Spirited Away (2001), directed by Miyazaki Hayao, is the first case in the animation genre that has won awards such as the Golden Bear, and the best film at the Berlin International Film Festival. This animation film attracted about 24 million viewers in Japan and two million viewers in Korea. As such, Spirited Away is still loved by many people, and gets recognition for its cinematic quality at the same time.
Chihiro, the young girl is the main character in Spirited Away. One day, while she and her family were moving to a new house, they accidentally went the wrong way, passing a strange tunnel. At the end of the tunnel, there was an unrealistic world, where was filled with delicious foods. Her parents ate the food there without permission, and after that, they were changed into pigs because of the curse. To rescue her parents and go back to the real world, Chihiro starts to work at a “big hot spring,” having all kinds of difficulties. Most people who see this animation might think it is just the story of Chihiro's growth, but it is not. This movie is conveying a deeper story.
Spirited Away expresses a sense of criticism of material civilization in a capitalist society. Another work by director Miyazaki Hayao such as The Princess Mononoke, depicts the confrontation between nature and humans, and Howl's Moving Castle, includes criticism of war while implicating current social problems in the story. The director's feature also revealed in Spirited Away that many devices for criticizing capitalist society are contained in this animation.
▲The scene of Chihiro's parents eating at the restaurant. In this scene, Chihiro's mother says, “We can pay for this later.”
Its most marked social criticism is its satire of materialism. In the introduction, Chihiro's parents found some restaurants in the world across the tunnel. After they noticed that there was no owner in the restaurant, they devoured food piled up like a mountain. In this scene, Chihiro's mother says, “We can pay for this later.” People who watched this movie can interpret that this phrase represents the principle of materialism. In the materialism society, people think that money can solve any situations and they lose sight of morality.
Audiences also can find materialistic desire through the Kaonashi character’s behavior. Kaonashi is a goblin that has the ability to clone things, so Kaonashi tries to make gold and enjoys getting everything it wants by using its ability. It keeps saying, “I want this”, distributing a huge amount of gold to other characters. This scene is also criticizing the mentality of capitalist societies: If there is a lot of wealth, people believe everything can be obtained and solved. Concerning the human desire encouraged by capitalist material civilization, director Miyazaki Hayao said, "I believe all the humans have their own Kaonashi inside their mind."
▲The scene of Rubbish god taking a bath
This film makes people reconsider another problem, environmental pollution. “Rubbish god”, covered with trash, is a medium that delivers messages about environmental pollution. In this movie, Chihiro removes all the trash from the god’s body to help him find its original identity. At the end of the movie, the audience can find out that the wastes such as bicycles or refrigerators that were embedded in the body of the rubbish god, symbolizes trash that is dumped in rivers and streams. This prompts the audience to think about the environmental pollution problem. Nevertheless, not only does the movie show the problematic situations, but it also shows the possibility of solving it by showing Chihiro restoring the original image of a god of the river.
Spirited Away includes the Miyazaki director's sense of criticism of materialism and philosophical views on ecology. Even though 19 years have passed since was first released, the problems of materialism and environmental pollution in the movie are still a major unsolved social problem. In this regard, some audiences might think that Miyazaki predicted and reflected the future society in this movie. It is time for us to take the lessons which this movie gave us and take up a positive attitude to solve these problems.