Spiriting Away Magic Realism

Hayao Miyazaki is known in film circles as the Walt Disney of Japan. His best film, in my opinion, “Spirited Away” has been noted as one of the best films of the decade. Spirited Away won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film, and it was the first film in history to make more than $200 million at the box office before opening in North America. 

In this animated film,10-year-old Chihiro and her parents stumble upon a seemingly abandoned amusement park. After her mother and father are turned into giant pigs, Chihiro meets the mysterious Haku, who explains that the park is a resort for supernatural beings who need a break from their time spent in the earthly realm, and that she must work there to free herself and her parents.  

Miyazaki’s stated aim for the film was to place ordinary people back into a world of surprise: « It’s not a story in which the characters grow up, but a story in which they draw on something already inside them, brought out by the particular circumstances« . Reality effects in Miyazaki’s films are found principally in the meticulous animation and the detailed settings and is portrayed by narratives, including the portrayal of real-world problems and issues. 

Firstly, the depiction of environmental problems suttley appears in “Spirited Away”. In Spirited Away, a god visits the bath house where the main character Chihiro, who has been spirited away to the spirit world, is working. This god is filthy and it is decided that he is a “stink god”; however, Chihiro notices something stuck in his side and pulls on it with the help of the other workers. A mountain of trash ranging from pipes, barrels, and an I-beam, to a bicycle, a toilet, and a dresser flows out from the god. The being is actually a river god, horribly polluted in the real world.  

Materiality and consumption are also dealt with in “Spirited Away”. Everyone in the bathhouse where Chihiro finds work is portrayed as being obsessed with money and material goods. Yubaba, the master of the bathhouse, is a prime example; 41 she places all value on material objects, such as jewels, gold, and other luxuries. So much does this fixation on materiality dominate her that she fails to realize when something truly precious -her baby- disappears. 

Finally, the process of maturing is also a key theme. Chihiro, having had her parents turned into pigs, is alone in the spirit world. She is told that the only way she can survive in this world is to seek a job, work hard, and never utter a single complaint, otherwise she will be turned into a piece of coal or a pig; in this world, she alone can help herself. 

Thus, although Miyazaki’s « Spirited Away” is undoubtedly magical, these films too contain elements of realism. The visuals of Miyazaki’s works especially bring about reality effects, even through impressively smooth animation and settings of scrupulous detail.  

Simply put, it is the magical realism that brings this film and its messages to life. Being able to relate to fantasy excites crowds and arouses curiosity. One forgets that this they are watching a surreal film and dives into the minute detail of the magic, unhidden by everyday reality. Without these elements of magic realism, the producers would not have conveyed their messages or emotions. This film would simply have not worked without these elements nor would it have been such a success.  

4 réflexions au sujet de “Spiriting Away Magic Realism”

  1. What an interesting post. I had never really picked up on all of the hidden meanings of the film when watching it as a child. Realizing that individual monsters and supernatural beings in the film are there to convey a specific message is mind-blowing.
    What is great about Miyazaki’s movies and animation, in general, is that because of the medium, there are no boundaries to what can be shown and how the messages are being communicated. If they want to turn parents into pigs or have piles of junk flowing out of a big blob, they can! Do you think that this film would’ve been able to be as effective in the communication of its messages and emotions if it wasn’t animated?

    1. Hey Harry!
      Thanks for the comment! And great question! I actually considered answering that in my post but didn’t have enough words to fit the limit…so thank you. To answer your question, I believe that if this film wasn’t animated, and was not developed by thousands of hand drawn frames, it would not be as effective to convey such a story and universal messages. Firstly, simply due to the fact that Mayazaki is only known for his animated films, a non animated film would suggest that it is not Mayazaki himself who produced it, thus discrediting it greatly as -I find- his history greatly impacts his film ratings.

      Secondly, like you said, one of the reasons his films are so renown is due to the fact that they have no limits! Through animation, Mayazaki can illustrate precisely the character he imagines as well as a dynamic personality that blends with the character’s look. So, noting that this film was made in 2001, if Mayazaki had chosen to make this film a live action film, I believe that the lack of technology and quality at that time would have negatively impacted the film and would render the film quality weak and the imagery – a crucial factor on Mayazaki’s top quality films and originality – would greatly be undermined. Thanks again!

  2. Hi Abir,
    I’ve been meaning to watch this but I guess I don’t even need to anymore because of how well and in depth your post is! I can tell through your post that you got really into the story line and I was wondering what kind of a reaction did you have while actually watching it? Did it evoke any specific emotions?

  3. Hey Abir! I remember when I fist watch spirited away in the end of the year in Art classes. Spirited away truly is an amazing movie to me, and I love the visuals and the example you used. I never really thought about how the movie isn’t about Chiro is growing up its about her finding what she already had. (Which sounds cliche when I say it, but doesn’t change the fact it’s a nice message)
    I’ve never considered spirited away has a movie with magical realism since at the start Chiro does question a lot of what’s happening, buts its true that that period of the movie ends quickly, so its kind of like the spawning ground where it’s somewhat like magic realism

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