"You are very lucky. You get to see Spirited Away." John Lasseter's words from this introduction. He's not kidding. This movie is majestic and brilliant.
Some numbers before we get into the movie. This is the #1 grossing movie in Japan, beating out Titanic for that spot. It swept Japan's academy awards, winning best picture. This movie didn't do as fiscally well when it came to the US, grossing a small $10 Million, but winning best animated picture at the Oscars, and this was the first Japanese movie in over 50 years to win an Oscar.
The story is an essential part of any movie. Fortunately, Spirited Away's story is top notch. The movie starts out with us meeting the protagonist of the story, Chihiro (voiced by Daveigh Chase). Chihiro is a 10-year-old girl, and is whiny and grouchy at the beginning because of her family moving to a new house in a different town, as most 10-year old girls would be in this situation. Then, Chihiro's father takes a wrong turn in an attempt to get to their new house faster, and winds up at an abandoned amusement park. Chihiro initially has her doubts about this park, but she follows her parents anyways. But this is no ordinary amusement park. After Chihiro's parents gorge themselves with food that is mysteriously lying out, they are transformed into pigs, which causes Chihiro to freak out and try to escape this park. She doesn't, and is saved by a benevolent spirit who's is only known as Haku, and helped along on her path of escape. She must get a job at the bathhouse from the malevolent and greedy Yubaba in order to save her parents and get her freedom. This story is just plain amazing and well written, as well as full of surprises. I sincerely doubt that you can guess what happens next, unless you have seen it before or read the screenplay.
The voice acting is just amazing, which only helps this movie. The Japanese and American voice actors seem to be putting their heart and soul into the characters. There is no "phoning in" of the lines, or people who put no enthusiasm into their character's voice. (An example of this is Billy Crudup's voice acting in Princess Mononoke.)
But it is not just the story that provides the sense of wonderment in this movie. The animation is just stunning. If you have seen Princess Mononoke, you have an ideal on how stunning the animation is. The bathhouse, the amusement park, and the car ride are so incredibly detailed, and the characters all are so well animated and realistic, which is especially impressive in a movie utilizing traditional, or cell animation.
The score, written by Joe Hisaishi, Is also fantastic. Mr. Hisaishi's music invokes emotions that complement the scenes in the movie, and on it's own provides for some fairly good classical music.
So the movie is great, but what about the DVD? The DVD has an excellent transfer of the movie, so it looks and sounds almost perfect. The problem with the DVD is that they could have put in a few more extra features. Aside from John Lasseter's introduction, the DVD disks have an "Art of Miyazaki" featurette, which is cool but not fascinating, a Making of Spirited Away featurette that was on Japanese television, a short featurette on the voice actors, trailers for Kiki's Delivery Service, Castle in the Sky, and Finding Nemo, and the coolest featurette on this disc, all the Japanese movie trailers.
So, yes this movie lives up to all that you have heard about it. If you haven't seen it, go do so. This movie is worth at least a rental. This is probably the best movie I have seen, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. This is a must own DVD, and for only $20 (much cheaper than most anime DVDs) how can you go wrong?