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July-September 2001

Spirited Away

A movie about a 10-year-old girl has overtaken Titanic as the best-selling movie in Japanese history. Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (English title: Spirited Away), a full-length animated film, opened in the summer and has become a massive hit.

Spirited Away is the first movie in four years by director Hayao Miyazaki, who is very popular with kids (as well as adults) in Japan. Fans lined up outside theaters for hours to see the movie on the day it was released. The film broke the Japanese record for number of spectators shortly after it came out, and in just 56 days it also took the record as the highest-earning Japanese film ever. This record was previously held by another Miyazaki movie from four years ago, Mononoke Hime (English title: Princess Mononoke), which took about a year to set the record.

In Spirited Away, Chihiro, an ordinary girl, is moving house with her parents when they wander into a mysterious town that humans are not supposed to enter. Her mother and father are turned into pigs after they eat food that was not for them. In order to survive and turn her parents back into humans, she must work for Yubaba, the witch who controls the town. Chihiro works in a big bath house, where the many gods and monsters said to live in Japan come at night, across a red painted bridge, to relax and recover from the day's stress.

Yubaba robs Chihiro of her name and changes it to Sen (Sen is written with the same Japanese character as the "Chi" of "Chihiro"). The little girl will not be able to return to the human world if she forgets her real name. Will Chihiro, who has suddenly lost her parents and been left to care for herself, be able to find her way back? You will have to watch the movie to find out!

If foreign films released in Japan are included, the 1997 U.S. movie Titanic held the records for both number of viewers and total box-office takings. By its sixty-ninth day Spirited Away had already been seen by more people than Titanic, and on November 10, 114 days since its opening, it also broke Titanic's record for box-office takings. The movie will continue to be shown in theaters even after the turn of the year.

A girl who was moved by Spirited Away sent a letter to the director, saying: "Chihiro was negative at the start of the movie but became stronger as the story unfolded. I would really like to appear in one of your movies."

On October 1 the Ghibli Museum, Mitaka--a place where kids can enter the world of Hayao Miyazaki--opened. The museum was created by Miyazaki and the movie company he leads, Studio Ghibli. Not only can you meet characters from Miyazaki's cartoons in the museum, but original cartoons that can only be seen there are also shown. And because the projection machinery is in a room with glass walls, you can see how the cartoons are projected onto the screen. Not to be missed are the five small rooms of exhibits following how a cartoon is made from start to finish. Animation fans will want to get up and go there straight away, but don't forget to book a ticket in advance!

Photo: A poster for the film depicts Chihiro, her pig-turned parents, and the strange town in which the story unfolds. (© 2001 Nibariki - TGNDDTM)