Review of Spirited Away
Spirited away is an animated fantasy film directed by Japanese animator and producer Hayao Miyazaki. Spirited away is a heroic adventure story that describes the adventures of Chihiro, an ordinary ten-year-old girl, in the alternative reality of spirits and monsters. However, the journey of the main heroine raises a lot of questions and controversial issues of real life (Mitchell 2002).
Chihiro gets lost in a fantastical world inhabited by odd characters which try to help or to hinder her adventure. However, besides describing the difficult and fascinating journey of the ten-year-old girl, the film uncovers other interpretations. The first issue is growing up. Spirited Away describes the awkward movement from childhood to adulthood through a fantasy metaphor. Alternative world separates Chihiro from everything she had known. Her parents have disappeared, and she no longer can relay on them. From now on she has to do everything on her own. There is no father with his money and support, or mother with her advice. Chihiro faces a lot of difficulties such as getting a new job, but she has no one to support her. She has to start everything from the beginning. She gets new friends, falls in love, and finally becomes familiar with the adult life. Girls experience in the fantasy world represents a passage from childhood to adulthood (Satoshi 2008). The symbolic entrance of Chihiro into an alternative world determines her status as one in-between. Chihiro, like many other young people in their transition between childhood and adulthood, found herself outside societal boundaries. Japanese title of the film Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi contains a word that perfectly describes a transition from childhood to adulthood. The word kamikakushi is associated with folklore, and it helps to reinforce the symbolic passage. Kamikakushi means social death, and very often it describes social resurrection. Thus, Chihiro loses her usual status in this world. She grows up and has to adapt to new responsibilities. She has to be ready to take her place in this world. Chihiro is going to face a lot of difficulties, and she has to learn how to overcome them on her own as her parents, just like in her journey, may not follow her all the way. Entering the fantasy world, Chihiro succeeded in gaining her identity. The difficulties of adult life can influence young people negatively and make them look for escape from this world. However, Miyazaki states that everything can be solved, and Chihiro proves this. The experience of new life as an adult make people more mature and responsible.
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Chihiro made a transition from a child to an adult when she was employed at the bathhouse. The girl proves that she is ready to meet new challenges. The problem of transition from childhood to adulthood is also reinforced by the metaphor of taking true or real name. This theme is common to folklore of many countries. The seizure of the Chihiro name symbolically kills the child. From now Chihiro has to assume adulthood and create a new identity in order to overcome all difficulties and find her place in a society. Main heroine succeeded in making this transition. She grows from a scared girl to a mature young lady. She discovers all aspects of adult life. She experiences difficulties of the first working place at the bathhouse, falls in love, learns about loss, gets new friends, learns traditional values, and gets necessary qualities, such as personal sacrifice and perseverance. She grows up from a self-centered girl to a well-rounded adult.
Chihiros journey can also be interpreted as the searches of the young people for their role in a society. The next generation should adapt to completely different circumstances than those of their parents. College and university students graduating into a depressed economy trying to find their place in it (Reider 2005). They are looking for a job they have been promised. However, the world economy is not ready to employ everyone, especially when it experiences hard times and economic crisis. Chihiro appears in the same situation. She is trying to get a job at the bathhouse. She does not know what she is supposed to do there, or how she has to behave. However, after some time she gained the necessary experience and realized the key principles of the work in the bathhouse. Chihiro realizes that the only way to change the things that are happening around her is to become dedicated and show personal sacrifice. Chihiro, as well as any other modern child, has to act in order to move the world towards a better future. Miyazaki teaches every person not to give up, but keep trying doing something new and fulfill every dream. Just as Chihiro explores the fantasy world, young people explore the world around them in order to find their place in it. That concerns not only employment, but personal life as well.
Miyazaki also concerns that children are often negatively influenced by modern technologies. He is convinced that media, such as television, video games, and the Internet, demolishes childrens imagination, respect, and loyalty. At the same time, children can become more materialistic and immature. Miyazaki believes that society should not rush into the future and take all advantages of the modern technologies, nor live in the past following all traditions. People should learn how to take the best of both past and future. This is being well described in the relations between Chihiro and spirits, between the future and the past.
Another theme describes the role of social values. During the journey, Chihiro explores the world around her and learns about the things that should be really valued. In the movie, Miyazaki comments what disrespect, greed, and reap means. Thus, at the begging of the film, Chihiros father considered a spirit world to be a closed theme park. This describes that land is being wasted to build fake worlds of commercialism that can bring some incomes, rather than support cultural heritage. If society praises money above everything else, it will fall into decay. The No-Face character can describe it clearly. It is empty, greedy, and has no respect towards others. He can not find his place in this world. He does not know what kindness is until Chihiro shows him what it means. However, he can not learn how to show this kindness. He repays kindness with money, probably the only thing that is high-valued in the bathhouse and in the modern society respectively. Chihiro is the only one who refuses to take money. She appears to be a person who respects moral qualities more than material stuff. In the end, No-Face can not find fulfillment, as it can not be bought or sold. Miyazaki warns that the same fate is waiting for those people who care only about money. They can only be saved by such pure and devoted persons as Chihiro. The greed and self-serving nature of the bathhouse workers are opposed to Chihiros purity of intent and purpose (McCarthy 1999). Life is too short to waste it on unnecessary stuff and actions. Humans and spirits in the fantasy world are greedy, and this leads to destruction. Characters are greedy for attention, money, or power. This makes people and spirits oblivious to real values. They can not reach their full potential and become an identity. In many cases, a person can become enslaved by the greed. That is well demonstrated when Chihiros parents turned into pigs. Their desire to get more money completely changes them. The young girl learns that money can not solve everything. She chooses duty and devotion as her responsibilities over gold while working in the bathhouse.
Miyazaki also states that people always get what they deserve and it is only them who have the responsibility for their lives. This is being proved by Yubaba. She does not respect people as she can clearly see what they have done to their world. They forget traditions and customs, changing their planet. Yubaba compares people with pigs, as they do not consider the effects of their actions. That is why she has turned Chidiro parents into pigs.
Besides these themes, Spirited Away criticizes the modern Japanese society. Under the influence of globalization, it looses traditional customs and culture. Japanese society is trying to adapt to the global society and forgets about its identity. Chihiros journey represents the attempt to reconnect to past values. As the girl tries to find her identity, Japanese society tries not to forget its traditions and save its identity in the globalized world.
Besides moral issues, Miyazaki brings up the theme of the environment. Modern society does not pay much attention to the environment. Industrial production, traffic and private households have a negative influence on nature. Humanity alters the environment too much. This impact results in natural disasters and global environment changes and may have unforeseen consequences. Miyazaki through his imaginary world of spirits tries to remind that the human world and the natural world are irrevocably connected. Thus, the polluted river spirit demonstrates what human carelessness can do to the environment. The spirit has absorbed piles of garbage. Everyone in the bathhouse is disgusted by the spirit. However, they do not notice that their actions made him so aversive. He was influenced by the careless attitude towards nature and changed. Only inhabitants of the bathhouse, and respectively of the Earth, can save the river spirit from death. Only one person from the whole bathhouse is ready to help the spirit. Her example should be followed by the rest of the inhabitants. At the same time, Miyazaki describes that the results of careless attitude towards nature can be even more tragic. The character of Haku lost his identity because of the environmental changes. He was a river spirit, but his stream was drained in order to facilitate the development. It shows that people put commercial aims on the first place and are not hesitating to change the environment to reach its goals. However, Chihiro helps him to remember who he was. A girl proves that the situation can be changed, and it is not too late to change the attitude towards the spirits of nature.
Miyazaki has also succeeded in brining the theme of economic development into the film. The bathhouse represents the pre-recession economy. It is wealthy and provides people with necessary workplaces and welfare. However, No-face spirit duplicates the overwhelming consumption of the bathhouse and in the end, almost destroys it. It consumes too much without thinking about the consequences. The problem is even more serious as no one in the bathhouse is trying to stop him.
The theme of the power of words and names can also be found in the movie. Worlds play a key role in Chihiros employment at the bathhouse and later help her to escape Yubabas trap. Haku lives in the spirit world for a long time, and he understands the power of words. He tries to teach Chihiro how to use words wisely and to represent everything in the way necessary for her. Chihiro has to follow her goal and not distract from her intentions. The girl has to choose words carefully as Yubaba can use them against her and enslave her forever. Chihiro succeeded in picking up a right word and, in the end, she has saved her parents and Haku from Yubaba. Not only her life, but the life of her friends Lin and Kamaii depended on how she talked to Yubaba. Thus, the words have magic power, as they can help a person with advice or hurt someone. Chihiro shows how to use words properly and wisely.
Similar to the power of words, names have their own power. They represent freedom in the spirit world. Yubaba takes away manes in order to get control over the spirits. The same happened to Chihiro. As a girl has signed a contract and got a place at bathhouse, Yubaba took away her name. If a girl does not remember the real name, she will be trapped in the fantasy world forever. The name represents the identity of a person. It contains certain information about the qualities that make a person who he or she is. A person must remain true to his or her name. Chihiro was told to remember her name as it is a word that defines her. If a person forgets it, the results may be really tragic. Haku represents this. Yubaba has taken his name as well, and he lost his identity and forgot everything about his past. And a person who does not know his past does not have a future.
The power of rules is also being discussed in the movie. Rules provides structure and order in the spirit world. Everyone has his responsibilities and must follow them. Even the most powerful Yubaba must follow the rules in order to remain fair and keep order in her world. Obeying the rules provides Chihiro with necessary qualities, such as responsibility and loyalty.
Spirited Away represents an old theme of the line between good and evil in a new way. Miyazaki states that this line is not clearly determined, but it is often uncertain and blurred. In the movie, all characters have bad and good qualities at the same time. They can not be divided into bad and good characters as they can show kindness and sympathy in one situation and become rude and greedy in other. For example, the characters who seem to be good, such as Haku and No-Face, have evil qualities. No-Face becomes greedy under certain circumstances. Haku strives for power and sometimes can give everything to get it. Moreover, bad characters have a bit of kindness. Lin and Kamaii seemed to be unfriendly to Chihiro, but finally they helped the young girl to adapt to life in the spirit world. They showed her everything and gave her valuable experience. Even a completely negative character of Yubaba appears not so evil. She loves her child Boh, and this love keeps her from being an absolute villain. Thus, this theme is especially unusual for an animated film, as it shows the blurred line between good and bad but divides them into two opposite categories. Under certain circumstances, people can behave in a different way and can surprise with their attitude towards everything around them.
Thus, Hayao Miyazaki succeeded in addressing major concerns through the imaginary world. A powerful metaphor of traditional spirits helped him to highlight such issues as a transition from childhood to adulthood, the role of youth in a society, environmental problems, the power of names and words, and adherence to traditions and the past. Spirited Away is not just an animated film, but a fascinating story with a deep meaning.