Spirited Away and its depiction of Japanese traditional culture

Authored by: Megumi Yama

The Routledge International Handbook of Jungian Film Studies

Print publication date:  April  2018
Online publication date:  April  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138666962
eBook ISBN: 9781315619163
Adobe ISBN:


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It is rare that a film talks directly to an idea of the psyche developed by Jung. In Spirited Away, written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki and produced by Studio Ghibli (2001), audiences are exposed to a realm of the imagination populated by spirit elements and loosely guided by a mixture of lesser male and more dominant female energies that align to notions of earthiness and spirituality. The narrative is set in a threshold realm that takes the form of a Bathhouse; a contained, yet meandrous alchemical and transformative space that equates to the Jungian unconscious where archetypal energies work to drive a sense of individuation, or psychological development. Many of the mercurial beings inhabiting the Bathhouse represent concepts of alignment, compensation, equilibrium and the changing nature of these energies as they work together to harness a sense of wholeness. For the lead character, ‘Chihiro’, a young girl on the threshold of adolescence who accidentally stumbles upon this other world, the Bathhouse presents as dream-like place – an unconscious fantasy – that challenges her fear of change. Not only is she transformed on a personal level, but those in her orbit also find themselves evolving. While Spirited Away has become a global success, touching on concepts of the unconscious from a Western perspective, it also speaks to a particularly Japanese sensibility that I wish to explore in this chapter.

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