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Ann D.

Spirited Away

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opus   
Your comments about the added lines at the end of the English dub are fascinating. It suggests a desire in the US adaptation to find some sort of redemptive significance in Chihiro's experience, whereas in the original it sounds as if the whole story ultimately makes no difference for Chihiro or her family (though obviously it makes a difference for characters from the spirit world, most centrally Haku).

Perhaps this change in the US version is motivated in part by the precept in Western dramatic tradition that a protagonist be somehow transformed as a result of the events related in the story. Perhaps for Miyazaki the journey itself matters more than the destination, or perhaps the impact of Chihiro's actions on the spirit world matter more than whether Chihiro herself is transformed by the journey.

I wonder how that jives with Miyazaki's stated intent that he made Spirited Away in order to speak to ten year old girls, to give them a role model. In this interview, he says:

I haven't chosen to just make the character of Chihiro likes this, it's because there are many young girls in Japan right now who are like that. They are more and more insensitive to the efforts that their parents are making to keep them happy. There's a scene in which Chihiro doesn't react when her father calls her name. It's only after the second time he calls that she replies. Many of my staff told me to make it three times instead of two, because that's what many girls are like these days. They don't immediately react to the call of the parents. What made me decide to make this film was the realisation that there are no films made for that age group of ten-year old girls. It was through observing the daughter of a friend that I realised there were no films out there for her, no films that directly spoke to her. Certainly, girls like her see films that contain characters their age, but they can't identify with them, because they are imaginary characters that don't resemble them at all.

With Spirited Away I wanted to say to them "don't worry, it will be alright in the end, there will be something for you", not just in cinema, but also in everyday life. For that it was necessary to have a heroine who was an ordinary girl, not someone who could fly or do something impossible. Just a girl you can encounter everywhere in Japan. Every time I wrote or drew something concerning the character of Chihiro and her actions, I asked myself the question whether my friend's daughter or her friends would be capable of doing it. That was my criteria for every scene in which I gave Chihiro another task or challenge. Because it's through surmounting these challenges that this little Japanese girl becomes a capable person. It took me three years to make this film, so now my friend's daughter is thirteen years old rather than ten, but she still loved the film and that made me very happy.

If Chihiro's adventures made no difference, than that somewhat defeats Miyazaki's intent, I think.

Futhermore, I don't think Chihiro leaves the spirit world totally unchanged. Remember, she's wearing the hairband with her that the good witch made. I realize that's a pretty minor thing, but in Miyazaki's storytelling, it's all about the details. And so, I saw the hairband as some sort of token or talisman that would look over Chihiro, perhaps reminding her, in some way, of the strength and grace she discovered during her adventures. Plus, IIRC, Haku tells her that they'll meet again, so it's presumable that Chihiro might have future adventures...

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I think these quotes from the director jibe rather better with the point someone else made above; that it doesn't matter whether the girl remembers her adventures or not: she triumphed in them because of traits she had inside herself all along, and will presumably triumph again if she has to.

"But you've always had the power to go back to Kansas, whenever you like."

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Titus   

SDG,

Perhaps it's the overwhelming ambiguity and confusion and absence of discernible moral order that bothers me about the film

This was the comment that led me to the conclusion that you considered this universe to be without a rational (or semi-rational) order or morality. Apologies if I misinterpreted it.

that it doesn't matter whether the girl remembers her adventures or not: she triumphed in them because of traits she had inside herself all along, and will presumably triumph again if she has to.

Precisely. The attributes she displayed in the film were innate. It wasn't a story of growth, but exposition.

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MattPage   

Titus - thanks for your previous post - it was great! I've never really enjoyed Spirited Away as much as I felt I ought to - partly cos it's always felt a bit alien. YOUr post helped me appreciate it a whole lot more.

Matt

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Ditto here - I've appreaciated Spirited Away's artistry, and some of the scenes are simply wonderful. But as a whole it did not charm me in the came way that Totoro or Kiki did. But I have really enjoyed reading this thread, and gaining a better understanding of some of the things going on in that film.

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SDG   

In honor of Spirited Away's 15th anniversary, for two days only, you can see it in about 400 theaters across the country — tomorrow (Sunday 12/4) in English dub and the next day (Monday 12/5) in subtitled Japanese. 

Also in honor of its 15th anniversary, I've written a brand-new review that reflects how my thoughts have shifted on this film as it has grown to become one of my top films of all time, and my favorite Miyazaki (eclipsing My Neighbor Totoro — only by a whisker, but for very definite and specific reasons). 

In spite of what I've said in the past, I now watch Spirited Away with my whole family, even the four-year-old (though I would still totally respect a parent's decision to do otherwise). Partly this is because I figure that his inner world is shaped more by the balance of all the things he watches rather than any one film. Of course the fact that we have older kids who watch it has also contributed to moving the goalposts. And being an older parent, and a parent of older (and more) kids, has probably mellowed me too. 

Mostly, though, I now think about the film differently. As I write in my new review: 

Quote

Spirited Away was the first Miyazaki I ever saw in its entirety, and I wasn’t ready for it. On the one hand, I was blown away by its imaginative power and visual richness. It is one of the most gorgeous animated films I have ever seen — and so varied in its moods and imagery: the hellish glare and dancing shadows and sparks of the boiler room with its spider-like attendant Kamaji; Yubaba’s fabulously rococo apartments with her immense Satsuma-ware vases, deep carpets and velvet upholstery; the arresting sight of the spirit-world train skimming the surface of a shallow ocean; and of course the endless riot of creatures and faces.

On the other hand, I was daunted what seemed to me a chilly, disturbing world of randomly shifting realities, with characters who vacillate between benign and dangerous, seemingly without explanation. It was a world, I felt, untouched by grace.

I was wrong. There’s nothing random or contradictory about the characters, and while the grace at work in Chihiro’s adventures is subtle, it’s all the more powerful for that.

 

Edited by SDG

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SDG   

Oh, I also have a different perspective now on the question of whether Chihiro remembers her adventures in the spirit world: With or without the extra line of dialogue thrown in in the English dub (which was approved by Ghibli in any case), I can't conclude that Chihiro's adventures might as well not have happened. 

Quote

The denouement is ambiguous: What if anything does Chihiro gain from her experiences? Although the English dub softens the blow, it appears that Chihiro, like her parents, has lost her memories of her sojourn in the spirit world (an interpretation Miyazaki has confirmed).

But then, Chihiro forgot Haku once before, and later remembered him. “Nothing that happens is ever forgotten, even if you can’t remember it,” Zeniba reassures Chihiro as she struggles to recall how she knows Haku (and Miyazaki has also indicated that Chihiro hasn’t necessarily lost her memories forever). And, after all, Haku has promised Chihiro that they will meet again.

Her hair band, too, remains as a token of the friends she has left behind, but that will always in some way be with her. Perhaps this is a good way to express the power of Spirited Away: It feels like the movie is trying to remind us of something we once knew, and have forgotten.

 

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I just a few weeks ago got this film on disc, and watched it with my kids. I remember thinking when i first saw it some years ago that if was too intense for my young children. And I similarly have mellowed on that judgement with my younger children. I was going to ask you if you still felt that caveat about showing it to younger kids should apply, so I'm glad you addressed that here.

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