Hidden Philosophy Behind Spirited Away

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Among the many movies produced by Hayao Miyazaki, Spirited Away is his one movie that has won lots of different awards, the beloved one of most of the Studio Ghibli fans. Chihiro is only ten years old when her parents suddenly become pigs in a strange city, she finds herself surrounded by unusual creatures, scared and alone. She will be forced to work at the main bathhouse, where the rich inhabitants of the town take their baths…only they are not humans, they are spirits. After lots of unique adventures Chihiro manages to save her parents and return home. The unique experience helps her discover who she is, she turns out to be brave and without realizing it, she grows up. 

Chihiro in
 Spirited Away, 2001

Even if the film deals with an imaginary world, Chihiro’s growth is realistic, which is why the audience can easily emphasize with her situation. Chihiro simply represents each one of us while growing up: nobody really ever realizes when they are growing up, nobody sees themselves in the process. There are people in life that watch you grow up, such as family and friends, but you don’t really understand when you are doing it because nothing seems to change day by day, yet everything is.
Growing up is different for everybody, it is one of the great mysteries of life. Chihiro’s story is a clear metaphor for that process, when she finally reunites with her parents she will never be the same as before and she is fully aware of that. Everyone has had that moment of understanding after everything had changed, filled both with nostalgia and happiness. It is this typical contrasting feeling we have when thinking about the past, that makes life special. 

Chihiro and Haku in Spirited Away, 2001

Furthermore the movie is believed to be a representation of anxiety, seen through the eyes of a little girl. From the beginning we immediately put ourselves in her shoes, the whole purpose is to make us experience the discomfort and pressure on her shoulders. Miyazaki wanted to use common childhood fears in order for us to be more empathetic towards Chihiro: abandonment and loneliness.
Humans have always been scared of being alone, they have tried to avoid it since the beginning. Thinking about it, most of the time, loneliness is just a consequence of abandonment, but actually these two feelings are not always linked. Not at all.
It is possible to feel alone even when there is no actual abandonment from someone, yet remaining alone is often associated with the thought of other people leaving us.
At first Chihiro really believes that her parents have left her behind, however throughout the story we see her starting to focus on what she can learn from this, rather than why it happened to her. 

Chihiro in Spirited Away, 2001 

Last but not least, Spirited Away is a strong allegory for capitalism. The deep-rooted thought that people’s worth in society is only based on their career is a disappointing reality in which we have to live everyday. Finding a job is the first problem Chihiro has to face, but at the same time it provides the only chance to survive in the city.
The witch Yubaba, who is in charge of the bathhouse, owns the right to change Chihiro’s name to Sen, which in Japanese means “one thousand”. Showing that not only did Yubaba try to kill Chihiro’s identity, but also to submit her as a sort of slave. By remembering her real name Chihiro will no longer risk losing herself. 

Many interpretations have been proposed in order to understand the allegories behind a banal “children’s movie”. As a matter of fact Spirited Away should be rewatched during different times in our lives, to see that each time we can notice new hidden messages that somehow, until then, have been secrets.

By Costanza Alberti

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