The meaning of the cartoon Spirited Away
The incredibly beautiful and equally crazy cartoon “Spirited Away”, created by the anime master Hayao Miyazaki, mesmerizes with a string of fabulous transformations and at the same time puzzles. What the cartoon “Spirited Away” really is – only Miyazaki knows, but, nevertheless, many images of this extraordinary anime can be deciphered, which means that it is quite possible to understand the meaning of “Spirited Away” a little deeper. And I will help you with this.
“Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away is the undisputed mastodon of the anime world. Animation is a painstaking process, and there is a tendency to simplify its visual elements. Miyazaki, on the other hand, complicates it. His backgrounds abound in detail and the image freely ‘hugs’ the space, enhancing the surprising accuracy of the fantasy worlds.
Spirited Away is undoubtedly one of the best animated films based on traditional animation – by frame drawing. Miyazaki began his career in this style, but he is a realist and has allowed the use of computer effects for some of his busy work. But he personally draws thousands of frames by hand.
Major topics covered by Miyazaki in the anime “Spirited Away”
The power of words and names
The words in the cartoon have magical powers and play a crucial role in the release of Chihiro and her parents. Remember how Haku warns Chihiro not to fall for Yubaba’s tricks and keep demanding work, which is what the girl does. Yubaba knows that once Chihiro gets distracted and keeps talking to her on a different topic, the evil sorceress will gain control over the girl and never allow her and her parents to return home. But Chihiro understands this too, so she loudly demands the sorceress to give her a job, ignoring distracting attacks on her ears. When Yubaba asks who helped the girl, she ignores the question, knowing that with her answer she could harm Kamaji’s grandfather, Rin and Haku.
The evil sorceress Yubaba tries to confuse Chihiro.
Names are even more significant in Spirited Away. Taking the girl to work, Yubaba gives her a new name – Sen. In Japanese, it means “thousand” – most likely, it means a monetary unit, which emphasizes Yubaba’s desire to get rich. But we will talk about money later, but for now we note that by taking the girl’s name, the witch deprives her of her memory and the opportunity to free herself, to return to her world. Only by regaining their former names, Chihiro and Haku become free. In addition, the rite of changing the name symbolizes the death of the girl for the real world, and the acquisition of the former name is the resurrection, the return to it. The entire journey through the world of ghosts, therefore, can be regarded as an initiation rite.
Growing up, initiation and initiation into the adult world
So, Chihiro undergoes initiation, the result of which is adaptation to the adult world. The first minutes of the cartoon, during which we meet the heroine, do not awaken in us special sympathy for her – Chihiro looks capricious, lazy, she lies sadly in the back seat while her father drives the car. In approximately the same state, we find baby Bo – the son of the witch Yubaba. He is angry, capricious, cruel, takes up a huge space, but at the same time is unable to do anything useful. Only after turning into a mouse and traveling to Zeniba does his character change for the better. Chihiro is facing even more important changes.
Chihiro’s job isn’t easy at first.
Yubaba is reluctant to accept Chihiro to work, and the first tasks that are assigned to the girl, she performs rather ineptly. Rin constantly reproaches her assistant, and deservedly so. However, soon Sen shows excellent results and even copes with such difficult tasks as bathing the River Deity and getting rid of the Faceless One. Even the grumpy Yubaba is pleased with the girl’s work. The world of ghosts helps Chihiro grow up, she learns to take responsibility, make difficult decisions, and gradually begins not only to carry out other people’s tasks, but also to help others of her own free will, and, in the end, saves Haku and her parents.
Lack of division into “bad” and “good”
Cartoon “Spirited Away” does not know the division into positive and negative characters. Each character combines both good and bad, and characters can change significantly when the characters interact with each other. Even Haku is not perfect, as he has to steal and carry out other dastardly tasks of his mistress Yubaba. At first, Chihiro’s character seems nasty, but the further, the more fully her kindness, responsiveness, honesty and courage are revealed. At the same time, those characters who at first treat Chihiro with contempt – Kamaji and Rin – subsequently change their attitude towards her and provide invaluable assistance in saving her parents.
The faceless becomes meek and kind next to Chihiro
Such multifaceted images of characters favorably distinguish “Spirited Away” from a typical children’s cartoon, where the division into “good” and “evil” is clearly indicated. A particularly striking example of character change in this anime is the Faceless, who adopts and mirrors the traits of those with whom he speaks. Next to Chihiro, he is shy and kind, offers her gold, tablets. In front of other employees of the bathhouse, he behaves like a greedy monster, because they themselves show greed and greed. Finally, he stays with Zeniba, who decides to “re-educate” him and adapt him for more useful work than devouring toads greedy for fake gold.
Plot-forming motives in the anime “Spirited Away”
Greed, greed, greed
Almost all heroes show greed under certain conditions, and it always turns out to be fatal for them. The plot of the plot – the transformation of Chihiro’s parents into pigs – is justified by the fact that a man and a woman showed greed and ignorance, taking without asking and eating a treat intended as a gift to the spirits. Yubaba and her hired workers adore gold, money – for the sake of profit they are ready for anything, blindly accept gifts from the Faceless, for which some of them, swallowed alive by the Faceless, paid for it.
Greed nearly killed the Faceless One and all the employees of the pool
Greed blinds, makes people and ghosts forget about more important things. So, when Haku comes to Yubaba to inform about the substitution of “the most precious treasure”, she first thinks about the gold that the Faceless One brought her, and only then realizes that it was about her child. Moreover, it was the pursuit of gold that distracted her from caring for her son, who was bewitched by her sister Zeniba. By the way, here I would like to note that Chihiro always turns out to be more perspicacious than others, she is able to recognize Haku in the guise of a water dragon, she determines that her parents are not among the pigs that Yubaba shows her. This is because nothing distracts the girl from her main goal – the salvation of her parents. Yubaba is blinded by the glitter of gold, and for a long time does not notice the substitution of her own son, although she loves him more than anyone else in the world.
Various food constantly appears in the frame of “Spirited Away”, and almost always it has some kind of magical powers. It is the food that turns Chihiro’s parents into pigs. The Faceless’s constant hunger forces him to swallow the workers of the bath and absorb huge amounts of food. But food can also help – so, Haku brings conspiracy food for Sen, so that it does not “disappear” in the world of ghosts. Later, Sen receives a magic pie as a gift from the River Deity, which she shares between Haku and the Faceless, thus saving the first from the curse, and the second from gluttony.
Environmental pollution and destruction
Cartoon “Spirited Away” repeatedly raises the question of the rational use of natural resources. The most striking example of this is, of course, the change that happened to the River Deity. Once in the bathhouse, he emits such a stench and looks so terrible that Yubaba takes him for the Spirit of the Dumpsters. However, when Sen finds a “splinter” on the guest’s body, the workers at the bathhouse remove a huge amount of debris and scrap metal stuck in the body of the River Deity, and he regains his majestic appearance. We also learn that Haku was formerly the guardian of the river, but people filled his river in order to build a village in its place.
People covered the river in which Haku lived, depriving him of his home
Another, less obvious example of an indication of the misuse of natural resources is the phrase by Father Chihiro that many amusement parks were built in the nineties, but now many of them are abandoned. This attitude towards nature cannot be called frugal. In addition, people and ghosts “pollute” not only the environment, but also themselves – this affected the parents of Chihiro and Faceless, as well as – indirectly – Haku, who swallowed the conspiracy worm planted by Yubaba.
Special rules of the magical world of ghosts
The rules establish order in the world of ghosts, and no one dares to violate them, not even the most powerful characters. From the very beginning, the communication between Haku and Chihiro is a lecture on the rules to be followed. This is quite typical for folklore fairy tales of all peoples of the world – remember any Russian fairy tales known to you, where the plot of the plot, as a rule, is a violation of a rule (do not eat magic apples, do not steal the Firebird, and so on).
Yubaba releases Chihiro only after fulfilling all the terms of the contract and the rules of the wizarding world.
An example of an unbreakable rule is the contract between Yubaba and her workers. Although Yubaba is reluctant to hire Chihiro, she does so by mentioning that she is bound by a promise. Later, Chihiro must “identify” her bewitched parents among the pigs, because this is the rule without which Yubaba dare not let the girl go. In the finale, Haku asks the girl not to turn around when she leaves the land of ghosts (compare with the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice). Chihiro knows that the rules cannot be broken, so he strictly follows the order.
Destructive influence of the West
You may have noticed that the only character that looks European in this anime is the witch Yubaba. She has a Caucasian appearance, although very caricatured, she wears European dress, and her apartments are furnished in European style. This is in stark contrast to the minimalist, traditional Japanese-style rooms that her subordinates huddle in. Yubaba can be safely called an exploiter, because a huge number of poor girls and toads work for her, whose life is very simple in comparison with the wealth of her chambers. Remember Rin dreamily talking about how she will save money to go to the sea – just like many of us.
Zeniba treats travelers to a simple meal
At the same time, Yubaba’s sister, the sorceress Dzeniba, lives in a modest hut, where she does manual labor – she spins, knits, and prepares simple food herself. She hires no one, but Sen’s enchanted companions – a bird and a mouse – help Zeniba of their own free will, and the Faceless one joins them, who dramatically changed for the better when he left Yubaba’s domain.
Of course, my little analysis does not pretend to be a complete and comprehensive explanation of the meaning of the anime “Spirited Away”, but I think it helped you to better understand the essence of this wonderful cartoon. Many images created by Miyazaki are rooted in Japanese and world folklore, and in order to understand them, it is necessary to understand in detail the myths and customs of the Japanese and other peoples. But even without this knowledge, the cartoon “Spirited Away” is an incredible delight for the eyes and brain.
The meaning of the cartoon “Spirited Away” (addition)
The Japanese full-length cartoon Spirited Away (originally titled Sen and the Mysterious Disappearance of Chihiro) directed by Hayao Miyazaki is considered one of the most famous animation films. In 2016, the anime was ranked fourth on the 117 critics’ list of Best Movies of the 21st Century, and in 2017 it was ranked second in a similar film rating by the New York Times.
The animation tape has earned such a high praise both for its obvious artistic merit and for its deep meaning. The versatility of the plot, as well as the complexity of working out the characters, makes this work interesting not only for children, but also for adults.
Let’s try to show this by looking at the basic episodes of the cartoon.
Abandoned city and transformation
In the first frames of the tape, we meet the main character, the girl Chihiro, who is driving with her parents in a car to inspect new places after the move. By chance, the family ends up at a mysterious building: the baby instinctively senses danger and asks to return home, but the adults decide otherwise. After passing through the gate, they find themselves in an abandoned city: there is not a single person here, but there are a lot of restaurants, the tables in which are filled with delicious dishes.
The absence of people does not bother her father and mother, who decide to try the dishes, but the girl refuses the delicacies, preferring to walk around the city. When she returns, she realizes with horror that her parents have turned into pigs.
The meaning of the episode is quite transparent: people who cannot curb their desires lose their human appearance. You can also find a figurative meaning in this scene: restaurants symbolize a consumer society, designed primarily for a stupid crowd.
New name and start of work
A helpless girl who finds herself all alone does not know what to do. Fortunately, she meets the boy Haku, who becomes her guide to the magical world. He explains to Chihiro that she and her parents fell into the possession of the evil sorceress Yubaba. To survive here, the baby has only one thing to do – to ask the witch for a job.
The girl signs the contract, but the old woman changes her name to Chihiro, from which there is only one character Sen. At the same time, the baby forgets what her name was before. The faithful Haku comes to the rescue: he reminds the girl of her name, and explains that forgetting it, she will lose her memories and will not be able to find her way home.
The episode has a fundamental meaning: it testifies to the importance of memory – personal and historical, without which people lose the purpose of life (this happened to Haku, who does not remember his name).
Unaccustomed to physical labor, Sen, with zeal, takes up the task entrusted to her – to work in the baths where spirits and deities are washed. Trying to confuse the girl, Yubaba instructs her to wash a huge, foul-smelling monster, which, due to the stench, is mistaken for the spirit of the garbage can. However, it turned out that under the thick layers of dirt in all kinds of waste, the famous Master of the Rivers was hiding, who, in gratitude for the excellent washing, handed Chihiro a magic pie.
It is quite obvious that this scene is devoted to the pressing problem of modern society – environmental issues, clearly demonstrating the state of modern nature.
Faceless or the power of gold
Not knowing the peculiarities of the wizarding world, Sen makes a mistake, letting the faceless werewolf into the baths. Once in a luxurious palace, he causes a stir among the servants, generously paying in gold for all these services. For the sake of money, lackeys and workers are ready to do anything – humiliating themselves and fawning before a rich visitor. Only Chihiro shakes his head steadfastly, rejecting all the werewolf’s offerings.
As it turned out, the Faceless is deprived not only of a face, but also of moral qualities. In essence, he is a mirror of the people around him: next to greedy servants he becomes vicious and aggressive, while next to a girl he is a sweet and calm creature.
The meaning of history speaks not only of the destructive role of money, but also of the responsibility of people who have wealth, which can be directed not only for evil, but also for good.
Parallel to the plot of the Faceless, the culminating episode of “Gone with the Wind” unfolds. A wounded dragon lands on the girl’s balcony, into which Haku transforms, carrying out Yubaba’s orders.
Trying to save her friend, the girl goes to the evil sorceress, in whose house she unexpectedly meets her twin sister, the kind sorceress Zenibu. Unfortunately, she is also up against a dying dragon boy who has stolen an important seal. It seems that Haku cannot be saved, but at the last moment Chihiro remembers the magic cake that the Master of the Rivers gave her. The magic remedy helps to partially remove the curse, but in order for the boy to fully recover, the stolen object must be returned to Zeniba.
Sen decides to take the train, taking the Faceless One with him. On the way back, the girl meets the recovered Haku, whom she helps to remember his real name. He was the spirit of the Kohakugawa River and once saved a very small Chihiro who fell into the water.
Returning to the mistress, the girl will face a new test: she will have to recognize her parents among the pigs. After the correct answer, the contract disappears, and Chihiro, accompanied by Haku, goes to the building-entrance to the magical world. Here her parents are already meeting her: they do not remember anything about what happened, but they are surprised that the car left a few hours ago is covered with leaves.
Most likely, Chihiro also forgot about the wizarding world, only vaguely the girl recalls the image of Haku, who promised to return to the real world and be sure to find her.
The meaning of Spirited Away
Miyazaki’s cartoon is often compared to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. The main heroines of the works accidentally find themselves in a mysterious world where laws differ from their usual life. Girls have to communicate with unknown creatures, whose actions are often devoid of logic.
Miyazaki claimed that in his tape he reproduced the order that reigned in the film studio, where beginners had to go through a difficult path before getting the opportunity to creative work. However, the meaning of Spirited Away is much broader – the cartoon reflects the typical features of our reality. As mentioned above, the work touches upon such problems of modern society as bad ecology, the power of money, consumerism.
It is also impossible not to mention such a complex philosophical issue as the interaction of good with evil. Among the cartoon characters there are no unequivocally good and evil characters; their multifaceted characters include both positive and negative qualities.
Talking about the film, it is difficult to ignore the theme of the confrontation between the West and the East. At the beginning of the film, Tahiro’s parents and the girl herself are dressed in European clothes, and her father ironically speaks of an abandoned city with Japanese-style houses.
It can be assumed that the national culture in this family was practically forgotten, which led to dire consequences. If parents remembered the rules of etiquette prohibiting to pounce on food without waiting for the owner, everything could have turned out differently.
And finally, the director told us a wonderful story of true friendship and first love, which helps the heroes to endure all trials and find a place in the world.