Spirited Away and the old witch Yubaba

There are some movies which you discover new things about it every once in a while, and there are also some movies which you would still think about even a few days after you finish it, and Spirited Away falls into both categories. The first time I watch Spirited Away, I was 6 and had to make my mum shut the screen because I was too scared by the floating ghosts and half transparent spirits. But just like those magical sirens in the spiritual world, the movie has lure me back to putting the DVD onto the player and watch it over and over again. Now I am 18, and I still watch Spirited Away from time to time. When I was little, I simply enjoyed the movie itself, but as I grow up, the movie speaks to me in different ways - Spirited Away is not set in the real world, yet it still reflects what happens in the real world.

In Spirited Away, we follow Chihiro, a ten year ago girl who lose her way while traveling with her parents to their new home. They stop by an abandoned train station and decide to explore the area. Whilst exploring, Chihiro meets a young boy Haku, who seems to know who she is and warns her to leave with her parents immediately. However, Chihiro discovers too late that her parents have turned into pigs, as they have eaten the food prepared for the spirits. Thus her journey begins she finds herself a job in the bathhouse, where she bathes spirits and gods; she meets No-Face, a nice creature but seems to lose himself in the dazzling spiritual world; she grows from the quiet, timid girl to the independent girl who not only saves her parents at last, but also transforms herself and her friends.

Hayao Miyakazis entirely hand drawn, zero computer effect used animation bridges audiences to a world of magic, spirits and witchcraft. Spirited Away is a story of wonder and adventure. But most importantly, it is also a story about growing up. First day in spiritual world, we see Chihiro timidly asks Grandpa Kama to grant her a job so she could stay in the spiritual world until she saves her parents. The too careful footsteps, nervous glances and soft voices all say a lot about Chihiros shy and reserved personality. But at the end of the journey, we see her undauntedly run on thin pipes to break into the bathhouse witchs room to save her friend, Haku. The high pitched boiling noises, moth-covered stone statues and even the fearsome old witch Yubaba, no longer intimidates Chihiro.

I finally come to understand that there is no definite villain in Spirited Away. Even the old witch Yubaba, who tries to keep Chihiro from saving Haku and her parents, and No-Face, the creature who lost control of himself and swallows people up, have a kind heart underneath, regardless how intimidating they look at the first place. I think thats also one of the message Miyazaki tries to send us, that we are all Chihiro.

All of us were once shy and timid, and we all face challenges, like how Chihiro has to deal with witches and No-Face, only to discover that they are more similar than different from us. At this point, I couldnít help but think that the coming of age of Chihiro relates to me a bit too much. As Iím typing this, I take a sneaky peak at the string of unreplied messages on my phone all my family and friends from home all want to know how I am doing in college. But truth be told, there is no way I can articulate this wonderful experience college life itself has revealed to be. A month ago, I took the 16 hour flight from Hong Kong to New York, thus starting my college life in the States as an international student. Being two continents apart from my past 18 years my family, friends and the amazing city of Hong Kong, it is hard not to feel lonely, and sometimes intimidated by the new environment I arrived at. Most importantly, the idea of growing up has never felt so real.

Every single day it is the small nuances in life that reminds me Iím growing up. It is waking up in the foreign bed knowing you no longer have your parents by your side. It is making the small decisions every day (Should I skip or have breakfast? Should I do my laundry even it is 1 a.m. in the morning?) that reminds me I am growing. Chihiros change in the movie let me understand that growing up is not just about the number of years youve lived: Growing up is slowly unfolding yourself to the infinite variety of the world, unlearning misjudgments and learning new knowledge, absorbing the ideas and beliefs of others, and voicing out yours at the same time.

It's no coincident, I think, that my first college essay for my writing class would be a movie review on no other movie, but Spirited Away. I am reminded how much Iíve changed since I first time I have watch the animation. One of the best things about Miyazaki animations is that the mundane and the magical often live side by side. Underneath all the other-worldly wonders, mysterious creatures and magic, the animation is still an incredibly down to earth story about love and growing up that I could strongly relate to.