Spirited Away is a 2001 Japanese animated fantasy film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, animated by Studio Ghibli. It tells the story of Chihiro Ogino, a ten-year-old girl who, while moving to a new neighborhood, enters the world of Kami. After her parents turn into pigs by the witch Yubaba, Chihiro takes a job working in Yubaba’s bathhouse to find a way to free herself and her parents and return to the human world.
If you haven’t watched the trailer of Spirited Away, do give it a watch before proceeding further in this article!
For me, exposure to Studio Ghibli animated films as an adult brought back an even bigger wave of nostalgia for my childhood. In addition to that, it is a film that I would consider as the ultimate form of escapism mixed with social commentary.
Spirited Away takes place in a fantasy world filled with spirits and animals, the most elaborate dream world that a kid could come up with. According to Miyazaki, the creatures in the film are based on Japanese folklore creatures, similar to spirits, called Kami. For the most part, the creatures are cute. Miyazaki does an excellent job fleshing out this universe, which is primarily comprised of just one structure, by presenting all of the many animals and their ways of being.
The fantasy world that Miyazaki creates also allows for themes of social commentary and escapism. While watching as a child, these themes may not pick up, but as an adult, they become evident. The main protagonist of the film, Chihiro, has to learn how to be confident in herself and courageous in new situations, which is the main plot point of the film. As she explores this new world that she is in, she comes across river spirits in the form of Haku, and an unnamed river spirit, who both provide subliminal commentary on pollution and commercialization.
Catalyst of Escapism – Spirited Away
So, the train is the catalyst by which Chihiro is escaping from an immoral world to the real one. However, the train is not only the symbol of escape in this scene but also of fusion. The train runs through the water and the countryside, two features of traditional life in Japan.
This is what Spirited Away is all about – Chihiro losing herself in her mind as an escape. However, eventually as a cure for her anxieties over moving to a new school and meeting new friends. Surviving the trials of her unconscious mind and reflections, as she refines her character. Through which she learns to remember who she is. Despite not only her progression into a new environment but also into adolescent maturity.
Certain movies are so well crafted, they stick with you for a long time. Spirited Away, a Studio Ghibli movie, is one of those. In addition, it’s good for watching anytime, but it’s specifically a good quarantine movie; because you get to escape into another world while being in the safety of your own home, protecting others and yourself from COVID-19.