Why was “Spirited Away” the number one movie at the Japanese box office?

Well, “Demon Slayer” is amazing.
Not only is it booming all over Japan, but the movie has overtaken “Spirited Away” as the top grossing movie of all time in Japan.

However, it occurred to me that many people may be surprised to hear that “Spirited Away” is the top grossing movie in Japan.
Of course, people who know a lot about movies and people over 30 years old who saw “Spirited Away” when it was released might remember it, but for people who are not that familiar with movies or younger people, they might be surprised and say, “Oh, really? You might be surprised.
But for those who are not that familiar with movies or are younger, they may be surprised to know that it is not “Totoro” or “Nausicaa” but “Spirited Away.

Generally speaking, there are two main reasons why “Spirited Away” is the highest-grossing movie of all time in Japan.
The first reason is that the popularity of Miyazaki’s anime peaked with “Spirited Away.
It is true that there are many people who prefer the earlier Miyasaki animations such as Totoro and Nausicaa. But at the time of the release of the early works, only people who knew a lot about animation knew about the merits of Miyazaki’s anime, and it took a certain amount of time for the whole country to become aware of it as we know it today. It took a certain amount of time for the whole country to become aware of his work, as is the case now. It was with Spirited Away that the whole country became aware of Hayao Miyazaki’s work, and this became visible in the form of box-office revenues.
I think this is certainly true. In the case of Miyazaki’s anime, the brand of the creators, “Ghibli” and “Hayao Miyazaki,” was more important than the movie itself, and the influence of the brand peaked in 2001 when “Spirited Away” was released. The other reason is that this was the year of the release of “Spirited Away.
Another reason is that around the year 2000, the number of cinema complexes increased dramatically throughout Japan. However, although it was good that many cinemas were built, the number of movies that could be shown was limited. So, more and more theaters chose “Spirited Away,” which was expected to attract a certain number of customers, and it led to a long run and box office revenue. This phenomenon may be similar to the current phenomenon of people playing “Demon Slayer” because the number of movies playing it has decreased because “Demon Slayer” is a corona disaster.

The above two are the general reasons why “Spirited Away” is the number one movie in Japan’s box office history, but I just have a thought. But I just wonder if it is possible for a single movie to gross 30.8 billion just by the luck of coinciding with the peak of the Miyasaki brand and the rapid increase in the number of movie theaters. I wondered if there was a reason why the Japanese people were so attracted to the content of “Spirited Away” as well as luck.

There is one word that can help us understand the movie “Spirited Away”. The story goes that the director, Miyazaki, made the film for a nine-year-old girl who came to visit him at the daycare center attached to Studio Ghibli.
If you look at it literally, it could mean “I made a movie that a nine-year-old girl could enjoy,” but there is no way a master filmmaker would just say that. There is something implied in it. So, what is the meaning of the implied meaning? This is the reason why this movie was accepted by so many people, and I would like to explore it.
First of all, let’s look at the story. The story begins with Chihiro, a nine-year-old human girl, who wanders into a public bathhouse where the gods come to rest due to a hidden god. The world of the bathhouse is harsh and Chihiro is threatened by Yubaba, the owner of the bathhouse, to be turned into a pig or coal if she does not work as hard as an adult. Here we see that the theme of the film is the independence of children. Chihiro, an average Japanese child who grew up without any problems, is suddenly thrown into an environment where she has to work by herself to survive. Chihiro feels like crying. However, people who are willing to help her gradually appear.

The first person she meets is a mysterious boy named Haku. Haku, a mysterious boy who she first met, and Kamaji, who is always looking out for Chihiro. And then there is Rin, a senior colleague who teaches Chihiro how to work. Thanks to their help, Chihiro is discriminated against as a human being, but somehow she manages to complete her tough work and gradually becomes an independent person. In the meantime, Chihiro comes across a scene where Haku, her benefactor, is about to be disposed of after being used by Yubaba. In a typical story, the characters would try to save Haku, and at the same time, they would vilify Yubaba for doing such an inhumane thing, and try to defeat her and restore peace to the oil house. In this story, however, Yubaba is not recognized as evil. Rather, Chihiro tries to make things better by apologizing to Senba, the victim, for making Haku become Yubaba.

The fact that Yubaba is not recognized as evil is the most important point of this movie. If you think about what most audiences would like to see, it would be more efficient to seek easy catharsis by defeating Yubaba. But this film doesn’t do that. What this film is trying to say is that it does not simply look at things in terms of justice and evil, but rather it asks how people should live in a complex real world filled with contradictions. Comparing it to other Miyasaki animated films, you can see this very clearly. The general structure of “Laputa: Castle in the Sky” is good and evil, with the goal of defeating the absolute evil of Musca. However, in a previous interview, Miyazaki expressed his resistance to the idea of depicting absolute evil. He knows that things cannot simply be divided into right and wrong. That’s why, as his brand power grew and he was able to make films in the way he wanted, he insisted on depicting how the main character lives in a world that resembles the real world.

In other words, the film first asks whether Yubaba is really evil or not. It is true that what Yubaba is doing is a terrible domination, just like a black company. However, the fact is that it is because of Yubaba that the oil shop is able to operate and the gods are able to rest. If this is the case, Yubaba is not simply evil, she is a necessary evil and her existence is meaningful to society. When you think about it, people who watch this movie will subconsciously feel that this is a story that also exists in the real world. Managers and bosses who are similar to Yubaba are pretty much everywhere. So, how does Chihiro confront Yubaba, who is the embodiment of the contradictions in the world? This is the most important theme of this movie.

Chihiro doesn’t hate Yubaba and try to defeat her, but she believes in her conscience and struggles to make the situation better by acting with her conscience. Chihiro’s direct action changes the feelings of “Bo,” a huge baby who is Yubaba’s son. The boy, who had grown up to be selfish and helpless, started to question Yubaba’s way of doing things by working with Chihiro, and he grew up to have a firm opinion. It is easy to get caught up in the episode between Chihiro and Haku or the presence of Kaonashi, but in fact, the growth of the boy, which is only depicted casually, is a very important point in this story. Yubaba is the only one who has the power to change the oil shop. If Chihiro breaks the contract and defeats Yubaba directly, it would mean that she is doing it by force, which is no different from what Yubaba is doing. However, there is only one possibility for the oil shop to change without Yubaba. That is, the boy, who has influence over Yubaba and is likely to take over the oil shop, will lead the oil shop in the right direction.

Viktor E. Frankl, who once wrote “Night and Fog,” asked the question, “What do we live for? Viktor E. Frankl, the author of “Night and Fog,” once said that we live to make others think about what they live for.

It is true that we look at other people’s way of life, good or bad, and think about our own way of life. What Chihiro can do is to act according to her own conscience, and the only way to do that is to make people who understand that, such as Boy, Rin and Kamaji, understand. And that applies to the real world as well. When we are forced into an environment in society or education where we cannot help ourselves, the only correct answer is to follow our conscience. If we follow our conscience and act accordingly, someone may change, or someone may help us. But if you just accept the situation without paying attention to your conscience, nothing will change, and if you disobey your conscience and participate in evil, you will only fall as a person.

But that doesn’t mean that following your conscience will always work out. In the real world, there are many stories of powerful people using force to crush the weak who dare to speak their mind. However, even in such cases, Director Miyazaki points to one direction. This is the scene at the end where Yubaba presses Chihiro to break the contract. Yubaba tells Chihiro that she can break the contract if she can give the correct answer among the choices she has given. However, the answer Chihiro chooses is not to choose the answer from the choices that Yubaba prepared. In other words, this is a metaphor for her intention to decide her own path by herself. Living within the choices that Yubaba has prepared for you means that you can only live in the palm of her hand.

As Chihiro leaves, Haku tells her never to look back. It is easy to understand if you imagine that you are trying to get out of a black company. There may be people who will be troubled by your leaving. But if you stay, you will be at the mercy of arrogant people who wield power, and you may deprive those arrogant people of the chance to learn from their mistakes. The important thing is to face yourself on the path that you believe in. Once you know what your conscience is, you have no choice but to move forward, even if it means leaving the place.

This is my interpretation of the story “Spirited Away. Now, let’s go back to the beginning. Director Miyazaki told me that he made this film for a nine-year-old girl who came to visit him at his nursery school. But when I look back at the story, I realize that it is not just a movie for a 9-year-old girl to enjoy.
So let me ask again. What is the point of this movie? Why did this movie sell so well that it became the number one box office hit in Japan?
The clue is the state of the world around the time this movie was released. The movie was made in 2001, which means that it was made in the previous three to four years. What exactly happened during this time? It was during this time that a lot of things were decided that we didn’t realize at the time, but that the world has gradually come to realize now. That’s right. It was at this time that the Dispatched Worker Law was deregulated more and more. The world of the 100 million middle class began to change into a society of inequality.
There is no way that Director Miyazaki, who was a fierce worker for the labor union at Toei Video, did not notice this trend. He probably had a pretty good idea of what kind of times we would be living in. But a single filmmaker cannot change the world. All he could do was to support the youth of the future.

A film for a nine-year-old girl to enjoy.

Women are more likely to be forced into irregular work by the dispatch law. How should women live in the future in a climate where misogyny is even stronger?
It’s true that Miyazaki has made a film that a 9-year-old girl would enjoy.
But at the same time, I believe that Miyazaki has made a film that will guide the 9-year-old girl when she becomes an adult, when she is lost.
And that’s what Miyazaki did.

But at the same time, I believe that Miyazaki has made a film that will guide a 9-year-old girl when she becomes an adult and when she is lost.
And I think everyone unconsciously sensed Miyazaki’s message.
That’s why everyone saw the film.
Truly outstanding works do not make you understand them in your head, but make you feel them in your heart.

It is true that “Demon Slayer” has surpassed the record of “Spirited Away.
I think that’s good. Records will be broken someday, and the fact that there are no new works like that is bad in itself.
But that doesn’t mean that “Spirited Away” will fade away just because the record has been broken.
This movie will definitely continue to give the viewers something to look forward to in ten or twenty years to come.

As a Japanese, I am really proud to have seen such a film live.

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