Admittedly, any form of art reflects major trends in the human society. Paintings, plays, films and cartoons contain most important values which are propagated. Anime is a very specific form of cinematographic art as it is closely connected with Japanese culture. Anime is based on the major “worldwide artistic traditions of twentieth century cinema and photography” as well as “such Japanese traditional arts as Kabuki and the woodblock print” (Napier, 2001, p. 5).
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This form of art is very popular in Japan and it inevitably touches upon major issues existing in the contemporary Japanese society. Thus, Spirited Away is regarded as one of the best works by Hayao Miyazaki who managed to recreate the entire Japanese society with the help of his fantasy world. The film touches upon some of the most important issues existing in the contemporary Japanese society.
In the first place, it is important to note that anime is a mainstream phenomenon in the contemporary Japanese culture. Napier (2001, p. 7) claims that this type of cinematographic art “cuts across generational lines to be embraced by everyone from children to grandparents”.
Therefore, it is possible to state that anime (and, of course, Spirited Away) is for Japanese people and about Japanese people. Admittedly, Hayao Miyazaki understands the power of anime and makes his creation very didactic, i.e. he makes viewers think about really important things.
One of these things is maturation of the young Japanese. Napier (2006, p. 288) claims that the protagonist of the anime becomes a model for “today’s generation of apathetic Japanese youth.” Miyazaki’s call to act and be more sincere, more active and more helpful is certain kind of evidence that Japanese society (at least, young generations) lack of these traits. The dedicated protagonist of the movie is a very inspirational character that makes young people more active and responsive.
Apart from the didactic component of the anime, it is full of references to the contemporary issues that exist in the Japanese society. One of the major issues that are manifested in the anime is cultural identity of Japan. One of the most suggestive moments are moments when Chihiro and Haku talk about their names.
Haku repeats several times that people become slaves when they do not remember their names (Miyazaki, 2001). In other words, Miyazaki stresses that it is necessary to remember who people are and cherish their culture or else they will be destroyed as a society and as a nation.
The anime shows that when people remember who they really are they become truly free and complete personalities. It is also obvious that Japanese society consists of people, who understand that and try to preserve their names/identities like Haku, and there are people who do not know about the importance of self-identity and who should be taught like Chihiro, and, of course, there are those who do not care and this is the vast majority of the world of spirits.
Notably, the tiny world of spirits is the island which is totally different from the rest of the world. The world of spirits can be regarded as Japan itself. Napier (2006) claims that Spirited Away can be regarded as a part of the ongoing debate concerning globalization. The very idea of a bathhouse is also very suggestive. Miyazaki shows that spirits have to be cleaned from influences of the outer world. The mysterious creature, No-Face, that penetrates into the bathhouse stands for influences of the Western world.
The influence of the new-comer is almost unperceivable at first, but then it grows stronger and makes people totally different. Thus, Miyazaki shows that Japanese people are becoming concerned with consumption rather than with spiritual development (Napier, 2006). The spirits of the bathhouse are driven away with the lust for gold.
Importantly, Miyazaki (2001) shows that gold is nothing when the mysterious guest’s gold turns into mud. It is also important that No-Face is taken from the bathhouse to the place where it has no power. Thus, Miyazaki believes that young people like Chihiro and Haku, who understand the importance of self-identity, will save the Japanese society from the negative influence of other nations.
Finally, Spirited Away also touches upon environmental issues. Thus, the first client of Chihiro is the spirit of water that suffers from the pollution (Miyazaki, 2001). The young protagonist manages to clean the spirit that gives her a precious gift that helps the girl save many lives. Thus, Miyazaki shows that being responsible and solving environmental issues will help the Japanese develop into a society of the future.
On balance, it is possible to note that Spirited Away is something bigger than just a good didactic anime. It is a detailed (though somewhat allegoric) description of the contemporary Japanese society that is only yet to re-learn to cherish their culture.
The world revealed in the anime is a tiny model of Japan that has a number of issues to address. Thus, people of Japan need to understand the importance of self-identity and should become more active and responsible. The anime also shows that the Japanese are capable of becoming the nation of really spiritual people.
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Miyazaki, H. (Director). (2001). Spirited Away. [Animated Fantasy Film]. Japan: Studio Ghibli.
Napier, S.J. (2006). Matter out of place: Carnival, containment, and cultural recovery in Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away”. Journal of Japanese Studies, 32(2), 287-310.
Napier, S.J. (2001). Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke: Experiencing contemporary Japanese animation. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.