Attention to detail
August 14, 2015 4:13 AM   Subscribe

"In July 2012, Roger wrote about viewing 'Spirited Away' for a third time and how he was then 'struck by a quality between generosity and love.' It was during that viewing he 'began to focus on the elements in the picture that didn’t need to be there.'" An analysis of some of the amazing level of detail packed into the Miyazaki classic.
posted by jbickers (14 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
It doesn't seem "attention to detail" as much as Bilingual Bonus for non-Japanese and just regular foreshadowing for the original audience of the film.

One of the kanji in the restaurant street they missed is 蟲, the old form of "insect". Although I only get it because it's part of Mushishi.
posted by sukeban at 5:58 AM on August 14, 2015

Here's a post i made to the MML on behalf of one of my lecturers years ago, it theorises on some of the themes in Spirited away (it includes a paragraph explaining the prominence of "Yu").
posted by lawrencium at 6:05 AM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

In the same picture as the insect kanji, Chihiro's father is bracketed by 呪 "noroi", curse and 鬼 "oni", ogre/ demon. I'd be suspicious, too.
posted by sukeban at 6:08 AM on August 14, 2015

I just watched this for the first time last week, as did the kids. Great film of course. Wonderfully odd - it has that lovely innate oddness to Western eyes that comes from being Japanese, then it has a whole load of excellent bonus oddness on top. The kids, raised on big-budget US animation, were sort of nonplussed initially, and Yubaba they found very scary. But they stuck with it.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 6:09 AM on August 14, 2015

In the same picture as the insect kanji, Chihiro's father is bracketed by 呪 "noroi", curse and 鬼 "oni", ogre/ demon. I'd be suspicious, too

I always took it to be a bit of a playful joke... If spirits had a hot spring town to hang out in, this is what it would look like.
posted by Nevin at 7:24 AM on August 14, 2015

If you like that, you might also like "Shinto perspectives in Miyazaki's Anime Film, 'Spirited Away'", from The Journal of Religion and Film.
posted by mrettig at 7:54 AM on August 14, 2015

I always took it to be a bit of a playful joke... If spirits had a hot spring town to hang out in, this is what it would look like.

If I went into a traditional-looking hotspring town and suddenly all the shop signs said things like "curse" and "devil" and "bone" and "swarm of insects" and so on, I'd wonder if I had wandered into an angura kei videoclip. :D
posted by sukeban at 8:11 AM on August 14, 2015

The reviewer mentions something like, "if you read Japanese you probably picked up all of this intuitively", and I think that's the case.

While I'm not familiar with some of the wordplay the writer has researched, it's possible to get a good feeling of what's going on just by being familiar with Japanese culture and so on.

There's lots going on in that movie, for sure.
posted by Nevin at 8:58 AM on August 14, 2015

Although Roger didn't read or speak Japanese, he saw the rich detail. This is one of those movies worthy of a frame-by-frame analysis. For the people who read Japanese, some of what I have written above may have been intuitively realized. There are other things I still wonder about such as the prominence of the Japanese syllables of “me” and “yu” throughout. I’ve read one theory that put together into “yume” it means “dream.” I’d enjoy hearing other people’s thoughts, theories and feelings about “Spirited Away.”

posted by dubitable at 9:01 AM on August 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yes, I think there is a little bit of bean-plating going on. As mentioned up-thread, I think most of the wordplay the writer has discovered is exactly that - wordplay, puns and inside jokes. It's tempting to go down the rabbit hole when it comes to Chinese characters, but we already knew this was a coming-of-age story and that there are dangers when crossing into the spirit world.

I also think that Miyazaki is more committed to expressing himself visually, and through narrative, rather than through small puzzles or Easter eggs that provide an "a-ha!" moment after repeated viewings.

I think his movies are complex and kaleidoscopic, and deserve repeated views, but only because the stories are typically so complex.
posted by Nevin at 9:08 AM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's not overthinking a plate of beans to think that Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke (which, FFS, is all about forest and wilderness kami and the curses that fall on you when you harm them) are influenced by shinto beliefs. More so when the point of the bathhouse is that water cleanses impurities.

A thing that hasn't been touched a lot in the articles listed is that some characters like Yubaba or Kaonashi have a sort of inbuilt ambivalence. This references ara-mitama and nigi-mitama, the "violent side" and "gentle side" aspects of kami.

But then again, this is as little surprising as finding Christic motifs in Western works like the Matrix movies.
posted by sukeban at 9:17 AM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh, I think there is lots to think about in Spirited Away. But I think that thinking too closely about the meanings of the different Chinese characters encountered very briefly in various scenes is a little bit much. It's like that old internet meme about Totoro being an allegory for some particularly gruesome murders that happened in the same part of Kanto back in the early 1950's...

I was going to say that the most interesting thing for me about Miyazaki's films (most of them, anyway) is the moral ambiguity.

In terms of the bathhouse in Spirited Away, it should be noted that the young women that work there would have doubled as bath attendants and as prostitutes and sex workers, and they would have been sent there at around the age of ten or eleven (the same age as Chihiro) as indentured servants... starting out as cleaners and learning the trade.

It's not unusual at all for Japanese hot spring hotels to hire "working girls" to entertain guests. We take my mother-in-law to hot springs pretty regularly, and, depending on the hot spring hotel we go to, it is a little weird to be in an elevator with a bunch of raucous, skimpily dressed women from backwoods Japan or even the Philippines and China.

So the water does not always cleanse...
posted by Nevin at 10:20 AM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

That, too.

The lepers and prostitutes of Lady Eboshi's village (and her politics re: nature) are also an excellent example of moral ambiguity.
posted by sukeban at 10:28 AM on August 14, 2015

Yes! And in one of the village scenes, the characters on the red lanterns read "大人” (otona) or adult、which is a traditional indicator of an Edo period brothel. The slug women at the bathhouse are clearly sex workers.
posted by jfwlucy at 1:20 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

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