Spirited Away

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Spirited Away (千と千尋の神隠し, Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi?, literally, Sen and Chihiro's Spiriting Away) is a 2001 Japanese animated film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki and produced by Studio Ghibli.

The film received many awards, including the second Oscar ever awarded for Best Animated Feature, the first anime film to win an Academy Award, and the first (and so far only) non-English speaking animation to win. The film also won the Golden Bear at the 2002 Berlin International Film Festival (tied with Bloody Sunday) and is among the top ten in the BFI list of the 50 films you should see by the age of 14.

Spirited Away overtook Titanic in the Japanese box office to become the highest-grossing film in Japanese history.


The animation film “Spirited Away”, which was orientated towards Japanese audience in the first place, was accepted and became loved by other viewers. This is not an adaptation of the classic novel, neither an action film or fantasy, but rather half fairy tale – half parable, directed towards specific audience. Something of “what is good and what is bad” from the man of elderly age, who observes how his familiar world begins to change and how unshakeable things turn into memory. He made not a fantasy quest, which can be understood by anyone in the present days. Miyazaki filled the film with national and temporal colour story. The film is not only about growing up (like in “Totoro”), but finding your inner true.

Beneath rust there is hidden a shining blade. The same way the good and the true essence of every human are hidden beneath cowardice, laziness and greediness. Principal denying of evil in Japanese culture is based on belief that every man must have his own place and can be judged by his status and duties. It is possible to clear yourself from every mistake and fault. This is the secret of real magic, which can turn the stink spirit into the great master of rivers and remove the most terrifying curse. Evil is dirt which must be removed, cleaned, scraped off and thrown away – and then there will be goodness and beauty. Famous Japanese cleanliness and accuracy are based on this belief.

It is useless to guess who is bad and who is good in this animation: terrifying Yubaba, the twin-sister of “good” Zeniba, who is modest and caress. However, she tried to kill the thief without any hesitation. The true treasure for Yubaba is not gold. It is not by accident that Yubaba’s business serves a worthy cause.

Good and evil are no more than reflections of each other. In some ways they are different, but both are equally strict to “lazybones”. The world behind abandoned railroad station – this is the ideal Miyazaki’s Japan, where everyone can live only by working and occupying a proper place. Otherwise you can disappear, become soot or turn into a pig.

It is cruel, but fair. Traditional, however too didactical in some places: even tiny animated dust creatures called susuwatari from Totoro are working; Chihiro signs a true treaty, a true gift for her is a hair tie – which was made not by spell, but in the result of cooperative labour. The gifts like this are more expensive than gold, which was offered by “no face”. Even “No face” wasn’t released from a spell and did not become a good person – he just found his own home and home duties. He found himself and his place in this world. Isn’t it a main goal in our life?



I must admit that there are many nuances in the rules of “universal work”: to do a work for someone is not right. The sequence in boiler room: Chihiro’s sincere pity turns into a real problem for her and for the common cause.

Realizing his own ideal-disappearing Japan Miyazaki traditionally opens visual magnificence of visual environment: the soft contrast of day and night; sky, water and grass are pliable and smooth; detailed precision in surrounded world. Some kind of “candy for eyes” is very similar to a child’s perception – many spirits and deities in the bathhouse remind of toys and pictures from childhood. Doll-like and colour creatures who inhabit this world arouse associations with bright flags of national holydays, filled with saturated colours of Ukiyo-e’s ("pictures of the floating world") engravings, costumes and Kabuki masks. Only for this reason alone the viewer can love “Spirited away” – as many people fell in love with many-sided and eternal beauty of Japan and Japanese understanding of beauty.

The loss of this world-view does not mean growing up, but forgetting yourself. To lose one’s own difficult Japanese name and change it on something short and comfortable. To lose a skill to see the beauty of hills which are covered by grass. Not regret that you didn’t take bread and butter for picnic, how did Chihiro’s mother. The attitude towards food in this animation is a mockery to modern cook programs which became popular in Japanese.

There are lots of details in “Spirited away”, so it is hard to call this animation film a fairy tale. There are many sad notes, even difficult moments, and sense of loss of something important fills this film from the beginning to the final titles, when sunlight plays with the dust in the desert interiors of abandoned rail station and everything that happened is perceived as a dream. This is a different Miyazaki, he is tired rather than old – but able to save this child’s desire to change the world and make it better.

The whole animation is filled with different characters. Every character in this film deserves a separate story. Even that one leg lamp, which we can see only for few seconds, does not leave our minds. Miyazaki does not give explanation to some characters and he leaves you with your own guesses. This is incredible and opposite from Disney animation where everything is clear.

After all these magic adventures Chihiro has got only memories, hair tie and own name – the real treasures. Will she meet the master of river of amber again and what will happen to her in the new school? Who knows? But she already saved her parents. She convicted herself that without hard and dirty work you can not clean river spirits, can not calm down greed and self-interest spirits, you don’t find your own place and don’t save those who need to be saved. She doesn’t forget her name and doesn’t become someone else. Even if the train goes only one way and it is forbidden to look back – she will definitely meet the dragon which she saw in the childhood. These moments are not be to forgotten.

This is truly a masterpiece!

5 comments:

Jackie said...

Wow! This as a mega-post! I guess you really like the film!! Or maybe the Modernism lecture this morning sparked something in you... ;)

'Beneath rust there is hidden a shining blade' - I like this idea, but I fear that some blades may be rusted through to the core...

tutorphil said...

Double 'wow'!

Such a poet, Alex... ;-)

(and no, I'm not mocking you...)

tutorphil said...

Further to our conversation today - check out the work of animator, Bob Godfrey...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kw4wnys1IMk&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhebou3tsiM&feature=related

He has this very simple, 'wobbly' style - might be of interest.

Jackie said...

Ah, good old Roobarb and Custard...I used to love this when I was a child!!

J.J. said...

It was very interesting to read :) This weekend the film is all around my head :D

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