USA translator Dmitry Kovalenin, who is responsible for translating Haruku Murkami's novels and many of Hayao Miyazaki's films, once said that understatement reigns in Japanese creativity, the so-called unfinished bridge phenomenon, when the author and the viewer / reader stand on two sides of an unfinished bridge and the only way to connect is to build this invisible bridge of understanding. The "void" that can be filled permeates the entire Japanese worldview in terms of culture and philosophy, and therefore we often have a misunderstanding of Japanese creativity.
Speaking specifically about the symbolism of Hayao Miyazaki, then often in his works people see what the author did not really put into the story. Let's try to understand what exactly, analyzing the symbolism in "Spirited Away". The meaning of this work is much easier to understand than it might seem.
Misunderstanding in Miyazake's work arises, as for me, precisely because of his vivid images and characters. For example, people often look for information about the Faceless in Japanese mythology. Parallels are drawn between him and some youkai, while he is a fiction of the author and does not have a mythological background.
The characters in Spirited Away actually lie on the surface. For example, the same Kovalenin says that the name of the anime is translated incorrectly and completely distorts the meaning. For what is translated as “ghosts” in the adaptation is actually translated as “spirit”. In our understanding, ghosts are the souls of dead people, and in Hayao's work there is not a single soul of the deceased. Spirits are a spiritual personification, for example, of the elements. This is exactly what is shown in the work. Think of the same spirit of water who was washed in the bath.
Hence the original title "Sen and Chihiro Kidnapped by Kami".
Also, the interpretation with "spirit" is more personal, because according to the plot, Yobaba kidnaps the very essence of Chihiro, replacing it with Sen, and puts it in a liminal position when a person moves from one stage of life to another.
This is the central theme of the picture, because it tells not about how Chihiro was abducted by ghosts, and how she escaped, but how she has to become an adult, an independent person, being cut off from her usual society
More specifically, 10-year-old girl Chihiro and her parents are moving to a new home. On the way, they accidentally end up in the spirit world, her parents turn into pigs, and she herself is forced to work in the bathhouse for the terrible mistress Yobaba.
When she just enters the spirit world, and her parents go through a metamorphosis, she closes her eyes in panic in the hope that all this is a dream that will disappear. Then she very quickly opens her eyes again and finds that she herself is slowly disappearing. Haku, who found her, says that she must eat food from the spirit world, otherwise she will also disappear. At first she refuses, but then agrees, taking control of her feelings again.
She must eat food from the spiritual world in order to become part of it, and the girl essentially has no choice, otherwise she will disappear. This little episode clearly symbolizes what it means to be abandoned in an unfamiliar harsh world. And you have no other choice: you either adapt or disappear.
By the way, Miyazaki's food almost always acts as a sacred symbol that affects the life of his characters. For example, in Ponyo Fish on the Cliff, Ponyo transforms into a human by licking the blood on Sousuke's finger, after which he begins to eat human food and more and more turns into a girl. Hayao is just boldly hinting at a simple truth - we are what we eat.
So in the case of Spirited Away, Chihiro becomes a different creature, eating what is customary in the other world.
The Human Path
But if the first metaphor is akin to some kind of esotericism, the rest of it is followed by a much more serious metaphor for becoming an adult. First of all, Miyazaki made this film for girls and girls. He once said that Japan gives girls food, where everything is focused on romance. Looking at all his friends, he realized that this was not at all the main thing that they needed. She's not even secondary. Hayao wanted to make a film where the girl will be a full-fledged main character.
The film tells about the working world and apathy, which does not cause anxiety in a teenager, but on the contrary is ignored due to his young age, but still stands in the background. These are very important topics, but perhaps one of the most important is not to look back.
As already mentioned, Chihiro finds herself in the spirit world alone, worn out and frightened, but there is no turning back. We see how she subsequently develops, begins to take control of her life and learns to trust herself. This particular moment is well illustrated by the scene when she travels on the train to Yobaba's sister. Going further and further into the unknown, the carriage becomes more and more empty, passengers leave it, and if something happens, there is no one to ask for help. But Chihiro doesn't need it anymore, because she's independent.
The strength that the heroine acquires can be clearly seen against the background of her environment - almost all creatures of the spiritual world personify a greedy society that wants to profit from others, no matter what the cost. And it is especially difficult to grow in such a society. People don't seem to want to hear anything about what they are really asking for. Just like the Faceless, who tries to give Sen money over and over again, although she does not need it. By the way, I heard there is a theory that in fact he is offering her money in exchange for sexual favors ... But how much of this is true we will analyze another time.
During the trip, she also notices a mysterious girl at one station, who disappears and remains behind. Consider - this is the heroine's childhood that has passed. She closes her eyes and no longer looks back.
This is a very powerful message for women and girls, both in Japanese and in our toxic society. Since childhood, many girls live in an environment that, in one way or another, tries to impose or control something on them. Because of this, many of them grow up insecure. For example, in the same Japan, there are frequent cases when women often apologize, even when they have not done anything.
Spirited Away tells young girls that they have enough strength, that they want to control their lives and can do it. If you have taken a step forward, then you can no longer look back, and you should not, however, you can look ahead and there will be many more opportunities. Trust that you can handle what lies ahead.
Yes, we can say that this is good advice for all people. But because of how often women are stigmatized, this was a revolutionary message especially for little girls.
Perhaps, after the first viewing, it may seem to you that it contains a lot of meaningless or very difficult symbolism, but revising it, as often happens, the concepts are rethought. And this meaning well reaches both the child and the growing up person, who nevertheless begins to feel the very apathy associated with the work society.
The Topic of Article: Miyazaki's symbolism in Spirited Away. The meaning and message of the work.