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Review: Spirited Away

Like many films by Hayao Miyazaki, Spirited Away addresses the ordinary struggles of life through the unique, the strange, and the fantastical. I might dare to say that Spirited Away is among the strangest of the Studio Ghibli films.

While the themes in other Studio Ghibli movies can be difficult to find at first, Spirited Away's themes were the most difficult for me to identify. Of course, in any of his films, Miyazaki always includes environmental themes, and Spirited Away is no exception. This is revealed specifically in the scene when what is determined to be a "stink spirit" by the workers and guests arrives in the bathhouse. Chihiro, also called Sen, is assigned to the stink spirit. After very clumsily flooding the bathhouse, she notices something in his side and she and the workers begin to pull a long strand of garbage from the spirit's side. After the pollution is removed, the spirit transforms into what the characters recognize as a River Spirit, who only appeared so monstrously because of the pollution caused by humans. This is undoubtedly also one of the reasons why many of the spirits have an unwavering disdain for humans.

One theme I also discovered is immigration. While I am still skeptical of this idea myself, I think it is possible. Our News Editor Lily Smith brought it to my attention that toward the beginning of the story, Chihiro must hold her breath while walking across the bridge so that the spirits will not see her. Lily said that this could be representing how sometimes immigrants are forced to come into a country silently. Shortly after this, Chihiro is informed that she must get a job to stay in the spirit realm. She was also informed early on that she needed to eat food from that world so she would not disappear. Another event that led me to believe there were themes of immigration is when Chihiro was forced by the leader of the bathhouse to change her name to Sen. She had to change her name to something that fit the culture in the spirit world. Even if the theme of immigration is not what the writers were attempting to create, it is clear through Chihiro's experiences that she was introduced to a new culture which she had to adapt to.

The theme that I interpreted as immigration could also be interpreted as xenophobia. This also may be a separate theme itself. This theme is shown through the other characters' actions and attitudes toward Chihiro. She is given all of the difficult work because she is a human, and the workers frequently comment on her smell, that of a human's. These experiences seem similar to what someone from a different country would experience when they travel to a new country. When she is finally free at the end of the film, all the workers cheer for her, even though they had previously been tormenting her while she worked there.

The final theme I noticed is family. The film opens and closes with Chihiro and her family, and even though her parents were unnecessarily rude to her, she still tried to help them throughout the film after they had been turned into pigs at the beginning. Arguably the strangest aspect of this movie, in my opinion, is Yubaba's giant baby that she had restricted to only one room in the bathhouse. Chihiro finds the baby and escapes with him to help Haku, Yubaba's henchman. While they are traveling, the baby starts to think of Chihiro in more of a familial way than he thinks of his own mother, and he becomes frustrated with Yubaba when she tries to trick Chihiro. Finally, Chihiro is given a test; she must determine which of the pigs are her parents. Chihiro knows exactly which ones her parents are due to an unknown force, possibly her love for them. After working at the bathhouse for a long time, she can finally go home with her parents.

I think Spirited Away is an excellent movie with beautiful animation, story, and characters, but it can also be very confusing, and it would be impossible to debunk all of it in one article. I would highly recommend this film for all ages, as it is excellent for kids and entertaining for adults.

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