Cover Spirited Away (Photo: Toby Olié and Toho Stage)

Les Misérables director John Caird transforms Hayao Miyazaki’s critically acclaimed animation Spirited Away into a stage production premiering in Tokyo this month. Puppet designer Toby Olié has recently released the production images on his socials

After five years in the making, the stage adaptation of director Hayao Miyazaki’s 2001 Studio Ghibli animation Spirited Away premiered on March 2 at Tokyo’s Imperial Theatre. The play, which will run until July, celebrates the 90th anniversary of the Toho Company, which distributed the film.

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The adaptation is written and directed by John Caird, honourary associate director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, who is best known for the 1982 premiere production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Song and Dance in London. The British playwright’s foray onto Japanese stages started in 1987 with Les Misérables—also at the Imperial Theatre, and which has run at the same location ever since.

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The original animation won the Academy Award for best animated feature in 2003. It was also the highest-grossing film in Japan for 19 years before its earnings were surpassed by Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train in 2020. The plot follows the story of ten-year-old girl Chihiro Ogino and her family, who accidentally venture into the world of the Kami, or spirits of Japanese Shinto folklore. Chihiro has to complete challenges to rescue her parents, who have been turned into pigs by Yubaba the witch, and meets lots of magical creatures along the way.

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The confirmed actors for Chihiro’s role include Kanna Hashimoto, a member of the former Japanese pop group Rev. from DVL; Mone Kamishiraishi, a singer and voice actor who starred in the 2016 Japanese animation Your Name. Haku is played by stage actor Hiroki Miura, who became the youngest actor to play Marius Pontmercy in the Imperial Theatre’s staging of Les Misérables in 2019 and 2021.

Hashimoto and Kamishiraishi have both spoken of their excitement towards their castings. “I was in primary school when I first watched the animation, and now I am playing Chihiro in the world premiere of its stage adaptation,” says Hashimoto. “I feel a strong sense of responsibility, knowing that I am the one who writes the history of this stage production. I hope that this Chihiro, whom I bring to life onstage, can ‘live’ onstage.”

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“I want to pay my respect to the animation with this production,” says Kamishiraishi. “Spirited Away is my favourite film. When I was small, I was frightened by the scene where Chihiro’s parents are turned into pigs. But I would still glue my eyes to the screen even if I was crying. My favourite scene is when Chihiro and her friends visit Zeniba [Yubaba’s sister]. Each time I watch it, I am touched in a new way, and my emotions [towards the film] also grow stronger as I grow older.”

Caird, who is also a fan of Studio Ghibli, has signed a contract that promises he would not make major alternations to the original work.

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