ET 20: Spirited Away as Hero’s Journey: Comparison

Posted: May 4, 2012 in Uncategorized

“The hero must leave behind her, or overcome, the weaknesses and temptations that we get into; must be totally committed to her heroic role; and must suffer dangers and agonies…even if she suffers them in a basically meaningless contest.  Furthermore, the hero must have a difficult goal, which she must reach on her own,” quoted Peter Stillman in an Introduction to Myth.

A hero’s journey as we all know is not an easy one as such in the case Chihiro in the movie Spirited Away. However, this movie is as much of an initiation story as The Wizard of Oz and Lord of the Rings is in which the main characters of each movie undergo a transformation from adolescence into childhood. There are specific plot points and characters that contribute to making Spirited Away an initiation story which will be compared with Dorothy The Wizard of Oz as well as Frodo in the Lord of the Rings.

The first important plot point births in the beginning of Spirited Away. We see Chihiro who enters into a tunnel with her parents into another world but is suddenly separated from them and finds herself alone in a strange world of spirits. This separation is similar to that of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz who is swept away from her home as well as Frodo in Lord of the Rings when he is separated from his home, family and comfort in the Shire and forced to enter into the strange Middle-Earth lands. We see then that in all fairytales, kids are separated from their parents in the midst of discovering their identity through a unique adventure. According to mythology, one has to undergo physical changes such as being physically separated from your parents to begin the change in the inner self.

In every hero’s journey, the hero faces challenges in which they have to overcome to reach their goals such as quoted by  Peter Stillman. In Spirited Away, Chiriro is challenged firstly to find a job at the bath house to free her parents and return to the human world. In order to achieve this, Chihiro is given tasks by Zeniba in which she has to complete successfully despite her weaknesses. The biggest of her tasks is to help ready a bath for a stink spirit and faces much difficulty in doing so. By succeeding it however, she is rewarded by the spirit with a medicine ball in which she uses to heal Haku later on. Likewise throughout the movie of the Lord of the Rings, we see that Frodo’s biggest trial is fighting his will to use the ring for his own pleasures and claiming it as his own. He’s rewarded later on having successfully destroying the ring and is brought to an eternal island with the other ring bearers. In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy has to overcome the mighty Wizard and is rewarded later on with the help of Glinda to return back home.

Thirdly, an important plot points in Spirited Away are shown using characters such as Zeniba, Kamaji, Lin and Zeniba’s twin sister who are figures representing power and authority. Based on mythology, the archetype for women is that of a mother who gives life such as Zeniba’s twin sister who helps Chihiro discover the meaning of friendship and gives life to No Face.  As such in The Wizard of Oz, Glinda uses her power to help Dorothy in her quest of returning home. However, a witch is someone who takes this life back, taking it away from the source. We see this in Spirited Away when Zeniba the witch takes Chihiro’s name (her identity) and her parents away, giving her the authority to be over Chihiro. This is such in the case of The Wizard of Oz with the wicked witch tries to steal Dorothy’s slippers and hopes of returning back home. Helpful authority figures like Kamaji, Lin and Zeniba’s twin sister aid Chihiro in her journey such as Kamaji giving her instructions to find a job at the bath house or Lin in caring for Chihiro like a big sister and a friend. Similarly in the Lord of the Rings, Galadriel guides Frodo with words of wisdom and encouragement when he almost gives up at the stairs and gives him a gift of the star which illuminateslight for him in the darkness of the spiders cave.

The transformation of a child into adulthood is not without the aid of a mentor. In Spirited Away Haku mentors Chihiro by challenging her although she refuses initially. He aids her by bringing her to her parents in order for her to remember how they look like to be able to differentiate them from the other pigs. In Spirited Away, Haku also resembles a father-like figure and a lover who almost dies. This significant point relates with the mythological belief that going through adulthood involves learning about love and death. This is similar to Lord of the Rings in which Gandalf mentors Frodo to as far as he can and is also resembled as a father-like figure even at the start of the movie. In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy is aided by Glinda the Good Witch who gives her the ruby slippers and teaches Dorothy how to use the magic from the ruby slippers at the end. The presence of a mentor guides and teaches the hero of the world in which the hero is in and how they can overcome the obstacles present in that world.

Towards the end of the movie, we see that there is a change of identity in Chihiro as she picks up new skills that she didn’t have before and meets new people. This is an important plot point as through the change of one’s previous identity, the hero stops loving their old selves and changes their identity as they grow. A significant motif of the hair band is used to symbolize that she is no longer a girl but a woman. This growth is seen in both Frodo and Dorothy as individually they reached adulthood at the end of the movie. For Frodo, we see that he never looks at the Shire the same way again and knows that he cannot live in that life of carefree-ness anymore. Dorothy on the other hand, realizes that through the ruby slippers she is able to go home knowing that she’ll never ask to run away from home again.

These plot points are vital in Chihiro’s journey from adolescence to adulthood. Each hero as we’ve seen in other movies display similar stories in which they have to overcome certain obstacles and challenges such as meeting overpowering authority figures through the aid of mentors. This in the end allows the hero to reach their goal of freedom and realization of who they are as a person. Spirited Away is such a movie that weaves the story of a hero who undergoes a transformation in finding her identity. As such, I would recommend it to others to watch it to learn from the hero’s triumphs and mistakes.

  1. adprosebud says:

    Superb! This essay is definitely blogable, but, alas, it’s too late for that. Your analysis is clear, linked to specifics, and sophisticated.


  2. adprosebud says:

    Nice way to end 🙂

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