HomeAnimeREVIEW | Getting "Spirited Away" Into a Gorgeous Stage Adaptation

REVIEW | Getting "Spirited Away" Into a Gorgeous Stage Adaptation

REVIEW | Getting "Spirited Away" Into a Gorgeous Stage Adaptation

Anime and theater have had a shaky relationship for a long time. For every Astro Boy and the God of Comics, there are ten cringe-inducing Sailor Moon musicals. While many get the look and style of anime right in a theater setting, it’s the heart that most of them lack. Tony Award-winner John Caird’s adaptation of Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, on the other hand, gets everything right with adapting such an imaginative film for the stage!

Like the classic movie, the play adaptation of Spirited Away follows Chihiro (Mone Kamishirashi), who is in the midst of moving to a new town. Getting lost along the way, Chihiro and her parents stumble upon what looks like an abandoned theme park. However, when the parents are turned into pigs, Chihiro finds herself in a world filled with gods, spirits, and a mean bath house owner by the name of Yubaba (Romi Park). Fortunately, Chihiro — renamed Sen when Yubaba reluctantly hires her — has some new friends in the inside, in the form of Haku (Hiroki Miura), Lin (Fu Hinami), and the spider-armed Kamaji (Satoshi Hashimoto).

Much of the play takes the same story beats and narrative threads as its animated counterpart. However, where animation can create anything on paper, such is not the case in real-life. Instead, Caird and his master puppetry designer Toby Olié think outside the box to bring much of the magic of the film onto the stage. And even when something magical happens in a rather corny manner, one cannot help but smile at the gumption these actors and stage hands have to get it done.

Where the magic really takes hold is when things get wild. Watching a giant Yubaba head emerge whenever she gets angry brings both a feeling of laughter and terror all at one. The many sizes of No Face (Tomohiko Tsujimoto) are reminiscent of Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors, with characters getting eaten in a hilariously similar manner. However, it’s watching Haku’s dragon form take flight when the puppetry reaches its grandest of heights, with different puppets used depending on how far from the bath house the character is.

This leads into how scenes transition on stage, with a rotating setup giving audiences a chance to see every nook and cranny of the bath house. Yubaba’s fancy office gives off intimating vibes, whereas the sleeping quarters of Chihiro and Lin are small-yet-quaint. Of course, the highlight is the train that runs on the river, which beautifully captures the scene of Chihiro and No Face silently riding towards the home of Zeniba (also played by Romi Park).

One can tell how excited the cast are when playing these classic characters. Although she’s almost always in peril, Kamishiraishi brings a beautiful amount of heart and wit into her role of Chihiro. Park balances wickedness and kindness as both Yubaba and Zeniba, with her eyes twinkling with delight in every scene she’s in. Hashimoto does an impressive job as Kamaji, with him having to mix both complicated puppetry and split-second comedic timing. As Haku, Miura delivers a caring performance that acts as the willpower for our story’s main hero.

With such a fast-paced choreography by Shigehiro Ide, it’s no wonder why Spirited Away had to have two separate casts. Its dance numbers, songs, and inventive scenery happen so quickly, that it’s a marvel that both cast & crew didn’t pass out during intermission! Yet the joy on their faces as they reenact these classic scenes shows that this team could easily play these roles for quite a long time if they wanted to! (A new run of the play has just been announced for Nagoya in August and Tokyo in March 2024 with the same cast & crew.)

As an animated film, Spirited Away is a marvel to watch. Its stage adaptation, against all odds, finds new ways to wow audiences both old and new to Miyazaki’s iconic movie. While nobody can perfectly bring cartoons to a real-life setting, John Caird’s Spirited Away gets incredibly close to pulling off that impossible task. Here’s hoping a Broadway residency is in the show’s future!


Promotional consideration provided by GKIDS and Jeremy Augustitus of 42West.

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The J-POP king of America, Evan has been bringing the hottest sounds of the Land of the Rising Sun to the English-speaking public since his college radio days. He's also an expert in the gaming, anime, & manga realms, never afraid to get critical when the times call for it. Born & bred in Boston, he achieved his biggest dream yet by making the big move to Tokyo, Japan in Summer 2023! For personal inquiries, contact Evan at evan@b3crew.com. For press/band inquiries, write to us at thebastards@bostonbastardbrigade.com. (Drawing by AFLM of Wicked Anime)