It’s almost a given at this point for certain anime series to get stage plays in Japan once they become successful enough. From classics like YuYu Hakusho and Sailor Moon to newer titles like Demon Slayer, the stage play remains an effective tool for both promotion and marketing for a series. What’s a surprise, however, when famous anime films get stage plays directed by famous English theatre directors. This is now the case for one of Studio Ghibli’s most famous films, Spirited Away. First released in 2001, Spirited Away tells the story of a young girl named Chihiro who must save herself and her parents after they are trapped in a spirit world bathhouse run by the witch Yubaba. Gorgeous visuals, A-list voice acting, and a memorable soundtrack landed the film several awards, including the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards. It also, up until recently, held the record for Japan’s highest-grossing and most successful film 19 years running. It was recently usurped by Demon Slayer: Mugen Train, which was released last year.
The award-winning English director working with Studio Ghibli on the stage play is John Caird. Caird is most well known for his work on Le Misérables and is also an Honorary Associate Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as a Principal Guest Director of the Royal Dramatic Theater of Stockholm. Caird had this to say on his collaboration with Studio Ghibli for the up-and-coming stage play:
“I feel so excited and privileged to be working on the first-ever stage adaptation of ‘Spirited Away,’” director Caird said in a statement. “I have for many years now regarded Hayao Miyazaki as one of the preeminent geniuses of world cinema and the greatest ever a proponent of the anime form.”
Caird continued, “I share a belief in all the most dominant themes of Miyazaki’s work, themes that are at the core of the ‘Spirited Away’ 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.”
It’ll be a great advantage overall to have a director with years of experience and a great personal passion for the project helping to lead the vision for this stage play to fruition. Spirited Away is the kind of film that lends itself well to the theater, with a tightly structured plot, identifiable characters, and an extreme opportunity for lush visuals, great costuming, and crowd-pleasing transformation scenes. It doesn’t hurt that Studio Ghibli’s producer also has the utmost faith in Caird to deliver:
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. I could tell how much he adores this story from his delighted face when I gave him a No-Face (Kaonashi) piggy-bank.”
Currently, the stage play is being planned for a release in February-March of 2022, beginning with a premiere in Tokyo. From there, the play is scheduled to hit other major cities in Japan through the summer months, starting with Osaka in April, Fukuoka in May, Sapporo in June, and then finally Nagoya through June and July. The play also has two actresses lined up to play Chihiro. First is new actress Kanna Hashimoto, and next is Mone Kamishiraishi, of Your Name fame. No other casting has been released at this time.
With any luck, the success of the stage play and current events will align to make Spirited Away a crossover hit once more, and bring the play to the West. If it does, rest assured this is one play I’m sure fans will make it a mission to see in person.