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Spirited Away


I watched the movie Spirited Away last night. Apart from being a beautiful visual spectacle, its rich tapestry of metaphors leaves a lasting aftertaste. Here are my immediate thoughts.

Spirit world #

The spirit world is parallel to the human world. Although inhabited by different creatures and seems to observe its own laws of physics, its inhabitants exhibit the same traits as humans in the human world.

Bath house #

The bath house is a tiny corner of the spirit world. The spirit world goes much further beyond the bath house. But to the workers, the bath house is their entire world. They cannot leave because they have sold their names to Yubaba, most of them probably will not leave anyway because the their lives have been moulded so deeply into the it: They work there, eat there, sleep there and probably eventually die there. When the frog is spitted out by No-Face outside the bath house, it swims back to the bath house without hesitation.

Do we know anything of the larger world outside of our own circle of family, colleagues and fellow countrymen? Are we also clinging too hard to our own bath house without even examining what else is out there, let alone trying to understand them?

Chihiro #

Chihiro is the symbol of innocence, kindness and generosity.

There is a Chihiro in each of us. Whether we remember that or not is a different question. Like workers at the bath house signing away their names to Yubaba, we constantly sign away a piece of us for something else: money, fame, a good living. Look into the mirror, do we still recognize our own reflection?

Chihiro would have forgotten her name and forever be trapped in the spirit world if were not for Haku, her spiritual guardian. Look at your friends, is there any Haku among them?

Yubaba #

There is always a Yubaba in life. It is the authority that sets the rules according to its agenda. There is no definitive answer on whether the agenda is noble or evil. Sometimes her agenda aligns with ours, sometimes not. It is all a matter of perspective.

Example 1: My parents were the Yubabas when I was a kid. Their agenda was to raise me to be both healthy and responsible. In order to do that, they set the rules:

  • Bed time at 9PM
  • No telling lies
  • No skipping schools

Example 2: My boss is the Yubaba when I am at work. His agenda is get me to do the work that realizes a piece of his vision for the company. In order to do that, he sets the rules:

  • If I do less than expected, I get fired
  • If I do more than expected, I get promoted

There is always a Yubaba. Sometimes we get to choose her, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes, the Yubaba is not even a physical being, it could just be a ghost of our own eagle.

No-Face #

We are all no-face at some point or in some areas in life.

We become what we consume, physically and spiritually.

  • Eat junk and stop exercising -> our body become junk
  • Doomscroll social media -> our mind becomes superficial

Be selective and critical on what we consume. Whatever we consume becomes a piece of us. Derek Sivers said it: proudly exclude most things.

Haku #

Haku is in many ways like Chihiro. However, he didn’t have a guardian spirit like him to Chihiro.

In search for magical prowess, he forgot his name and who he was. However, unlike many other creatures at the bath house, he is still trying to search for his name and regain his identity.

Boh #

He is the over protected child of Yubaba. He didn’t know he could play outside, standup on his own. Once he does, he does not want to go back to his doll house, even though Yubaba has the best intention to keep her baby safe and happy when she put him in the doll house.

Even though Yubaba has the best intention for Boh, and have planned a life that she think it is perfect for him: safe from germs, all the toys he wants, even his own sun and moon, it is not the life Boh wants to live. It turns out Boh wants to live a “dangerous” and “unpredictable” life anyway.

Are we living in a doll house like Boh’s? Are we forcing someone in our life to live in one?

Yubaba’s bird #

Yubaba’s bird first appears as a mini-Yubaba, a mean creature that serves as a henchman for Yubaba. However, after Zeniba transforms it into a tiny helpless bird, it takes on a different personality. It becomes humble and sweet. It always tries to give the hamster a ride even it is difficult for it to manage with its tiny wings.

A transformational event that happens to us, whether by choice or otherwise can give us a new perspective on our role in society.

Three heads #

They transform to anything for their own gain. They takes orders, but never take responsibility.

Bath house workers #

Greedy, pigeon holed, the bath house has become their entire world. They are singularly focused on making person gains. They did not even care who No-Face was as long as he was showering them with gold. Am I working at a bath house?

May 25, 2023, Seattle