N. K. Sabherwal
Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away and Japaneseness
Japan is a country rich in tradition and culture. Hayao Miyazaki, the face of Japanese anime film world wide, has displayed this culture and Japanese value(s) throughout his career in many of his films. Spirited Away (2001) is arguably his most famous and successful film to date. Throughout the film, there are numerous displays of “Japaneseness.” The themes present in the film represent the value structure, and what Japan sees as important among its history and tradition.
Hayao Miyazaki was born in Tokyo, Japan in 1941. His father was an executive member of the family company, Miyazaki Aircraft, at which he helped build military aircraft parts during WWII. As a result, his family found ease with the great wealth that they shared in, which young Miyazaki was sometimes troubled by. He felt guilty for living well during a period in time where many Japanese were suffering at the hands of the war (MacWilliams and Schodt 256). He graduated university with a degree in political science and economics, which heightened his understanding of the distressed Japanese economic climate. This expertise, coupled with his childhood guilt, would lead him to write certain subject matter into many of his films. In 1985, Miyazaki joined forces with fellow anime director and writer, Isao Takahata, to create Studio Ghibli (Napier). The studio went on to produce some of the most popular animated films to come out of Japan –including Miyazaki’s masterpiece, Spirited Away. Studio Ghibli, and specifically, Mr. Miyazaki’s work, has been compared to America’s Walt Disney Studios, and has even been unofficially dubbed “Disney of Japan” and “Disney of the East” by some fans and critics. “Miyazaki’s films do not operate on Hollywood logic, and his storytelling style may seem strange, even frustrating to a Western audience brought up on Disney…the fantastic is more accepted in Japanese culture than it is in the Western world, which carries the heritage of the Enlightenment in its psyche” (Baskan). Miyazaki has become the well-known face of fantastical anime film across the globe. He integrates Japanese spiritual beliefs and culture in all his films in such a way that his characters and themes surpass ethnic borders and resonate with all viewers. His most famous film, Spirited Away, creates a seemingly abstract view of the world through Japanese values and traditions while subtly presenting the realities of today’s world. Some common themes among the film, Spirited Away include: themes of life and death, survival, maturation, the economy and its influences, and transcendence (whether it be physically transcending a threshold, or otherwise). By showcasing these themes, Miyazaki is able to showcase the Japanese Value system. For example, there is a big presence of elders in Miyazaki films. The Japanese put a big emphasis of respecting elders. Other values, which may appear to be subtle among the Japanese, but showcase widely for the international audience, include things like taking off your shoes when entering a home, or respect for nature or the spirits. In class, we talked about the Shinto tradition and the relatedness between the spiritual, natural, and human worlds. This is very widely emphasized in Spirited Away. The entire film is based on the relation between the spirits –among themselves –and among the human world. In Spirited Away, Chihiro’s parents’ transformation into pigs is the first symbol of gluttony in the film. It can also be interpreted as the first sign of capitalism. The motif continues to appear throughout the film with the business run in the Bath House. The workers and the owner, Yubaba, are concerned only with making money. This also can translate into an attack on a capitalist society (Yoshioka 258). Japan adopted capitalism after World War II, so Hayao Miyazaki grew up in a capitalist country. Not only that, but...
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