Spirited Away: Spiritual Decay and Renewal (October 14, 2005)
Spirited Away is a beautifully realized animated (anime) film on spiritual decay and renewal set in modern-day Japan. The subtexts are rather bluntly stated: the uber-bourgeois Dad and Mom (driving an Audi, we note, a very expensive proposition in Japan) stumble upon a feast prepared for the spirits. Gorging themselves on the feast, they are transformed into huge pigs for their trespass. (Humans, by the way, smell bad to the spirits; the spiritual rot of humanity fills the very air.)
Their young daughter, Chihiro, refuses to eat, and is thus spared. She is the pure-hearted heroine of the movie, the one who refuses the blandishments of greed and excess. When a spirit causes a free-for-all in the spirits' huge bath house (furo) by scattering gold from his fingertips, only Chihiro has no interest in scrambling for the material wealth. When the gold is revealed later to be nothing but dirt, her wisdom and purity of spirit stands in stark contrast to the wild greed of everyone else.
When a truly repulsive spirit enters the bath house, it falls to Chihiro to lead the stinking mass of oozing filth to a large tub. She discovers a sword embedded deep in the repulsive spirit's body, and with the combined efforts of the entire bath house workforce, she succeeds in removing the weapon. But the sword is not a single blade; out of the wound pours rusty bicycles and a mountain of industrial and consumer crud. This avalanche of waste spews out, filling the entire cavernous room; for the spirit is a river spirit, and this mountain of metal crap is everything that has been thrown into the river by humans.
This is a story of a whiny, self-centered girl who grows through confronting enormous challenges into a powerful force for love and renewal. But more pointedly, it is also a story of the spiritual corruption of modern Japan: greedy and wasteful beyond measure, gorging on consumerist trash which is thoughtlessly dumped into the landscape.
That is to say, the film could have easily been made by a sharp-penned filmmaker in the U.S. about the very same spiritual rot and consumerist greed which similarly afflicts our culture. If you haven't seen this remarkable and interesting film, do so; you will not be disappointed in its visual and thematic wealth.
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copyright © 2005 Charles Hugh Smith. All rights reserved in all media.
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