This video got me thinking about an aging controvery…
I saw Spirited Away in the theater and was deeply disturbed by it. I was encouraged to see it based on reviews that promised me something akin to Alice in Wonderland, but what I got was a much more obvious sexual allegory. I’d been studying Japanese in college, I’d read a lot of books about the country’s history and I knew what a red light on a bathhouse meant. A few minutes of searching the internet revealed the full original Premir article translated from the French interview with Hayao Miyazaki and his producer, Toshio Suzuki. That was back in 2001.
Apparently the idea that Spirited Away is an allegorical condemnation of parents in Japan who sell their children into prostitution (and my recollection is that Miyasaki mentioned it as a problem in many other Asian countries as well) has become an urban legend. My guess is that’s because the original source of this information is no longer available online in its entirety; Premir.fr has removed it from their archives, at least my old link is broken and I can’t find it in a search of their site or in their profile of the director. There are two quotes that continue to get passed around from the article but they’re rarely seen together. So this quote sounds like a denial:
Why? I think it’s because of “Kaonashi” (Faceless), the customer/monster who desires Chihiro. Though we don’t know what he wants Chihiro, Kaonashi offers money to her.
“Kaonashi is Miyazaki himself,” says Toshio Suzuki, producer of Sen to Chihiro, in the PREMIRE interview but Miyazaki fervently denies his partner’s interpretation.
“No!” he says. “Kaonashi is a metaphor, the libido that everybody secretly harbors.”
And this quote has been explained away as a mistranslation:
In an interview for the Japanese edition of Premiere magazine, he confesses that Spirited Away is about the sex industry. He said “Traditionally, Japanese morality about sex has been more open and free before Western culture pushed the importance of virtue upon us. Though I don’t mean I want go back to advocate the old Japanese freedom of sex in my new film, I just think that the sex industry is the best thing to represent the reality of today’s Japanese society. Now, the sex industry is everywhere in Japan. And the number of young girls who look like whores is increasing.”
But what I remember about the full English translation available in 2001 was that Miyasaki was very clear about his intentions and his disgust with the prostitution industry. This quote, sometimes passed around, came from an article commenting on the French interview, also no longer online:
‘… the character of Kaonashi (Faceless), the customer/monster who madly desires Chihiro. He offers her money though she declines. “Kaonashi is Miyazaki himself,” says Toshio Suzuki, the producer of “Sen to Chihiro”, in the Premiere interview. Miyazaki quickly denied in a panic, “No! Not me! Kaonashi is a metaphor for the libido that everybody has secretly has.”‘
I don’t remember Miyasaki denying anything in a panic. What I remember is a sheepish response.
I would really like a link to the original interview again. If anyone can find it for me I would love to clarify in my mind what I actually read.
What really confuses me is why in the years since the film and interview came out so many people get so defensive when this subtext is brought up. This isn’t taking a story meant for children and making it all about sex, it’s a discussion about author intent and underlying social commentary. Maybe the problem is the social concern itself is such a disturbing subject, but when I see horrified reactions to the idea that criticism of child prostitution might show up in a children’s fantasy story it looks like a western perspective on what’s acceptable in family film and not an eastern one. Here’s a recent indignant comment. I don’t see anything forced and I know I didn’t get the idea from a poorly-worded Tumblr post. I got it from watching the film in the theater and reading the subsequent interview. Which I would really like to read again.
If anyone can point me to the original interview I would greatly appreciate it!