Hiyao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away is one among several of his films that has won a space in westerners’ hearts. Everyone outside of the Radical Traditionalist community whom I’ve talked to about Miyazaki films love his movies because they are whimsical, fantastic, have adorable little girls, and are wonderful stories about triumph against all odds (but only when it isn’t a tragic warning a la Grave of the Fireflies). Miyazaki’s movies can be very hard for westerners to understand because of how radically and fundamentally different our contemporary values system is. We don’t need to flounder in confusion about what Miyazaki’s movies mean, because he leaves bread crumbs for us to follow. He’s also the only authentic Traditionalist film maker that I’ve ever heard of (feel free to let me know in the comments section if I’m wrong…)
There are several tropes that Miyazaki regularly uses in his films. He regularly uses young ladies or girls as the lead character and then pairs her with a young adult male or male teen figure prominently in the plot. Men are important in Miyazaki’s world, but it’s decidedly the women who are more valuable. Most of Miyazaki’s films also pass the Bechdel Test, so it’s a wonder why the feminist community doesn’t appreciate him more. This hasn’t seemed to diminish the number of men who like Miyazaki’s films, but more on that later. The “two places” trope is also very common with Miyazaki. The two places he sets up usually contrast with each other, presenting extremes on a spectrum or mutually exclusive things of some kind. However, don’t think that there is only ever a single instance of the two-places trope, because it’s common to see multiple instances of it in the film. His latest movie The Wind Rises is an exception to this rule, and I’ll give a review of that, too, if there’s any demand, but after reading this one I think everyone will be smart enough to figure it out on their own.
The movie opens with Chihiro moving to a new place. She’s not happy, she’s not looking forward to the new home, and she doesn’t feel appreciated or loved. She’s also extremely timid, shy, and just wants to hide away from the world. But, all of that is about to change. The fact that she’s “moving to a new place” and that the movie is titled “spirited away” should indicate as much. Her parents are trying to find the new place to live, which sits atop a hill. After her father misses the turn to their house up on top of the hill he tries to take a shortcut and ends up at the entrance to an abandoned theme park where things go horribly wrong. This is one example of the two-places trope that frequently comes up in Miyazaki films, and you wouldn’t be wrong to read it literally: there are no shortcuts in life. Read the rest of this entry →