You shouldn’t need me to tell you that Hayao Miyazaki‘s Spirited Away is one of the very best movies of the 21st century, animated or otherwise; as a children’s fantasy for all ages, it recalls classics of kid-lit like Alice in Wonderland and The Phantom Tollbooth.
What you may not have known if you’re not Japanese, however, is some of the subtext to the magical world.
Miyazaki’s not quite a stranger to inserting politics into his worlds–Howl’s Moving Castle is a solidly anti-war statement, while The Wind Rises, depending who you ask, is either highly critical of Japan’s military, or not critical enough.
But where are the politics in the tale of a child who comes to a magic bath house after her parents are transformed into pigs? You might never have asked, but via Twitter, one fan did, as reported by Bored Panda. And while you might not expect requests for explanations of cinematic subtext to be responded to–we’d be sending daily correspondence to David Lynch if there were even the remotest hope of an answer–the folks at Studio Ghibli actually wrote a letter in response.
Basically, the parents turning into pigs is a representation of the greediness Miyazaki saw during the Japanese recession of the ’80s. And main character Chihiro rises above that “by developing a heightened understanding and appreciation of life.”
The letter also explained that the transformation was irreversible in order to reflect the nature of greed in the real world. The letter continued by saying that Chihiro knew that none of the pigs in the pen were her parents because her mindset had changed following her experiences in the underworld.
Finally, the letter explained that the story isn’t about a girl with a “unique heart” – it’s actually about a girl who learned to face her fears by developing a heightened understanding and appreciation of life.
You can still enjoy the movie without knowing that, of course, but pardon us while we start composing a lengthy inquiry about what the Radish Spirit and the soot creatures represent, with regards to Japanese economic theory. Hey, now that we know answers are possible, why not?
Source / Featured image: Studio Ghibli/Disney