Overview of Main Themes of the Film ‘Spirited Away’

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction to the Spirit World
  2. Chihiro's Transformation: From Naivety to Maturity
  3. Haku: The Mysterious Helper
  4. No-Face: A Symbol of Greed and Consumerism
  5. The Stink Spirit: A Reflection on Environmental Neglect
  6. Conclusion: The Underlying Themes of Spirited Away

Introduction to the Spirit World

In the beginning of the movie, Chihiro’s father takes a shortcut in the way to their new place, which has been found as very far away from the center and somehow remoted, as Chihiro’s mother claims that she would have to go shopping in another city. This means that the tunnel is much likely to be located in the middle of nowhere where few people have reached. The shortcut is also suspicious, as the car constantly shakes on the drive and there are a lot of trees like a forest. In front of the tunnel is old grasses and bushes growing wild and especially a weird statue covered with moss. Inside the crumbled facade of the mysterious tunnel is all darkness and dubiousness, which gives people a creepy sense and literally no idea what is the end of it. When they reach the Spirit Town with a lot of empty houses and restaurants, they could have suspected and come back to their car, but they keep embarking on discovering the place and eating Spirit’s food, which is the reason why Chihiro’s parents are turned into pigs.

Chihiro's Transformation: From Naivety to Maturity

‘Spirited Away’ has explored this wonderful story of a ten-year-old girl turning from an unselfish, dull child into a fully self-directed and capable individual. The main character is a 10-year-old Japanese girl who is sullen, spoiled and forced to grow up facing traditional Japanese culture and practices. At first, Chihiro is a crybaby, pessimistic child, irritated about moving to a new city. She has lived in a city, being coddled and naïve to adulthood without any preparation. She is usually wary of new experiences at the start of the film and finds them with despair and complaints. She gets nervous and resigns when she realizes that her bouquet is withering (as result of her actions). She whines to leave when her parents begin exploring the abandoned town. When the place starts to transform, she is terrified – Haku has to almost shove food into her mouth so she does not fade away.

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However, throughout the plot, she grows up more. Chihiro appears confident and willing at the end of the film. She struggles when put in stressful situations, even if she can she not do all by herself (the scene she handles the polluted river god). She still makes mistakes (such as permitting No-Face in the bathhouse) but she admits them and works to correct them. She matures from a self-centered kid to an arduous, accountable and optimistic one who has been learning how to care for others throughout her adventure. This is inevitably the main theme of ‘Spirited Away’: growing up and taking responsibility with a desire to move towards one's life. Chihiro has become a fully sovereign person who is mature and eager to grow into her own personality. This is why she can easily see that her parents are not among the pigs in the final of the film. She has learned and matured into a responsible adult.

Haku: The Mysterious Helper

Haku is a young boy who helps Chihiro when her parents turn into pigs. Haku meets Chihiro when finding out she is terrified to see the spirits. He finds way to hide Chihiro, feeding her spiritual food to prevent her from vanishing, and telling her exactly what she needs to do: request a job so that she does not turn into animal. Also, he saves, comforts and advises her against danger in hard time. Haku works as the direct servant of Yubaba, frequently performing errands and tasks for her. He can fly and his real shape is a dragon. At the end of Chihiro's story, she recalls that her spirit falls on the Kohaku River and gives him his name back; so, by keeping him in mind of his real past, which he forgot because of the curse which Yubaba had placed upon him, she frees him from Yubaba's services. Although he appears cold and the staff in the bathhouse do not like him, Haku is kind to Chihiro, possibly for his previous experience of her.

No-Face: A Symbol of Greed and Consumerism

I think No-Face is the symbol of temptation, consumerism and human greed. Suffering is the result of human desire. The only way to prevent the consequences is to reject the most mundane aspiration. As symbol of wealth and temptation, the lavish dishes are used to feed No-Face. It distorts and spoils the consumer when No-Face becomes a real master. The staff bring excessive food following the demands of No-Face in exchange for gold. To show No-Face's corruption in a visual way, he is shown to swell and gain an awkwardly extensive belly. He is also more aggressive and demanding since the indulgence of the bathhouse corrupts his formerly peaceful nature. So, the greedy atmosphere of the house is consumed which makes No-Face so bigger in size. He is the ultimate consumer in the situation: insatiable for anything he can eat and ready to pay for it. Thus, the spirit is an emblem of a thrill of excess of the aggressive consumer.

No-Face also embodies fear that a modern capitalist mentality will finally win the Japanese society. He calls for the greediness of his victims by tricking them with gifts before they are consumed. However, Chihiro denies his gifts and thanks to that she is never eaten. As Chihiro can suppress the selfishness she embraces devotion to the Japanese tradition of prioritizing families over finance in the presence of No-Face. This makes great point as going hand in hand with the salaryman culture is the shift from the traditional Japanese virtue of appreciating moderation to the promotion of consumption. No-Face conveys a clear message which is that it is appreciated to challenge greediness for the sake of a more noble goal, which for Chihiro is to protect her parents.

The Stink Spirit: A Reflection on Environmental Neglect

Stink Spirit is such a revolting spirit that it seems to be a filthy density of ooze or mud. He is filthy and smells unbearable. When it goes by without touching, the food becomes bad and withered. The Spirit of the River is seen by many to be an extremely unfortunate and gloomy spirit. However, after the Spirit is liberated from all the sludge it carries, it turns out to be a magical spirit wearing the Noh mask theatre.

The Spirit in the human world is the spirit of a great and mighty river. Because humans are constantly pouring garbage and dirt into its river, the Spirit turns into a dirty muddy monster that lets sludge throughout its path. The Spirit visits the bathhouse, in order to be cured from the mess of human waste, and Chihiro takes charge of him. After having taken a bicycle out of its body (including numerous other human-made things), the Spirit shows thankfulness to Chihiro with a magical medicine and leaves the bathroom in bliss after giving gold to the staff.

The dumpling Chihiro receives from the Spirit is a famous, emetic herbs medicine. The dumpling appears to be purifying magic food because it recovers No-Face (he vomits all of the previously eaten food after having the dumpling) and Haku (he throws up the snail that Yubaba curses on him to become a slave). Also, Chihiro takes a bite out of this magic food in the scene she tries to feed it to Haku but she does not spit so the dumpling is pretty much herbal and benign with the aim of illness treatment. This, though, is the defining moment in Chihiro's character, and she is less much of a child from this point on, and more like a selfless and thoughtful adult who cares for others. At first, she aims to use this dumpling to help her parents transform back into human, but she has decided to help her new friends Haku and No-Face by giving them the share of the medicine.

The shikigami are depicted in the film as creatures with no feeling and acting according to the decision of anyone controlling them (Zeniba). They do not seem to offer any evidence of human emotion, but they cannot move when their delicate paper bodies are broken or torn apart. Although appearing harmless alone, the shikigami has shown themselves able to damage Haku when going after him. Those shikigami are invisible or tend to show up in the form of carefully plied paper manikins in Japanese style mythology. But, the shikigami are depicted in the film as completely visible, human-like pieces of paper that fly at very high rates of speed (as fast as Haku when he is in his dragon form).

The recurring element from ‘Princess Mononoke’ is the warnings about how Japan has been going about its modernization, especially with regards to environmental destruction. This is shown via two incidents in the film. The first is when the 'Stink God' arrives at the bathhouse. When the 'thorn' is taken out of his body by Chihiro he is cleansed and shows his true nature as a god of the river. This 'thorn' is actually a huge pile of man-made waste that people dump on the river. This demonstrates how the 'modern civilization destroyed' the river. The second event is when Haku recalls his real identity as God's River. He is also the victim of consumer capitalism and human industrial activity. On the way back from Zeniba's house, Chihiro tells Haku how she fell in a river when she was a little was girl, but then the river has been replaced by the new buildings. This means humans have many times occupied the homes of Shinto gods and spirits, turning them away and insulting the nature.

By the same token, the main point that Miyazaki suggests through ‘Princess Mononoke’ is that nature respects only those who treat it respectfully. The environment will be eventually destroyed if human keep exploiting it at this rate. The people of the villagers and Eboshi regard the wood as violent, ignorant and replaceable. Meanwhile, Ashitaka appreciates the forest, so even when the forest animals hate human beings, they still spare some respect for him. Thus, many environmental issues could be solved if we did one thing: treating nature with more kindness.

Conclusion: The Underlying Themes of Spirited Away

The major topics of ‘Spirited Away’ focus on the protagonist Chihiro and her ultimate journey through the spirit realm. Chihiro's vague status between child and adult in the movie is distinguished by an entry into another world. I think ‘Spirited Away’ successfully reveals a story about how a young girl grows more responsible. Chihiro at first depends and evades effort, later turning into someone who strives to help others. In all the way, she is driven by a strong sense of ethics, helping others - her parents, the polluted spirit, No-Face and especially gives back the identity to Haku. Chihiro starts to comprehend her principles, enriching the lives of those around her. I think this is the charm of the movie – while remaining true, it manages to convey such a marvelous, pleasant message.

The topic of Miyazaki is also about raising the voice against human's mundane greed: via the staff eaten by No-Face because they try to receive the gold that he made. Likewise, the theme is also shown through the sharp difference between Yubaba's opulent residence and interest in gold and Zeniba's countryside-like home and cozy atmosphere that stresses out the fact that materialism is selfish and not taking the collective’s sake into consideration. Also, Chihiro's parents' laughable transformation after having too much food of the Spirits is another illustration of human insatiability. The film wants to emphasize that modernization does not necessarily equal to giving into excess and greediness; it can also be implemented because of more noble reasons.

Lastly, environmental awareness is also a theme. The most apparent instances for this are the River Spirit's intense transformation once he has been unconstrained from the material and rubbish littered by humanity, and Haku's finding that why he cannot go home is because of the fact that the River Kohaku, whose spirit he was, had been reclaimed by new residences. Environmental degradation is quite prevalent theme in Miyazaki’s film, and he often stresses the negative influences of industrialization and economic activities on the environment though his anime.

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Overview of Main Themes of the Film ‘Spirited Away’. (2022, December 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 16, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/overview-of-main-themes-of-the-film-spirited-away/
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Overview of Main Themes of the Film ‘Spirited Away’. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/overview-of-main-themes-of-the-film-spirited-away/> [Accessed 16 Jul. 2024].
Overview of Main Themes of the Film ‘Spirited Away’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Dec 15 [cited 2024 Jul 16]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/overview-of-main-themes-of-the-film-spirited-away/
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