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Friday, 19 April, 2002, 14:34 GMT 15:34 UK
Japanese hit cartoon gets US release
Spirited Away
Spirited Away will be shown in the US uncut
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By Chloe Veltman
San Francisco
line
Spirited Away, the animated film that blew Titanic out of the water with unprecedented box-office records in Japan, is getting its US debut this weekend.

The tale of Chihiro, a 10-year-old girl who is whisked away to a spirit world, was brought to Japan's big screen last summer by Japanese master animator Hayao Miyazaki.

Since opening last summer it took 29.3bn yen (150.5m) at the Japanese box office, beating Titanic's record of 26bn yen (130m) and Miyazaki's previous film Princess Mononoke, which took 19.3bn yen (100m).

Spirited Away (Sen To Chihiro Kamikakushi) will be shown at the San Francisco International Film Festival.

Mulan
Disney's Mulan got a cool reception in China
Audiences will be able to see it there in its original language, before an English version is released by Disney later this year.

Japanese animation, or anime as it is known, is becoming increasingly popular in the States.

Anime began to develop a cult following among teenage, American comic book lovers with the appearance of Japanese robot television animation in the late 1970s.

Unlike the cutesy Care Bears-style cartoons that were the staple of US children's programming at the time, anime films, with their complex plots and unflinching approach to sex and violence, presented viewers with a totally different experience.

Toy Story
Toy Story was a huge hit
Anime expert Fred Patten, of the Animation World Network, said Japanese TV cartoons offered "exciting adventures" similar to stories in superhero comic books and movies, where villains could "threaten to blow up whole planets and kill hundreds of innocent bystanders".

Today, there are numerous websites, clubs and conventions dedicated to anime outside Japan.

But despite the growing interest in the art, Japanese animation remains a niche interest.

Disney's nine-movie distribution deal with Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli has been a success as far as video sales in Japan are concerned, but when Disney released Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke in 1999 to US cinema-going audiences, it flopped.

Some anime fans attribute this to Disney's failure to market the film properly.

A Bug's Life
Disney's A Bug's Life was 1998's highest grossing animated film
Others say that American audiences, used to funny, family-oriented films like Antz and Toy Story, just weren't ready for Princess Mononoke's dark characters and adult overtones.

Andrew Osmond, a member of the team that administrates the main Studio Ghibli fansite, Nausicaa.net, believes that Spirited Away will be more successful in introducing wider audiences to anime.

"Spirited's main character, Chihiro, is instantly sympathetic to children in a way Mononoke's hero Ashitaka wasn't," he said.

"Spirited is very different from Mononoke, and shouldn't be written off because Mononoke failed."

'Accessible'

John Lasseter, who directed box office hit Toy Story is the creative consultant for the English version of Spirited Away.

"Spirited Away is very accessible to western audiences because it is framed from the point of view of a modern Japanese girl," he said.

A long-time fan of Miyazaki, whom he deferentially refers to as "Miyazaki-San," Lasseter sees himself as "the guardian of Miyazaki-San's vision".

He revealed that the film will be shown in the US uncut.

The American cast includes Disney animation veterans Daveigh Chase as Chihiro along with Jason Marsden and David Ogden Stiers.

'Apathy'

On a recent visit to Miyazaki's studio, the Japanese animator told Lasseter why he was inspired to create a film for and about 10-year-old girls.

Lasseter said afterwards: "Miyazaki-San noticed how apathy was common among girls of that age; how they don't care about anything."

In turning Chihiro's life on its head, forcing her to learn real values, the movie carries a distinct message he said, adding: "Miyazaki-San makes movies for a reason, but he doesn't hit people over the head with it."

See also:

21 Jun 01 | Film
Shrek hits $200m mark
01 Oct 01 | TV and Radio
BBC to screen Disney classics
05 Nov 01 | Film
Monster hit at box office
21 Dec 00 | Entertainment
Toy Story 2 is 2000's top film
05 Feb 99 | Entertainment
A Bug's Life: Disney does digital
19 Mar 99 | Entertainment
Chinese unimpressed with Disney's Mulan
27 Jan 02 | Film
Stars sign up for Shrek II
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