Pre Film Consumption
Prior to my autoethnographical research into Japanese film, the extent of my knowledge was really based around certain associations or stereotypes. For instance if you were to mention to me that you were watching a Japanese film I would assume it was an animated film, or, Anime. This ultimate association is what led me to choose this topic of Anime as a research point. As for my choice of film, Spirited Away for me is one of the most iconic anime films and as such was one of the first Japanese films I can consciously remember seeing.
Going into the film, I am aware that nine years ago (the last time I watched this film) I somewhat enjoyed the film, an issue, however was that certain themes and metaphors were too complex for my ten year old mind. As Spirited Away is a Japanese film it obviously was first made in Japanese, however for this sitting I will be watching the film with the English voice dubs. This is in effort to coax previous emotions established from my original sitting.
During the film
The first thing I noticed going into the film was an Idea upheld in my previous post about Japanese Monster Films. Spirited Away did not have the traditional story arc, the events flowed more evenly. There were still rising and falling within the plot, however they were not as prominent as modern films (such as the 2014 Godzilla which has very obvious rising climax and falling action). This may be remnant of the traditional Japanese storytelling method of Rakugo, which features one person sitting on a stage with minimal props telling a story. By looking into this method of storytelling I can discern that the method of communicating the story is continuously presenting information, there is little room for developing the rising and falling action.
Metaphors and motifs are a huge aspect of the film, most prominently Greed and Environmentalism. Greed as a motif is established from the opening scene through Chihiro’s dissatisfaction about only receiving one rose on her birthday. The film shapes greed into many forms, greed for power through Haku and Yubaba particularly over the golden seal, greed for food through Haku’s mother and father turning into pigs because they ate the spirit world food, as well as No-face the spirit who was overcome with greed after consuming one of the workers, lastly greed for money is greatly personified through the frog people working in the bath house being obsessed with the gold given by No-face. No character in the film is perfect; every character is consumed with greed at one stage. Animals also, are present in the film. Certain characters have traits of certain animals. Yubaba is crowlike in appearance and possesses the ability to fly, Kamaji has long slender limbs akin to a spider congruently his initial interation with Chihiro was sneaky and intimidating.
Environmentalism, another huge aspect of the film is explored mostly through the idea of spirits. The river spirit (spoilers) enters the scene unrecognisable due to the amount of gunk and rubbish synergised with him. After causing mayhem due to his smell, Sen was able to purify the spirit by removing the rubbish. Congruently, during the opening scenes, Chihiro’s father comments on the fakeness of the theme park, a man made object impeding on the environment. Lastly Haku isn’t able to return home due to the destruction of his river in order to make room for housing.
Throughout the film, certain tense moments are given no dialogue, Sen’s first encounter with Kamaji is quite heavily reliant on the silence to allow the consumer to emphasise with the fear felt by Sen. This is actually contrary to Gojira, which had little to no silent moments, the story was told mostly verbally.
Lastly it is important to note that some of the most dominant characters (Yubaba and Lin) are females. Quite the opposite of the image painted by Gojira.
Although I expected to remember and coax some previously experience emotions from watching the film, very little was evoked from my second viewing.
From the small simple size of Gojira (1954) and Spirited Away, it has become evident that Japanese films do not strictly conform to the ‘accepted’ story arc in theatrics. After consuming both these films I am reminded of Shakespeare quote from Hamlet Act 3, scene 2, 17–24; “Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this special observance, that you o’erstep not the modesty of nature: for any thing so o’erdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold as ’twere the mirror up to nature: to show virtue her feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.” Hamlet is basically saying to his actors that drama holds a mirror to nature. This is also true for the idea that drama reflects values of society. This is especially true for the metaphors and motifs explored. It is interesting to note the similarities between modern films and the traditional way of Japanese storytelling, Rakugo as mentioned before bares similarities to the method of storytelling in Film.
Greed being a key aspect of the film again is representative of director Miyazaki’s efforts to uphold a mirror to societal values. I noticed that most aspects of greed in some way have a link to the Environmentalism. Particularly with the river monster, Miyazaki is presenting the idea that the greed and overall industrialised nature of modern Japan is ruining the serenity and purity of nature. This is upheld through the mentioning of how fake the amusement park is. This is a direct reference to how Japan built excess of theme parks, which became abandoned when the economy tanked. Miyazaki intends to highlight the misuse of land management.
Environmentalism is a familiar motif in Miyazaki’s films, as it is an important part of Japanese culture. The significance of the water spirit with the bicycle handle stuck in it reminded me of the story of Androcles and the Lion, where a powerful being in the lion and river spirit is in need of help which comes in the form of an unlikely being, a hunter and a small girl.
As the central aspect of the film is the bathhouse for spirits, the spirits themselves are extremely important characters, and much like the monster of Gojira, they have a cultural significance for Japan. Spirits were integrated into Japanese history and culture as a means of explaining and personifying natural occurrences. As such I could understand that Miyazaki’s inclusion and general reliance on the spirits for the plot is a means of communicating his ideas.
Silences represented in this film are very crucial and key to the genre of Anime. The filmstyle is very artistically charged. These silences are key to drawing attention to the genre of the film and the means of communication of the directors ideas. When watching them I felt aware of the animation itself, every detail from the main characters hair movements to emotions. This allowed for the story to develop in silence.
The reversal of gender roles was very surprising to me. As Gojira is my only frame of reference, it is interesting to note the change in social gender values between the two films, Spirited Away features very strong Female characters and submissive male characters, (mostly in the frog people).
ushistory.org, 2014,Japanese Religion and Spirituality, Ancient Civilisations, Viewed 10th October 2014, <http://www.ushistory.org/civ/10a.asp>
Sparknotes, 2014, Spirited Away: Themes, Motifs, and Symbols, Sparknotes, Viewed 10th October 2014, <http://www.sparknotes.com/film/spiritedaway/themes.html>
SFPLMainStage, 2008, Rakugo in English SFPL Main Stage, Viewed 10th October 2014 <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vaf0esKLMZg>