assisted cell animation. Does Pixar require more rendering time on more computers? Sure. But old-school animation involves a great deal of technical expertise as well -- it's just a different technique.

3. "Anime" defined as Japanese animated serials in familiar genres may have gotten as far into the mainstream as they're going to get. Ghibili's work is mostly far superior to Disney's recent animated features, and saying that *that* sort of anime isn't going to get any further is like saying that French movies are played out. It depends on the film.
posted by blissbat at 5:51 PM on September 22, 2002

Miyazaki has been around for a very long time. Right after Lupin in the early 80s, Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind was released. A story with a similar environmental-message as Mononoke did. The following year, Laputa was released, and it was a box-office record at the time, just like Spirited Away is now. This time though, it could be because there are rumours that this is his last work.

Miyazaki is very different from main-stream anime. He has consistently released for the silverscreen for the last 20 years, and have an affinity for creating amazing and awe-inspiring stories in equally imaginative worlds and settings. Joe Hisashi has composed for Miyazaki since the first feature length release, Nausicaa, and they have continued to be partners in their work. He was one of the first film composers in Japan to utilize electronic sounds (do correct me if I'm wrong about this).

Basically, back in the 80s, Ghilibi Studios broke a lot of new ground for feature-lengthed productions as well as anime. People of all ages in Japan are always looking forward to the next Miyazaki film, though I can't say the same for films like Akira and Ghost in the Shell. Some of the 'cult' anime films in North America are relatively passe in Japan. Many of them are absolutely preplexed at why 'Ninja Scroll' is so damn popular. You almost don't 'count' as an anime fan if you haven't seen it.

Here I must admit that I'm a little biased in that I'm a Miyazaki fanatic. I think his works are beautiful in ways that not many movies are. He chooses the medium of animation because he is able to create worlds that don't actually exist, and take us back in time (in some films though, you're really not sure what 'time' you're at in history); fantastic settings that very well people can afford to produce. Unlike most anime, after seeing a few of his work you will notice that there is a consistency behind all of them. A message perhaps, an idea. I won't try and tell you what it is, but if you do a quick search on interviews with him that are translated, the man simply likes to tell a great story.
posted by margaretlam at 9:17 PM on September 22, 2002

You people made Japanese class extremely painful.
posted by ttrendel at 1:49 AM on September 23, 2002

Does Pokemon count as anime? If not, why, and if so, why do you not consider anime mainstream?
posted by D at 7:40 AM on September 23, 2002

D, as a modest anime fan, I can tell you this. Semantically speaking, anime is just Japanese animated cartoons. However, what separates this type of animation from North American animation is that it is uninhibited.

North Americans seem to have this crazy idea that cartoons are for kids. Practically all animated cartoons here are family and kids oriented (think Disney). The only exceptions are movies appealing to Heavy Metal fans (think Heavy Metal cult movies and the recent Titan AE), and adult-themed TV comedies (The Simpsons, Family Guy, South Park).

On the other hand anime doesn't follow these rules. Aside from censoring pubic hair, there are no rules at all. Anime can span many genres. Sci-fi (Ghost in the Shell), comedy (Ranma 1 1/2), action (Ninja Scroll), horror (Hellsing), adventure (Laputa: Castle in the Sky), fantasy (Spirited Away), psychological thriller (Perfect Blue), and even porno (La Blue Girl).

So to answer your question, yes Pokemon is anime... but anime is not Pokemon :).
posted by freakystyley at 9:58 AM on September 23, 2002

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