Chihiro & Her Parents: A Thematic Binary


Even before they arrive, Chihiro’s eyes nervously scan her surroundings, noticing the nature and forboding vibe; the parents are firmly, calmly fixed on the road. Their modern sensibilities enable a foolish trust in their surroundings.

In Spirited Away, and in his other films, one of Miyazaki’s principle themes is childlike wonder in the face of modern greed, skepticism, and ennui. One of his principle was of presenting “wonder” is through an innocent, young female character. In the case of Spirited Away, the character Chihiro performs this function. The binary of childlike wonder and modern thought is principally explicated in one of the opening scenes of the film, when Chihiro and her family arrive at a mysterious temple, that is supposedly part of the route to their new house. Though the perils of modern thought are already made clear in a later part of the scene, when the parents are turned into pigs, Miyazaki’s values are already made clear in the way that each character, Chihiro and her two parents, first navigate their encounter with the mysterious temple. Their initial reactions to this strange sight immediately align them with their eventual fates. Additionally, they reflect the perspectives of each character. Chihiro’s innocence is still intact. She has an intense awareness of nature and life around her. However, the parents’ sense of wonder has grown callous over the years, and they have enabled the modern thought of their times to become their primary way of seeing. In this small part of the opening sequence, Miyazaki subtly depicts these differences in perspective.

The film aligns with Chihiro’s innocent, cautious point of view, making the action on screen just as forboding and frightening as it seems to Chihiro. Chihiro’s parents seem unphased by the building’s scary presence. Chihiro, sensing the danger, cannot help to remark on the strange power the building exudes, remarking “It’s sucking in the air…”. However, her parents do nothing but lower the power they sense from the building, commenting “It’s made out of wood, but it looks like a new building…” Any wonder they sense from the building is immediately lowered to something they can immediately understand, as in its construction. Furthermore, the parents immediately align the building with something they can understand and are familiar with : technology. Chihiro’s comment is more founded in nature. In stating that “it’s sucking in the air” she gives the temple a much more lively presence. The temple is not just an object they can walk around; it is, in a sense, alive too. The parents immediately make the temple into a powerless object by only commenting on its construction.


Chihiro notices the creepy, abnormal elements around her.

The action on the screen already seems to hint at the fall of her parents, by showing the viewer what Chihiro is sensing in the screen. Miyazaki could have chosen to show an objective, plain building. However, he wanted to show that the “wonder” that Chihiro senses is real, and more tangible than anything that, at this point, Chihiro’s parents could ever sense. Thus, the screen does show the wind flowing into the temple. And the darkness of the doorway is the blackest black on the screen, making it look just as scary as it seems to Chihiro.


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