(Sen To Chihiro No Kamikakushi)
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Japan. 2001.
As an unhappy ten-year old girl, Chihiro, travels with her parents to her new home in the countryside, they take a wrong turn and end up in what they think as an abandoned theme park. Separated from her parents, who partake in a gluttonous meal, the little girl is drawn to a bathhouse for spirits and enters an alternate reality. Her parents have been transformed into pigs and she is trapped in a world she can barely understand.
Chihiro does not change or grow up suddenly but calls upon her inner strength that she barely knew existed to help her out in dangerous situations. She is helped by young Haku, an assistant to Yubaba, the bathhouse manager who tells her that her only chance is to ask Kamajii for work in the boiler room (Miyazaki said that he was trying to show Japanese girls who never had to work the experience of hardship). Kamajii in turn sends her to Yubaba (yet another wicked witch stereotype) who steals her name, calling her "Sen" and gives her difficult tasks that she must undertake successfully in order to free her parents and return home.
Along the way, Chihiro encounters physical and psychological dangers. There are no simple villains in the film but there are many repulsive creatures such as a boiler room boss with six tentacles, a giant grotesque baby, rolling heads, stink monsters, and the like. One wonders where these images come from since Japanese gods have no actual form and elementals in mythology are part of the simple beauty and magic of nature. Yet, unlike the Disneyfied view of the world with sharp lines separating good and evil, Miyazaki's film is ambiguous and shifting and Chihiro must adapt, figure out the world she is in, and learn whom to trust.
When Chihiro begins to
control her own destiny, she creates supportive friends to help her complete
her tasks and, in the process, discovers abundant courage and a sense of
responsibility. As she and Haku move toward freedom, they both realize
that they cannot escape their enslavement until they remember who they
really are, a metaphor for all of us groping toward our spiritual connection.
The power they find does not consist of magic spells or objects to render
opponents senseless but the energy that flows from love, forgiveness, and
non-violence. Spirited Away is a remarkable achievement and a film
that left me feeling uplifted and connected to a greater reality.
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