An iconic entry in the library of animated films from Studio Ghibli, Spirited Away, is transforming into a whole new medium to bring its mystical energy to the stage. Studio Ghibli is partnering with Toho Co.’s theatrical department for the stage production of Hayao Miyazaki’s animated masterpiece.
It will be for the first time that Miyazaki’s beloved 2001 Oscar-winning classic will be adapted into a stage play. The adaptation will be produced by Japanese entertainment giant Toho, and written and directed by Tony and Olivier Award-winning director John Caird (Les Misérables, Nicholas Nickleby, Daddy Long Legs).
The film went on to become the highest-grossing movie ever in Japan, holding the spot for 19 years and only recently being overtaken by Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train. It had a re-release in fall 2020 and has grossed over $355M worldwide.
The new version of Spirited Away is set to premiere at Toho’s Imperial Theater in Tokyo next February and March 2022. The production will then tour throughout Japan: Osaka in April 2022, Fukuoka in May 2022, Sapporo in June 2022, and finally settling in Nagoya in June and July 2022.
Toho is known globally for the Godzilla franchise as well as Akira Kurosawa’s works. The company’s theatrical department has presented numerous original and licensed musicals and plays in Japan. Toho also recently co-produced the Broadway musical Tootsie. Spirited Away is part of the programs celebrating the 90th anniversary of Toho.
Spirited Away, which is known in Japan under its original title Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, is approaching its 20th anniversary later this year, and the stage premiere will coincide with the 20th anniversary of the film winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2002.
Spirited Away is the story of Chihiro, a snotty 10-year-old girl who fears moving with her parents to a new home. But when they get lost on the road, they find themselves in a mysterious world filled with fantastical spirits, with Chihiro’s parents transformed into pigs by a sorceress named Yubaba. Chihiro loses her identity and has to live among the spirits as “Sen” in order to survive, even outsmarting a fiendish spirit called No Face capable of gobbling up others whole. The film is a beautiful coming-of-age story of growth and discovery as Chihiro works to bring her and her parents back to the human world.
John Caird, who is also an honorary associate director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, while speaking about the production said, “I feel so excited and privileged to be working on the first ever stage adaptation of Sen to Chihiro. I have for many years now regarded Miyazaki Hayao as one of the pre-eminent geniuses of world cinema and the greatest ever proponent of the anime form.”
He continued, “I share a belief in all the most dominant themes of Miyazaki’s work, themes that are at the core of the Sen to Chihiro world – care for the environment, reverence for nature, a belief in the force of the good spirits within us and the empowerment of young women and men to change the world for the better… I must have spent a thousand hours working on Sen to Chihiro and look forward to spending many thousands more.”
It was also revealed that two of Japan’s biggest female stars will be sharing the role of Chihiro. Both Kanna Hashimoto, known for playing the live-action versions of Kagura in Gintama and Kaguya in Kaguya-Sama: Love is War, and Mone Kamishiraishi, known for voicing Mitsuha in Your Name, and playing Favina in the Knights’ Tale – A Knight’s Story stage play, will be splitting the role between them. Kamishiraishi previously worked with Caird on Knights’ Tale, with this being Hashimoto’s stage debut.
Toshio Suzuki of Studio Ghibli, who served as producer on the Spirited Away film said, “We, Hayao and I, both liked John’s vision. He is a person we can trust. I am looking forward to seeing Chihiro grow on stage under his direction.” Noting Caird’s commitment by relating, he also said, “I could tell how much he adores this story from his delighted face when I gave him a No-Face piggy-bank.”
Miyazaki’s films and Studio Ghibli at large are having a resurgence in the last few years, even as Miyazaki himself has retired from directing following 2013’s The Wind Rises. All the Studio Ghibli films now have a digital streaming home on HBO Max after being absent from streamers for years, and the Academy Museum will host as one of its inaugural exhibits a retrospective on the art behind Miyazaki’s films.
Spirited Away is often considered one of Miyazaki’s best films and, up until last year, was the highest grossing film in Japan. It has also been hailed as among the best films of any genre. The Sound on Sight Critics poll from 2012 ranked the film among the top 250 films of all time, and the film currently sits at #28 on IMDb’s user-voted Top 250 list.