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Spirited Away

December 5, 2010 1 comment

 

Spirited Away is a fantasy-adventure film about a ten year old girl named Chihiro, who is on her way to a new home, leaving all her familiar friends and school behind. But on her way there with her parents, they missed a turn and they soon found themselves in an abandoned amusement park, which proved to be more than what it seems. It is actually a bathhouse for spirits, and Chihiro’s family is trapped. If Chihiro finds a way to conquer her fears, maneuver her way around to get a job at the bathhouse, and eventually rescue her parents who were transformed into pigs, then all will be well.  Spited Away is often proclaimed as Hayao Miyazaki’s best film to-date, and that is an exceptional thing to stay considering that most of his work is simply phenomenal. Its plot is somewhat in the same genre as Alice In Wonderland (literary nonsense genre) and it utilizes typical elements of the Japanese culture.  Just like most of his films, the traditional good and evil dichotomies are not present. It was more about maturity, environmentalism, the power of love and friendship, and some focus on feminism. But more than that, it also show undertones of motivation where the main character’s transformation is a clear example of the transitions into tthe motivations involved in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  

The influential Abraham Maslow coined the term “hierarchy of needs” describing how the different motivations that drives us can be ranked according to priority, with those at the bottom as needs that has to be attained prior to being motivated to achive the ones at the top. In Maslow’s hierarchy, only once the physiological needs (e.g. hunger, thirst) are satisfied, the next need that will motivate an individual is the need to ensure safety and survival. In the beginning of this movie when Chihiro realized that she was trapped in the spirit world and her parents whom she normally rely on were turned into pigs, she was scared. She thought she was in a dream, but when she realized she wasn’t, she cried and hid away from the spirits. But her fears were subdued when Haku, one of the bath house inhabitants who happen to be a river spirit, decided to help her. With Haku’s instructions she would be able to get out of the bathhouse and save her parents.  

Once an individual’s safety is assured, Maslow discusses that what will motivate our actions next are our need to be loved and belong. The first few shots of the film were inside a moving car, as Chihiro’s family is on their way to their new home. Chihiro laments that just as she was beginning to enjoy her old school and gain more friends, she now has to forget about them and start again. She instantly hated the idea of moving, as well as the idea of all the new things she is about to experience. Emotional battles similar to Chihiro’s according to Maslow, happen to all of us due to our need to be a part of a group.  We are then motivated to either reestablish old connections while in our new environment, or seek and build new relationships that could work and flourish while staying in the new environment. In Chihiro’s case, she soon befriended different characters in the bathhouse, all of whom are instrumental in completing various tasks. Haku instructed her that in order to devise a plan to help her parents, she needs to get a job at the bathhouse first so that she won’t turn into a pig like them. The boiler man, Kamaji, helped her secure a job with Yubaba, the ruthless and mean head honcho in the bathhouse. Lin, a worker in the bath house became her caretaker and mentor, showing her the ropes around the job and making sure she is always safe and fed. Later in the film she also befriended Zeniba, Yubaba’s kind twin sister, who showered her with love, affection, and praise.

Maslow’ s hierarchy places self-esteem needs, that stems from competence and success, come in next after achieving a sense of belonging. Chihiro’s character was depicted as a bit whiny in the beginning of the story, refusing to accept the many changes that are about to happen in her life. She complaints to her mom about trivial matters, and is shown to use whining as means of communicating what she wants. Lin and Kamaj’s first impression of her was that she was a brat who has never done a hard day’s work and they feel she won’t last a day in the bathhouse. But her persistence soon won them over. During her first few days at the bathhouse, she struggled with being in a strange place and not knowing the rigors of the job that nobody wanted to take her into their work teams. But eventually she was able to prove to others how she can toughen up and complete her everyday tasks with much efficiently. There was a particular scene in the film where in everyone in the bathhouse refused to entertain a particularly filthy stink god. Chihiro ended up dealing with it only to realize in the end that the stinky god was actually a very powerful and wealthy river god that became very dirty due to human pollution. Chihiro did a wonderful job helping release all the pollution the river has accumulated that the river god showered the bathhouse with golden pellets as a reward.

At the tip of Maslow’s pyramid is the individual’s motive to achieve his self-transcendence needs, which is being able to find meaning and identities that are beyond the sense of self. Chihiro’ s main motive into working hard in the bathhouse was for self-preservation and to find a way to help save her parents. But she soon realizes that there are other characters around her that needed some form of assistance too, whose needs are not necessarily bigger than hers, yet she knew she had to set aside her own motives to be able to assist them. Haku was being utilized by Yubaba as a henchman and she often instructs him to complete dangerous tasks. In the movie after completing one of Yubaba’s orders Haku bled to death and was almost killed if not for the immediate attention, care, and support that Chihiro provided to nurse him back to health. There was also a spirit in the story referred to as “no-face”, who became a terrifying monster after being surrounded by all the greediness and selfishness in the bathhouse. Chihiro helped no-face return to his usual calm and peaceful self, even if her assistance meant difficulty on her end. The beauty of all the kind deeds that Chihiro extended to the characters around her was that while she was doing them, events somehow conspired into solving her own problems as well. The story eventually ends to her safe return to the real world, all mature and toughened-up that a new school and a new place that used to intimidate her seems to be a trivial challenge especially after the things she has gone through.  

References:

Myers, David G. ” Psychology’s Current Perspectives”. Psychology. 9 th ed. 2010 Worth Publishers. p 446-447

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