Spirited Away is a breathtaking animated film by Hayao Miyazaki. Although it was produced by Walt Disney Productions, it has the beauty of a Japanese anime. The movie is an allegory demonstrating how the need to accumulate possessions and greed can transform a kind, well-meaning person into a monster or pig. In the movie, the main character, a young daughter named Chihiro helps the characters remove their excess, so they can return to their former selves.
Spirited Away by Hayao Miyazaki is a beautiful story of a family that stumbles upon an abandoned theme park that houses a bathhouse where spirits go to regenerate. Chihiro and her parents are traveling to a new home. Chihiro is filled with apprehension and anger over the move. When her father takes an uncharted shortcut, they find themselves in front of a tunnel that leads into the empty park.
Lured in by a delicious smell, her parents enter a food booth and unable to resist, they begin to eat. Chihiro is fearful of the booth and worried about its absent owner. She wanders to a bridge and stops in front of a very large bath house. A young man, Haku, stops her before she crosses the bridge and tells her to run away, but when she returns to the booth to warn her parents, they have been turned into pigs.
She runs away, but finds water now fills the area she and her parents had crossed. She watches as a ferry brings spirits to shore. As they touch the ground their bodies materialize.
Haku returns and directs her to the boiler room. He tells her that she must get a job before morning or she cannot stay to rescue her parents. By confronting the witch that rules the island and runs the bath house, Chihiro secures a job, but must give up her name and become Sen.
She is befriended by a house maid also. At the heart of the tale seems to be the idea that greed creates a corruption of the spirit. This is illustrated first by the parents who become pigs when they can not control their greed and eat the food without permission. Because it is food prepared for the spirits, her parents are punished by being turned into pigs. The second manifestation of greed is the slime monster.
Chihiro is forced to help the smelly filthy monster because she is the lowest servant. When she is bathing him, she discovers a “thorn.” When the thorn is extracted with the help of everyone in the bath house, it turns out to be piles of items, including a bicycle, that had been eaten by the spirit. When the junk was extracted, the slime monster turned into a powerful, but gentle river spirit.
The third example of how greed can transform good to evil was No-face, the gentle spirit befriended by Chihiro. When No-face discovers that money makes him important, he eats the greedy frog, and begins to embody his attitude. He demands attention by giving out gold for services. He becomes a monster and starts to eat people. When he asks for Chihiro she leads him out of the bath house. As he leaves, he spits out everyone he swallows and returns to the kind spirit he was originally.
Even the baby changes when he helps weave the thread for Chihiro while he was a rodent. When he returned to his original shape, he is kind and thoughtful opposed to the selfish tyrant he was before the adventure. Chihiro’s metamorphis began when she gave up her fear, first to help her parents and then to help Haku.
Haku, a river spirit that manifests as a dragon and a boy, is saved when she reminds him of his real name. This seems to imply that all the characters that embodied the idea of greed or excess forgot themselves, but when they turned away from excess and purged themselves, they found their true spirits again.
The main character Chihiro draws us into her story and each of the diverse monsters and spirits are so well portrayed, we feel for them during their transformations. When sweet No Face turns into an evil monster, we miss his kind spirit and are glad to see it return.
This movie works on so many levels. The imagery is mystical and yet very simple. Each spirit and character is well-rounded. The story is interesting on its own, but the allegorical element makes it very moving.