Spirited Away,perhaps the most beautiful anime films I ever watched. It stills holds the title of best animated feature of the oscars in 2002 and was recently added to the BFI list of Top 50 films you must watch before you turn 14.
I remember watching this on my DVD at home with myself and then with my parents. What struck me was not only the sublime animation,but the simple story of coming-of-age for a young girl.
Yes there are many interpretations on Spirited Away that I read but what stood me from this power of identity. Interestingly the title that I came up is from the insert song of Spirited Away is called Inochi No Namae (The Name of Life). So it would be fitting to start with it for my discussion on the theme of identity for Spirited Away.
Inochi no Namae-Youmi Kimura
Aozora ni sen wo hiku
Hikoukigumo no shirosa wa
Zutto dokomademo zutto tsuzuiteku
Asu wo shitte’ta mitai
Mune de asaku iki wo shiteta
Atsui hoo samashita kaze mo oboeteru
Mirai no mae ni sukumu teashi wa
Shizuka na koe ni hodokarete
Sakebitai hodo natsukashii no wa
Hitotsu no inochi manatsu no hikari
Anata no kata ni yureteta komorebi
Tsubureta shiroi BOORU
Kaze ga chirashita hanabira
Futatsu wo ukabete mienai kawa wa
Himitsu mo uso mo yorokobi mo
Uchuu wo unda kami-sama no kodomo-tachi
* Mirai no mae ni sukumu kokoro ga
Itsuka namae wo omoidasu
Sakebitai hodo itoshii no wa
Hitotsu no inochi kaeritsuku basho
Watashi no yubi ni kienai natsu no hi
A line is drawn in the blue sky
By the airplane’s vapor trail
Continuing to nowhere, continuing forever
As if it knew tomorrow
In my chest, I was drawing out shallow breaths
I remember the wind that cooled my cheeks too
In front of the future, my cramped limbs
Are untied by a quiet voice
Missed so much that I could cry
The single life
The light of midsummer
The sunlight through the trees flickered on your shoulders
A crushed white ball
Flower petals scattered by the wind
The two float on the unseeable river
Singing as it flows
Secrets and lies and joy
Are the children of the God that bore the universe
In front of the future, my cramped heart
Will someday remember its name
Loved so much that I could cry
The single life
The place I’ll return to
An unerasable summer day on my fingers
As you seen in the lyrics of that insert song,it shows that desperation to find our inner selves,like the film itself. Chihiro (Sen) unintentionally looking for that self during that journey of realization. At the start of the film,we seen a farewell card written by her closest friends,it was interesting that it was written in the child-like manner especially Chihiro’s name which was written in hiragana (From my Japanese lesson,I learnt that children start learning how to write by using hiragana before moving on the kanji stage). She kept on whining on the trivial gift that she left in her old school. I called this the identity of the child. Even the soundtrack of the opening sequence have that recurring letimotif of Inochi No Namae,it was childlike,it was nostalgic and yet strong.
The leitmotif of Inochi No Namae was replayed again when Chihiro recalls the incident of the river bringing back to shore. Incidentally it triggered Haku’s memory as a river and he break away from Yubaba’s spell. It shows the power of identity of the self as mentioned in the lyric of Inochi No Namae “In front of the future, my cramped heart will someday remember its name.” During the progression of the film,Haku mentioned a faint memory of saving Chihiro from drowning while he was the river spirit. Now we seen that Chihiro have the power to recall a name,even to break a heavy spell Even at the end of film,when Chihiro looks back at the tunnel,we could see the new self of Chihiro,a strong young lady facing the world.
Secondly we look into the puns of the name,in Asian language particularly East-Asian words,the way it was written could mean different things. For Chihiro,it means a thousand fantoms,and when Yubaba ‘stole’ her user name-we are only left with the kanji word “Sen” which means thousand. With that idenity set for the Spirit World,Sen is trying to use that idenity she was given,to save her parents. During that process,she grows in the process,from being compassionate to her working peers like Lin,siding with Haku when he was gravely ill despite the objection from the above and even stepping out from their comfort zone to work. For me,personally I could see Chihiro’s loss of her name beneficial for her character,she started to realize the postivite aspects of herself and of course looking at the world in the different perspective.
While Haku’s case of his lost identity linked to Miyasaki’s films which he talked about the environment. As impiled in the film,he was once a powerful river that apparently saved Chihiro from drowing but however due to the urbanization,he was eventually ‘wiped’ out. You could see in his character design that he almost have a cold look which perhaps implied on the soulless society in Japan that they cared about advancing to society that they will simply wipe out identities. Eventually he gained his identity as the river spirit as he told Chihiro his real name.
Kao-nashi (literary means no-face),the spirit which Sen accidentally let him to the bathhouse could be another personification of identity in post-morden Japan. Kao-nashi is not satstified with his situation despite producing gold. There was a pivotal moment when he got Sen and repeat that same line “I’m lonely,I’m lonely” perhaps show the wanting to be connected to that identity but unable to because of the fast-paced changes of Japan which show by his massive greed of eating everything.
Lastly I would like to talk about the original title of Spirited Away “sen to chihiro no kamikakushi” which helps the theme of identity. From the research I did in regards to Spirited away’s title,kamikakushi means to be taken away without notice in Japanese. Sometimes it could be seen as an angry god taking them away as the punishment. Therefore it implies Chihiro’s disappearance of her attitude as a child by adding the verb “to” ,signaling her growth by tackling her tasks at the spirit world. It could be similar to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland,where Alice was thrown into another world and she have to navigate it back. There is a moment in the book where rhe caterpillar asked her “Who are you” whcih was the rebuke of Alice’s identity. Therefore he questioned Japan where is that purpose of identity in an ever-changing morden world
Therefore I would like to conclude my short exploration of the theme of identity in Spirited Away. It could add that desperation of identity Japan needed by playing the letifmotif of teh insert song “Inochi No Namae” in the whole film. Miyasaki wanted to emphasized the identity theme by the power of names as seen in the change of Chihiro,by her stolen name or perhaps Haku’s loss in identity due to the urbanization or perhaps the consequences of loss of identity in Japan by Kao-nashi. Whenever the consequences are,we need to keep that dienity. Therefore I shall end my case-study with a quote from Miyasaki-san on his proposal of Spirited Away
In an era of no borders, people who do not have a place to stand will be treated unseriously. A place is the past and history. A person with no history, a people who have forgotten their past, will vanish like snow, or be turned into chickens to keep laying eggs until they are eaten.
If you are interested of that film,here is the trailer of that film. Hope you guys would like it 🙂