Chihiro, Haku, and No Face all take the stage as Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece comes to life.

There are times when being a Ghibli fan takes patience. It’s been more than half a decade that we’ve been waiting to see director Hayao Miyazaki’s current anime movie project, for example.

But the wait was mercifully short for the live-action stage adaptation of Spirited Away. The play had its premiere this week at Tokyo’s Imperial Theater, just one year after the project was announced in late February of 2021, no mean production feat during a pandemic.

Promotional stills from the first full performances show some really impressive costuming and hairstyling, with even bathhouse tyrant Yubaba retaining much of her surreal intimidating aura even when being portrayed by someone with the physical proportions of a normal human.

For a story in which the setting is such a crucial element, the designers too to have done an impressive job recreating key locations such as the train Chihiro rides with No Face and the boiler room where she encounters Kamaji.

▼ Surprisingly, the audience is left to use their imagination to envision the Audi that Chihiro’s dad is driving prior to their crossing over into the spirit world.

The Spirited Away play employs what’s known in the Japanese theater industry as a “double cast” system, with certain roles being shared by two performers who appear on different days, and so Chihiro is portrayed by both idol-turned actress Kanna Hashimoto and singer/actress Mone Kamishiraishi. Yubaba is played by Mari Natsuki (who also voiced the witch in the Spirited Away anime) and anime voice actress Romi Park, who recently narrated a special trailer for the two upcoming Fullmetal Alchemist live-action movies.

In speaking to reporters following the premiere, Hashimoto said “This is my first time to appear in a stage play, so I was really happy that I was able to pull off a good performance.”

Kamishiraishi, whose stage experience includes working with Spirited Away play director John Caird in his previous Knight’s Tale production, talked about the physical demands of the new role. “The amount of physical activity Chihiro does during the play is no joke. I have to run so much that there were times when I thought, ‘I just can’t do this!’” She also talked about the pressure of living up to the legacy of the most celebrated anime film of all time. “I watched the original anime so many times. It’s such a wonderful work, and that motivated me when I was feeling discouraged, but it’s a high hurdle trying to live up to that quality. I was very nervous, but seeing how things have turned out, I feel relieved.”

Natsuki, the most experienced thespian out of the headlining cast, as well as the one with the longest connection to the original work, expressed her admiration for the scale and quality of the sets. “It felt like being in a theme park. Even in the middle of performing, there were parts where I found myself thinking ‘This is so much fun!’”

The mention of theme parks probably has a few fans hoping that once the play’s run is over, some of its sets and props might end up at the Ghibli Park theme park in Aichi Prefecture that’s opening its first sections this fall, with two more to be added in 2023. Right now, though, the place to see them is Tokyo, followed by Osaka, Fukuoka, and Hokkaido as the play moves to those cities in April, May, and June.

Source: Comic Natalie via Otakomu
Top image: Studio Ghibli
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