Spirited Away Film Research Paper

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Asian media, specifically anime and animated movies like "Spirited Away," impact Saudi youth?


Anime or what some may consider, Japanese animation, is one of the main aspects of Japanese media. It has reached millions of people worldwide and inspired fashion, movies, and even an entire city, Akihabara. Hayao Miyasaki's "Spirited Away" is what some consider one of his best works. The magic of this animated film has brought countless fans into the realm of anime and Japanese animation. With its themes of connection, the spirit world, and memory, it has generated meaning and depth within its growing audience. The creator, Hayao Miyasaki, is a traditional artist, focusing on strong images and themes of love, good and evil, and childhood to portray his character and tell his stories. These stories have brought him and Japanese animation in general, increased success, with "Spirited Away" becoming the most popular Japanese animated film to date. "Spirited Away" has become so popular and well-known, the movie has crossed over internationally with people from different cultures becoming fans. The Saudi culture for instance, with its recent liberation on media, has come to know of the animated film with Saudi fans relating some aspects of the film to Saudi culture such as song and dance and the transition from childhood to adulthood, the value of work, the use of food, and the power of names and words. These themes not only resonate with Saudi fans, but also has a lasting impact on some who have become true fans of the genre. However, because Japanese culture is often shown throughout various animes and anime movies, some Saudi fans cannot relate nor connect as much as Americans for instance. So the question of whether or not anime can impact Saudi fans as much as any other fans becomes the central focus.

Support for Argument

Even though anime is widely recognized, it is often not as far reaching as expected. Countries like Saudi Arabia have restrictions on certain media. Something like "Spirited Away" may not be as popular there vs. An approved anime like Captain Majid or "Captain Tsubasa." Captain Tusbasa is not only an acceptable anime in Saudi Arabia, it is also broadcasted there. The anime centers on a young soccer team and its captain, Tsubasa Oozora. The show has wholesome themes with few references on religion, gambling, alcohol consumption, or any other negative aspects of society. It focuses on hard work, competition and friendship, themes important to Saudi culture.

"Spirited Away" this paper's case study was written and animated by Hayao Miyazaki. Hayao Miyasaki was born Bunkyo, Tokyo, on January 5th, 1941. The company Toei animation, sparked Miyasaki's career in animation in 1963 which led to a lengthy and ongoing career of award winning animated films and features. Miyasaki specializes in anime style films. (Napier 287) His occupations include film director, animator, screenwriter, and manga artist. He mostly known for his film work, but also known for his manga. Some of his work from this genre include People of the Desert and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind which became an anime film on March 11, 1984.

Many of Miyasaki's anime films have become classics. Some of his latest additions: "Howl's Moving Castle," "The Secret World of Arrietty, and his last film, "The Wind Rises" have continue to give this amazing and well-known animator success. (Ellis 22) "The Wind Rises," based on Miyasaki's manga of the same name, is a fictionalized account of Jiro Horikoshi a designer of the Mitsubishi A5M and its replacement, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero. These two aircraft, used during World War II by the Empire of Japan contribute to Miyasaki's continual themes of flight and history in recent years. It also contributes to disconnect from Saudi fans who might not relate to the WWII themes nor the political aspects of some of his movies.

"If film and the visual mass media in general can indeed help to "write history" and "create national identity," the question of who speaks for the past in these industries becomes of particular importance." (Napier 467) Miyasaki has evolved throughout his films, from fantasy and monsters, to spirits and demons, and more recently, aircraft and war. Miyasaki is also known for his traditional animated style. Each frame was drawn by hand lending to the beauty of his films which lend to the appeal that some Saudi fans have attributed to their desire to view his work. Online presence is also an important to consider when discussing influence and popularity. Saudi Arabia has some restrictions on media however its youth view certain movies and shows online. As Darling-Wolf mentions: "While recent analyses have helped to challenge commonly-held stereotypes of fans of popular cultural texts as freakish individuals 'without a life', few studies have focused on texts produced and/or consumed outside the United States and Europe" (Darling-Wolf 507).

People like in Saudi Arabia, are not obsessed otaku fans who use the internet to indulge in their fantasies. They use the internet to access what they cannot locally, regionally, or even nationally. As Barber states: "In sum, the internet is run in a non-hierarchical, diffuse manner. Another related issue has to do with access and those who are excluded from participating in this communication revolution. Although the internet has the potential to overcome…" (Baber 185). Looking to the internet to access media like anime is not too uncommon on a global scale. Even though it occurs much in less in countries like Saudi Arabia, it still provides access to material otherwise inaccessible.

The internet plays an important role in many people's lives, not as much as Asians. "Most internet users live in Asia (330 million), followed by Europe (243) million) and the United States (185 million)" (Kim 20). Because of this many Asian anime companies adapt their shows to suit the needs of the audience. This is why perhaps, Saudi culture is rarely reflected in anime, thus making it less relatable to Saudi youth. When looking at "Spirited Away" and Miyazaki's reason for making it, one can see not only the origins but also the lack of connection it could pose for those who the movie was not aimed for.

The purpose behind "Spirited Away" was to make something ten-year-old girls would like. Hayao Miyazaki and his family stayed in a mountain cabin with five girls during his annual summer vacation. These girls, whom Miyasaki regarded as friends, inspired him to want to make a film they would enjoy. His films prior were meant for small children and teenagers, ("Kiki's Delivery Service" and "My Neighbor Totoro") but young girls, around ten, did not have a film that spoke to them. To help him generate ideas for the film, he read sh-jo manga magazines like Ribon. These magazines were the kind the girls took with them when they went to the mountain cabin. Although somewhat useful, a lot of the information in these magazines did not offer what Miyasaki felt the girls needed, a female heroine they could look up to.


When looking at the symbols in "Spirited Away" it's important to see what they were and what they signified. Several authors such as Lim have analyzed the ideas surrounding "Spirited Away." "The inter-related ideas of consumption and waste; the delicate co-existence between nature and humans; traditional conceptions of nature; spirituality and interpretations of the environment;" (Lim 149) the movie begins with a young girl and her parent moving to a new place. She is in the car looking out onto the landscape. They stop near a village and decide to follow the smell of cooked food.

The food, the first real symbol introduced into the film, plays a role throughout the story. (Mayumi 3) The food turns Chihiro's parents into pigs and later on a piece of matter ingested by another character, a spirit named No-Face, expels everything No-Face consumed and returns him to his original state. Food symbolizes transformation and sin. The parents transform, No-Face transforms. At first No-Face ingests anything he can, including other spirits and becomes a giant monster, after he ingests the ball, he reverts back.

Food represents sin because the parents became gluttonous and greedy when consuming the food much like No-Face when he became a ravenous monster. The film represents greed in many forms from Yubaba's need for money and luxurious items and the physical representation of the pigs Yubaba keeps. Greed plays an important in not only the development of the antagonist, Yubaba, but also the protagonist, Chihiro or "Sen." "Sen" is able to counteract the effects of greed by being selfless and caring for others as she did with No-Face and even Yubaba when she helped her baby.

Names also play a significant role in "Spirited Away." Yubaba, when she gets spirits to work for her, removes some of their name. Haku is the Kohaki River and Sen is Chihiro. The loss of a name, the loss of an identity is what keeps the "prisoners" of Yubaba chained. The names…[continue]

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