Breathtaking Spectacle of Japanese Anime

“Bellies are bulging beyond belief!” 

Said in the Bathhouse

“I want to work here.”  

Chihiro 

Kanna Hashimoto as Chihiro (Photo: Johan Persson)

The film is held with such affection that there is a ready made audience to appreciate the visual treat that is a little girl’s adventure in the spirit world being seen live on stage. The Japanese 2001 animated film Spirited Away directed by Hayao Miyazaki won an Academy Award and for 19 years it was the highest grossing Japanese film.  After the success of My Neighbour Totoro at the Barbican in 2023, also based on a Miyazaki film, animated by Studio Ghibli, Spirited Away arrives at the London Coliseum for a four month stay.  It is adapted by John Caird and Mauko Inui and John Caird directs this amazing spectacular production which can really fill the Coliseum. 

Kanna Hashimoto as Chichi and Hikaru Yamano as No-Face. (Photo: Johan Persson)

At three hours long, this is not for very young children and any under tens should be familiar with the story to appreciate the stage version.  Also unless they speak Japanese or know the story well, they need to read the English surtitles as everyone speaks in Japanese. In fact anyone seeing the show could do well to watch the animation first.  I also found the No-Face character, a large white expression free mask and black clothing quite frightening to relate to. 

Kanna Hashimoto as Chihiro and Kitaro Daigo Á Haku. (Photo: Johan Persson)

A ten year old girl Chihiro (Kanna Hashimoto) is travelling by car with her parents mother (Fu Hinami) and father (Kenya Osumi) to their new home when they get lost and walk towards what looks like a gatehouse to what Chihiro’s father describes, as an abandoned amusement park.  This is really a Japanese Spirit World from the Shinto religion.  Her parents find an area full of restaurants and settle at one to eat the delicious food.  I was sure I could smell the fruit!  Chihiro is more cautious and doesn’t eat anything.  Chihiro meets my hero of the play, a boy called Haku (Kotaro Daigo) who shows her how her parents have been turned into pigs and who tells her what to do to survive.   

Tomorowo Taguchi as Kamaji (Photo: by Johan Persson)

Chihiro needs to get a job in the bath house and Haku has told her never to say that she wants to go home or that she doesn’t like it there, just to say “I would like to work here.”  She sees a giant spider creature   Kamaji (Tomorowo Taguchi) who runs the furnace, the boiler room with Sooties, scurrying creatures carrying coal who are lit up.  Kamaji has no vacancies for Chihiro but tells her to travel up towards the fearsome Yubaba (Romi Park). 

Kanna Hashimoto as Chihiro and Kintaru. (Photo: Johan Persson)
Hanna Hashimoto as Chihiro and Kintaru. (Photo: Johan Persson)

On the way up she meets Kintaru, a giant manifestation of Yubaba’s baby named Boh huge white and hairy with a large belly, drooping bits and a red bib and cap, he is a jaw dropping puppet.  Chihiro meets the ugly witch Yubaba and repeatedly asks for a job.  Yubaba takes a predatory bird form and flies about trying to catch humans.  Chihiro signs the contract with Yubaba and is given the new name Sen. 

Kanna Hashimoto as Chihiro and Marie Netsuke as Zeniba. (Photo: Johan Persson)

The baby Boh cannot tell which is his mother, Yubaba or her twin Zeniba.  Boh is a smaller version of  Kintaru.  Chihiro teaches the baby how to behave better.  It seems that Yubaba keeps humans in her world by giving them another name in their contract and because they cannot remember their previous name, they are trapped there forever.

Chihiro meets another girl worker Lin (Fu Hinami) and they bond well. Chihiro’s mission is to save herself and her parents from being eaten after they have been fattened up.  The puppets are outstanding and Haku seems to become a giant dragon still helping Chihiro whose flying is especially exciting.  I liked too the ghostly shades in this spirit world

I think to fully engage emotionally with this block buster of a production it helps to have seen the animation and be rooting for Chihiro and Haku.   Full credit to John Bausor for his soaring sets  of ironwork stairs and balconies and the ability to make the forest look real.   The sights here are the most exceptional you will see in London!  

Kanna Hashimoto as Chihiro (Photo: Johan Persson)

Production Notes

Spirited Away

Based on Hayao Miyazaki’s 2001 Film

Adapted by John Caird and Mauko Inui

Directed by John Caird

Cast

Starring:

Kanna Hashimoto

Kotaro Diago

Hikaru Yamano

Fu Hinami

Tomorowo Taguchi

Romi Park

Kanya Osumi

Sunao Yoshimura

Obata no Onilsan

Creatives

Director:  John Caird

Composer:  Joe Hisaishi

Set Designer: Jon Bausor

Costume Designer: Sachiko Nakahara

Puppetry Design and Direction: 

Toby Olié

Musical Supervision:  Brad Haak

Choreographer: Shigehiro Ide

Lighting Designer:  Jiro Katsushiba

Sound Designer: Koichi  Yamamoto

Projection Design: Satoshi Kuriyama

 

Information

Running Time: Three hours including  an interval

Booking until 24th August 2024

 

Theatre:

London Coliseum

St Martin’s Lane

London WC2N 4ES

Website: https://www.spiritedawayuk.com/

Rail/Tube : Charing Cross

 

Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the

London Coliseum at the matinée performance on 7th May  2024

Cast (Photo: Johan Persson)