With Spirited Away reaching its 20th anniversary, this beautiful piece of art still stands to this day.
Studio Ghibli has long been recognized as a powerhouse in both anime and general film history. The studio has consistently published charming and unique tales that touch on everything from the power of a child’s imagination to the story of an aeronautical engineer. While many of his films hold a place in the hearts of many, Made disappear has been considered one of the best. Looking back 20 years later, what is it about this strange and intriguing story that has made it stand the test of time?
Released in Japan in 2001, Made disappear she found immediate success and quickly surpassed even Princess Mononoke. North American distribution rights were soon acquired by Disney, and the film’s English dubbing was released in 2002. The film would gross nearly $ 400 million worldwide and held the record for highest grossing film in Japan during 19 years until he was surpassed by Demon Slayer: Mugen Train. It then won multiple awards and was voted into the lists of the best movie, animated or not, of all time.
The story itself tells the story of Chihiro, a girl who is trapped in the spirit realm after her parents turned into pigs. While this story seems somewhat strange on the surface, the way it unfolds is beautiful. From art direction to character design, Made disappear shows Studio Ghibli at some of their best work.
While many have questioned what the story in general refers to, as this is a common notion with Ghibli movies, this is ultimately unsurprising considering it touches on many themes. First of all, there are the obvious themes of supernaturalism that stem from the spirit world Chihiro finds herself in. There are also fantasy themes, as this film has often been compared to Lewis Carroll’s. Alice in Wonderland.
Even though these themes are always present in the film, there are other themes that become clearer with further dissection. One of these points to a critical comment on Japanese generational conflicts. At the time of the film’s initial release, Japan was facing an economic downturn and much of its society was reverting to the old ways of its society. Chihiro is destined to emulate this return, as she searches for who she was before entering the spirit world.
Another prominent issue is the criticism of foreign consumerism of Japanese products. The fact that Chihiro’s parents turned into pigs by consuming too much food is quite a cheeky metaphor. They literally turn into capitalist pigs, endlessly consuming what is not theirs with the promise that they “have enough cards and cash” to pay for it later. Hayao Miyazaki, the writer and director, has commented on this, stating that many became these pigs during Japan’s business bubble in the 1980s and never stopped consuming.
This subject of consumerism penetrates even more. The bathhouse, although a traditionally Japanese place, is run by the witch Yubaba, who wears a more traditionally European dress and is surrounded by European furniture. However, its employees live in more minimalist Japanese-style housing and wear more Japanese-style clothing.
No-Face stands as a way to highlight the excess and greed present within the bathhouse. Consume everything and exchange gold for work. While the workers will do whatever it takes to have a shot at this excess gold, it ultimately amounts to nothing. The gold is fake and therefore everyone was not buying anything. All his work has been devalued, representative of the bursting of an economic bubble.
One of the other outstanding issues is that of nature and its contamination by humanity. The most direct reference to this is with the mud monster making its way to the bathhouse. All the workers try to reject it, alluding to the fact that the general population wants to ignore and ward off the pollution of the environment. While cleaning it, Chihiro and the rest of the staff pull a plug from the monster’s side that is revealed to be a bicycle. After the bike comes a seemingly endless pile of trash, boxes, and more; all things that, sadly, are commonly thrown away. Once this pollution is released, the spirit of the river is released.
Another allusion to this comes with Haku. Throughout the entire movie, he cannot remember who he is and is also searching for his past. Chihiro is able to free it by remembering that it is actually the Kohaku River, which she later points out that apartments have been built on it. The human need for development, construction and expansion led to the destruction of nature and the loss of this river spirit.
Even 20 years later Made disappear it houses themes that are timeless and sadly still very moving in the modern age. Consumerism, environmentalism, and spiritualism are three elements that mattered a lot to Miyazaki. His passion for these subjects and his ingenious method of sharing them are the central reasons why this beautiful piece of art still stands today, and why this film will always be among the best in the medium.