Ages 11 and under
Male and Female
Chihiro is a typical lonely girl who is too afraid to take on new challenges. She’s about to move on to a new school in a new home, her parents not caring too much about her pain. They take a shortcut through the woods, where they quickly end up lost. It’s a typical way to start a kid’s movie, but Spirited Away at least feels fresh in its approach. You’ll see why in a minute.
A creepy looking building blocks the family’s path, and the parents decide out of curiosity to explore the place. Chihiro is too afraid to take another step, but they persist she follow them. On the others side of the building stands an abandoned amusement park, colorful but desolate with its many restaurants, one glowing with a buffet of suspiciously laid out fresh food. Chihiro’s parents pig out over the grub, leaving her to wander off near a bathhouse that broods over an underwater train. She is told to leave the park by an odd older boy, as evidenced by a parade of disturbing black shapes with white eyes slowly inhabiting the park. She cries to her parents, but it’s too late: they have been turned into swine, unaware of their condition. Right at this point, legendary Japanese director starts his masterpiece in all the right notes: What is this strange place? Who is the boy at the bathhouse? Why were her parents turned into pigs? It then takes another hour and forty minutes of throwing Chihiro amongst the spirit world to find these answers.
Spirited Away will probably be one of the longest animated films you will ever see, and every second is worth it thanks to the surreal imagery that remains in your memory with its shocking simplicity. The Japanese have always been known for their bizarre imagination, but this time, Miyazaki outdoes himself with his wonderfully frightening creations of frog people, balls of soot carrying rocks, a six-armed engineer who walks like a spider, a giant baby, and three Kashira who chant, “Oy! Oy! Oy!” As the film progresses, each design appears more brilliant than the last, the animation consistently treated with subtle realism.
Ruling over this parade of otherworldly citizens is a menacing hook-nosed witch named Yu-Baaba. Her tempers stir up a maddening wind and she transforms into the most intimidating bird you would ever see swooping the night skies. Then it just gets scarier from there: off into the streets of the spirit folk strolls a despised mass of walking feces, smelling so foul that it even makes rice rot in seconds. He creates the film’s most stressful moments especially when he must step in the bathhouse to get clean.
But the most frightening, as well as the gentlest, of all the spirits is a silent black figure with a white mask, known only as “No Face.” I won’t give too much of his story away, but I’ll just say that the way he moves alone will be enough to make you cry.
Spirited Away feels much like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in a way, not just in the easily memorable figures, but in the female child who turns out to be the least interesting character in the movie. And may I also add the most annoying. Chihiro is your basic child protagonist who has no apparent backstory and little motivation for any of her actions. All she does is whine and cry with a rude ear-piercing screech. It makes me wish I watched the original Japanese version instead of the English dub version, I trust that the voice actors who worked directly with Miyazaki were more passionate.
There’s also no connection whatsoever between Chihiro and her parents. She never appears to actually want her parents turned back to normal, and only mentions them a couple of times throughout her journey.
I guess it’s just one of those things you have to not let bother you, as Spirited Away has so many other redeeming themes, including what it means to remember your loved ones. This gem of the legendary Studio Ghibli still stands as the rare chance to step inside the dreams of a little girl, proving how a movie doesn’t have to come out of our own country to be appreciated.
Spirited Away is a standard yet simple story about a little girl learning to overcome her fears. Well that is, it sounds simple, until you include the horrific spirits to challenge her sense of memory along the way. There’s a good reason why this anime stood the test of time here in America: it develops complex themes about the subconscious of a small child and all over a completely simple mode of change: moving from one home to another.
It’s a challenging thing for any child, so much so, that movies are made surrounding that whole issue.
If you have experienced moving at least once growing up, you know it’s a hard thing to do: you leave your entire life behind and have to start over with a new environment with new people. It could trigger all sorts of fears and concerns before you even have arrived at the new place.
It’s a lot like Inside Out in a way, except Spirited Away doesn’t look as much at the emotional effects of a child after the moving process, but the fears of a child before the move even takes place. It’s a little hard to see it in this movie upon the first few viewings, but it essentially points out how Chihiro feels isolated from her parents who don’t seem to understand her inner conflict. She runs off from her parents as they make a brief stop at the amusement park, and we’re expected to believe that they’ve turned into pigs and she has to change them back. Along the path, she sees many spectacular sights that you would only see in your dreams. It leads one to think, is this really happening, or is Chihiro just having a bad dream?
One of her deepest fears expressed to the spirits is her fear of forgetting her loved ones. She worries that when she goes to retrieve her parents from the pig pen they’re housed in, that she won’t recognize them anymore. It’s another one of those greater fears that people have with change especially when they’re young, that they’ll forget the important people in their life. This is even truer for people with autism.
It reminds me of when I was in eighth grade, and the friend I spent the most time hanging around and making jokes with said he was going to a new school the next year. I did not handle it too well, as I felt I was going to be all alone the next year. It was hard like I expected it to be, but I eventually found more friends who in time accepted me.
We all know how tough moving and forgetting friends and family can be for anybody, so imagine the different fears it could press onto somebody with autism.
Six-Word Lessons on Growing Up Autistic, Lesson #72: Moving Starts a Whole New Chapter.
I for one have never handled change well growing up. Although I lived in the same house until I graduated high school, there were plenty of other challenges related to change that I could not avoid. Friends coming and going was one, but one of the more prevalent changes for me was moving up a grade.
Six-Word Lessons on Growing Up Autistic, Lesson #63: Every Grade’s Harder Than the Last.
I was originally terrified of what the seventh grade would hold in store for me, as it was the first time I went to a middle school, where I didn’t have things like recess or a singular teacher for all subjects. It was difficult for me to become accustomed to, but as time passed and I got more into a groove with things, I didn’t even miss the old elementary school anymore.
As a result, I turned out stronger and more independent than before, all because I took the required challenge of going to a new school and learning new things.
Six-Word Lessons on Female Asperger Syndrome, Lesson #82: Sometimes It’s Actually a Good Thing.
Change is hard for anybody, especially when you have autism. But the important thing is not to cower back and remain in your comfort zone. That is how nothing gets done. Rather, you want to be like Chihiro in Spirited Away: acknowledging the fears of change and saying to them face-to-face, “You are not the boss of me!” Anyone could use help and emotional support in dealing with change, but for those with autism, it takes a bit more to comprehend the change and understand the reward.
- Think back to the biggest change you had to go through. How did you feel before going through the change? How were you after being in the change for a while? Were you glad you did it? Did you end up missing the old way of doing things?
- To help somebody with autism handle change, it helps to always let them carry something of immediate familiarity. My older sister’s book, The Kindergarten Adventures of Amazing Grace, describes an autistic child who carried a stuffed giraffe with him wherever he went.
- Think toward to the reward of facing a change. It can be nearly impossible to see at the moment, but come up with a list of why moving to a new city or attending a new school would excite you.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see reviewed, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!
Anderson, Kyle. STUDIO GHIBLI’S SPIRITED AWAY AND THE CAT RETURNS ARRIVE ON BLU-RAY. Digital image. Nerdist. 16 Jun 2015. Web. <http://nerdist.com/studio-ghiblis-spirited-away-and-the-cat-returns-arrive-on-blu-ray/>.
Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. Disney. Web. <http://movies.disney.com/spirited-away>.