Saturday, September 4, 2010

A True Gift: A Review of Spirited Away

Mr. Miyazaki. Yeah. 
Director Hiyao Miyazaki, as you may know is a genius. Actually, you probably don’t know that. While he is considered the “Walt Disney of Japan” and has created many classic, box office smashing animated films (Spirited Away holds the record as highest-grossing film ever released in Japan after beating out it’s predecessor Princess Mononoke and by 2002 nearly one sixth of the population had seen it), Miyazaki has not received as much recognition in the US as he deserves. Spirited Away is proof that both Miyazaki’s creations and anime must be taken seriously and embraced to a greater extent than they are currently. This beautiful retelling of the traditional coming-of-age tale maintains the ability to touch people both young and old and give each individual something to take away from it. 

The focus in the story is specifically on the ten year old girl Chihiro. She’s a nervous little thing at first, always scared and timid and sullen. When her parents inform her that they are moving away from their old town to a different neighborhood, Chihiro whines about the prospect of adjusting to a new life outside of what she’s already known. Chihiro is similarly glum when her parents spot what appears to be an abandoned amusement park and decide to explore the area. Little do they know, this so called amusement park is actually a bathhouse for spirits, and Chihiro’s parents are turned into pigs. 

Who would’ve thunk it? What ensues is an adventure in which Chihiro must work at the bathhouse in order to win back her parents and escape from the boss, witch Yubaba. Along the way, there are many scenes which demonstrate this girl’s gradual personal transformation. Early on in Spirited Away, Chihiro is shown on a steep set of rickety stairs edging her way down bit by bit. By the end, when it becomes clear that she must run across a narrow pipe to save her friend she courageously barrels across with only minor hesitation.
Initially, Chihiro is afraid of the various inhabitants that surround her in the bathhouse. But, as time moves on, she becomes readily able to contend with even the most menacing of spirits and even the witch Yubaba. Possibly the most touching scene is just after Chihiro spends her first night at the bathhouse. After breaking down into tears outside in a nearby garden, she is met up with by the friendly servant of Yubaba, Haku. Haku tells the girl that she should eat and get her strength up to prepare for the day ahead working at the bathhouse. Tears running down her face, Chihiro bites down into the pastry she has been handed, demonstrating that underneath was some strong determination that just needed to be pulled out. 

Children will look upon these scenes and be presented with a role model: a girl who shows how even the most unlikely of people can grow into something great. Adults will look upon these scenes and will be presented with something they can relate to, a story reminding them of what it was like to grow up (even if they did so in a world without the supernatural influence of spirits or magical bathhouses). Aside from Chihiro’s story, looking at the comparison between the outer world and the world of the spirits stimulates some thought. Miyazaki shows us, in Spirited Away, a sort of dichotomy between old and new Japan. In many respects, Chihiro is a symbol of a generation trying to find their way through a time lacking a traditional value and ideological system, and struggling to cope with new social circumstances, as well as economic and environmental problems. However, Old Japan (as represented largely by the bathhouse), is not a flawless utopia. While symbolizing spiritual cleanliness and ritualized purity, the bathhouse fails to live up to the value system it supposedly represents, with many of it’s inhabitants exposing vices of their own. The message in all of this, it would seem, is that those living in the modern era have important things to learn from the era of the past, though should not dwell entirely on it. This message certainly is not exclusive to Japanese culture and could be applied to peoples of any society. Spirited Away is a beautiful thing, a present delivered by Mr. Miyazaki ready to be opened time and time again.

Official YAMB Grade: Like

Nate S Grade:
Aesthetics: A
Acting: A
Plot: A-
Characters: A
Overall Grade: A

“You Sack of Wine!”
-Nate S

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