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Amongst the many anime that are popular
in Japan, My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away by writer-director Hayao
Miyazaki took the prize for probably the best anime films ever released in the
United States. My Neighbor Totoro created in 1988 appeared in the cinemas
around the United States in the 1990s. The English-language adaptation of
Spirited Away by John Lasseter who co-directed Toy Story 2 manage to make the film available to Western moviegoers
in 2002, but also preserve Miyazaki’s original to its entirety when it came out
in Japan in 2001. Much of Miyazaki’s films showcases unique elements of
characterization and symbolism about unambiguous themes. The assorted characters
and settings in both films hold similar symbolic meanings, representing
familiar themes in comparison. Not only are the graphics lively and rich in
color in both movies, there is depth and distinctiveness of the storylines
Miyazaki creates that makes his films ingenious works of art. My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away explores several themes
that are very relevant in present day, reoccurring themes both the young and
the old can convey to by symbolic representations of the characters and settings.

Set in the decade after the second world
war, My Neighbor Totoro follows a
family, a father and two daughters Satsuki and Mei to the countryside of Japan
to be near their mother who was ill. The scenery surrounding the dusty, old
house they moved into shows the rich colors of nature in every frame. The two
sisters enter a world of the unknown as they independently and courageously
explore mother nature around them. Mei come across Totoro the living force of
nature deep in the forest, and they lead an adventure together as he comes to
the aid of the girls. The setting in Spirited
Away intensely reflects nostalgia which the entire movie will reveal when 10-year-old
Chihiro and her parents becomes lost in a majestically deserted village. The
small, deserted traditional village reflects how modern Japan is becoming to
take over the traditional way of life in Japan as people begin to leave the
countryside into the city for what they believe to be a better life.

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Some of the characters between My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away share some similarities as
both films star young girls who comes in contact with the spirit world making a
shift in their relationship with mother nature. Chihiro reluctantly follows her
greedy parents into an unknown domain with spirits and magic. Chihiro felt
trapped and afraid of the new environment whereas Mei finds peace and sanctuary
as she roams around the garden and the forest. Miyazaki draws his main
characters as young, courageous females which illustrate that he believes in
women empowerment instilling knowledge and positivity into our minds. Haku is
Yubaba’s right hand man in Spirited Away
and is the tangible spirit of Kohaku River; he is also an embodiment of a river
that was destroyed due to the development of houses and buildings for modern
society. Haku indicated he no longer had a home to return to due to the river
being covered over with buildings and modern constructions. Totoro is another
character comparable to Haku known to be the spirit of the forest, and the
shape of his body appears to stem from several influences of different animals.

Both Haku and Totoro act as guardian spirits as they help these young girls in
times of trouble and guiding them whilst enriching their lives with experiences
and growth.

In Spirited
Away, the bathhouse ran by Yubaba the witch indicates similarity to the
traditional bathhouses before Japan’s modernization. It is reflective of how
Japan was in the past, how the spirits were able to rest and purify themselves
from the outside world. Miyazaki’s portrayal of the bathhouse may be representative
of how Japan once use to be where the pace of life was slower and the
environment primeval unlike modern day Japan where life is more fast paced and
stressful. Miyazaki has mentioned that the bathhouse was also signifies a more
important issue of child prostitution, portraying more of a disturbing side.

Miyazaki has spoke about how Japanese society has converted into further like
the sex industry and this may have some correlation to Chihiro working at the
bathhouse being a young 10-year-old girl.

The dirty River Spirit who visited the
bathhouse with all the gunk stuck to him, appears to be a representation of a
great river in the real life Japan that was in ruins. In the pursuit of
technology and modernization, mankind is often left with a serious disintegration
of nature. In the form of a dirty, murky and slimy creature, the River God symbolizes
the quintessence of a heavily polluted river due to modernization. Environmental
pollution has become so extensive in Japan that Miyazaki felt it necessary to
put forth the message how polluting mother nature threatens the very survival
of planet Earth. The dirty River God being a symbolic representation of
environmental pollution portrays the life that modernization has done when
people aren’t careful about how they treat the environment. Both movies present
how impressionable children are upon crossing paths with external influences
which in turn we see the development and growth of their personality traits and
behavior. Miyazaki illustrates how Chihiro slowly compelling herself to adjust
to her environment and to be resilient of the tasks ahead, tackling obstacles she’s
never encountered before. Her determination to fix the problem quickly helped
her recognize the dirty spirit was actually a polluted river spirit who needed
to be freed from the pollution symbolizing how modernization has left the river
in shambles.

These films repeat the idea that new and
the modern consume the old and the traditional way of life where issues lie
regarding the pollution of both the environment surrounding us and the
character of human beings. Represented in the shape of Chihiro’s parents, we
can see how greed has the power to affect someone’s behavior that once in
traditional culture played a huge role togetherness. Chihiro’s parents turning into
pigs after eating the spirit world’s food is Miyazako’s way of symbolizing how
people often don’t think about other people and the low supply of food during
the times of recession due to their own gluttony. Not only were Chihiro’s
parents displaying greediness, but also the spirits occupying the bathhouse,
whose selfishness for gold creates immorality in No-Face’s harmless nature. No-face
original self is portrayed as an unsociable, trivial and shy spirit, untouched
by worldly powers, but then he takes on the traits and behavior of whoever he devours.

He quickly learned to adopt the corrupted thoughts and ways of the workers in
the bathhouse, producing a complete change in his otherwise gentle personality.

This is very much reflective of our reality, how a corrupted environment can
influence an innocent, pure person to assume the ways of destructive behavior.

Children learn through the examples of others and Miyazaki is expressing his
love for the environment in his films.

Films like My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited
Away displays honest development within the characters. After having
realize that Chihiro is stuck in a environment we see her standing on the
balcony outside her bedroom staring out into the sea recognizing that she only
have herself now that her parents have turned into pigs, it’s her time to take
care of them now that she can no longer depend on her parents. Another scene shows
Chihiro and her friends, No-Face, Boh and the Yu-Bird sitting on a train
quietly and staring blanking as they past through the polluted river, it shows
a sense of calmness after having dealt with the situation in the bathhouse. The
scene with Satsuki, Mei, Totoro riding Catbus after dropping off the corn for
their mother, so that she can heal and get better. Miyazako’s delivery of subtle
spiritual and significant messages made Spirited Away one of the most
influential films. My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away showed how awe-inspiring,
profound, and thought provoking animation can be.

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