Remaining showtimes: April 27 & May 2
Please check GKIDS official website for a theatre near you.
The next time Spirited Away: Live on Stage is offered for the authentic experience, I’m booking a trip! It played at Tokyo’s historic Imperial Theatre in 2022, and had a rotating cast. Kanna Hashimoto and Mone Kamishiraishi played the title role, and both performances were committed to tape in front of a live audience.
As part of GKIDS‘ annual commitment to celebrate the works of Studio Ghibli, the recorded show is making its USA debut this year. I was fortunate to time my trip to Seattle right so I can see it. Part of the reason for not being available in other countries may be due to licensing. A home video release is expected, but there’s no official announcement yet. I want to see both.
Although Hashimoto nails the anime persona perfectly, to watch her perform for the audience rather than face the cast was odd. When considering the surreal nature of the story, to be whisked away to the land of magical realism, perhaps that disjointed nature explains the stage direction. Otherwise, the story is in verbatim to everything I recall from the film. I noticed a few changes though. For example, she was warned to not look back in the same tradition as Orpheus.
Unlike how Gekidan Shinkansen’s Fortress of Skulls (movie review) is presented with a huge rotating stage, what’s made here is a rotating set which transforms into various parts of the bath house Chihiro works in. She finds her way here after meeting Haku (Kotaro Daigo) and with his assistance, she may to find the means to change her parents back to human form. fBut unless she acts fast, she may lose herself to this world the mean Yubaba (Romi Park is amazing) has other plans for her! Anyone who knows this film will be overjoyed to see every story element brought into this live-action work.
Tony Award®-winner and fellow Canadian John Caird (Les Misérables) was certainly careful in making sure all the moments that made the movie a classic are recreated. That includes bringing the puppet animals to life. And the scene I was most eager to see is the iconic train scene! He even nails the yokai parade and turns it into a wonderful musical number. What I hope for next is Pon Poko! This movie has an equally lavish scene concerning yokai parading around a town, and just to see that happen for real sends shivers down my spine. To truly recreate The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons (Hyakki Yagyō) means a bigger budget. What’s presented here is still an amazing start, and what I want is an even larger show as they arrive at the onsen for pampering.
Even No Face gets lots to do. What Koharu Sugawara emotes is truly alien. Technically, he’s looking through the mask’s mouth; not only does that require being a yoga master, but also other puppeteers to sell his growth later on. They also help turn Kamaji, the boiler-man, into a true spider!
Although the puppeteers are visible throughout, what’s presented didn’t seem too distracting. That’s because they provide the voices. The black soots, frog and other characters are racing around the stage. It’s like observing The Muppet Show as it’s being recorded for TV. Also, to transform Boh from a living oversized baby to a mouse required little effort. I had a willing suspension of disbelief coming into this presentation.
In the screening I went to, I got lucky by getting front row seats. When a wide-shot was cut to, the thought of viewing Spirited Away: Live on Stage, from the best seats in the house crossed my mind. But unlike a true live show, the closeups pulled me into the illusion, and I was there! Unlike where Chihiro must escape this world, I want to visit it again! That’s not because of the other cast, but also, it’s a magical journey that deserves revisiting from time to time in any medium.
4½ Stars out of 5