Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Question Regarding Miyazaki

Thanks to KK over at BABS, I now have Miyazaki on the brain.  In the US I think most everybody knows "Spirited Away", and some who really loved that film (like KK and my sis) went out and watched all the Studio Ghibli movies they could get a hold of.  But before starting down the slippery slope of Miyazaki geekiness, and telling you every little thing I love about Tonari no Totoro, I'd like to put out a question first.

As it happens, I have never watched any of these films in English.  I watch them with my kids, so of course we watch them in Japanese.  What I'm wondering about, for those who have only watched the English version, or who watched the subtitled version without knowing Japanese, is this:  Did you get how Chihiro's name was changed from Chihiro to Sen?  Watch the trailer below, because it briefly shows that scene. Then, if you don't mind, please let me know in the comments how you understood it.  Thanks!  First time commenters welcome!  I'm just curious whether Non-Japanese-speaking audiences understood that scene the way Japanese-speaking audiences did.  Thanks to all who indulge my curiosity and take a moment to reply!

After I get some comments, I'll update this post and tell you how that scene is understood in Japanese:))

First--thanks to all who responded:))  And congratulations to Falen--you pretty much got how Chihiro came to be called Sen.  Yes, it's to do with the Kanji of her name--and Ezmirelda, even though you "only" know 20 Kanji, you probably know this one:  千  (hope everybody's PCs can read that).  Yubaba takes only 3 of the 4 Kanji that make up Chihiro's name--the two of her last name and the second of her first name.  She leaves on the page the first Kanji of her first name, the "chi" part.  Her names translates (loosely) as "a thousand murmurs".  The Kanji I put up there is read "chi" in the Japanese reading and in names.  On it's own, it's read as "Sen", which is the Chinese reading, and it's the number 1000.  Yubaba has simply switched from the Japanese to the Chinese reading of the character, so the new name "Sen" isn't arbitrary.  It's a great choice of name for her character, though, since that Kanji is a number--it's as though she's been given a number rather than a name, and it increases the sense that she is being imprisoned.  I also get the feeling (although I've never heard Miyazaki say this, so maybe it's just my idea) that it's an oblique reference to the Thousand and One Arabian Nights, since Chihiro offers herself to Yubaba as a worker in order to *not* be turned into a pig and to give herself time to figure out how to escape the twilight world.  And just as I wrote the word "twilight", I realize that Miyazaki has depicted the Goetterdaemerung--the Twilight of the Gods.  

Thanks again to those who responded !  And I'm pleased as punch to know that most of my commenters are as big a Miyazaki fan as I am:))

And to anybody reading this who has never seen Spirited Away ("Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi"), run don't walk!  Put it in the Netflix cue, get it from Blockbuster, nick it from your neighbor, but don't go another minute without seeing this film.  They had the presence of mind in Berlin to award this film Best Picture (not Best Animated Picture, note).

Did you see that?  Did you see how he drew the children scrubbing the wooden floors, running up and down with rags?  He didn't make that up--that's exactly how wooden flooring is cleaned.  Japanese elementary kids do it like that every day at school--my kids, too.  That's how he brings his wild flights of fancy to life--they are grounded in concrete reality.  Sorry--geek rant over.  Enjoy!:))


  1. Amy.

    In regards to Spirited away and the stealing of Chihiro's name. Keep in mind, it has been a few years since I've seen the movie. We tend to go through a rotational schedule and that one is coming up soon. Sooner now. I can feel an obsession coming on.

    As I recall, Yubaba took Chihiro's name as a term of her service and gave her the name Sen. This process was accomplished by writing it magically on paper and then Yubaba pulled it off magically and palmed it, keeping the name as a control over Sen.

    Later, Haku stole the paper and ended up returning it to Sen/ Chihiro. This freed her somewhat. I may have missed some details here but that is how I remember this happening.

    I thought this movie was an amazing view of not only another culture but a mythology of which I am completely unfamiliar with. The characters are wonderfully complex. The plot was subtle and deep. The animation is some of the best I've seen, a pastel loveliness. One could take any frame and hang it on your wall as a work of art. But my favorite is the strong, forgiving and generous personality of that beautiful little girl.

    The moral is that simple decency and strength will eventually triumph. Although hardly true in all cases, it's a great ideal to shoot for.

  2. Hi, KK! Thanks so much for the reply! Hopefully I'll get a few more responses, then I'll post how I understand that scene (being able to read kanji:))

    The frames *are* art--at the Ghibli Museum, there are individual frames all over the walls. I think they had some for sale, too, though it's been a while since I was there. My kids played in the Cat Bus:))

    Something else I *love* about his films is how a particular place functions in the film as almost-a-character. In Spirited Away, the Bathhouse (based, according to Miyazaki, on a bathhouse he remembers from his childhood) itself is so detailed, it almost, maybe is, a character itself. I should write some posts, maybe, on the mythology of Spirited Away/Japan, what Kamikakushi means, stuff like that, shouldn't I (not that I'm an expert or anything...)

  3. I've watched all the Miyazaki films in English except for one of them. I'm not sure why she changed her name to Sen. Was their some hidden meaning behind it?

    and wow! You can read kanji? I only know about 20 so far.

    So sensei was telling us today how she used to have to clean up the teachers lounge everyday during cleaning time when she was in school. She told the teachers that she didn't want to clean there ash trays because it was disgusting.And they told her she was right and she didn't have to clean it anymore. And then she convinced her homeroom teacher not to smoke anymore if they brought him bento everyday and he quit smoking. I can't imagine ever saying that to one of my teachers. :)

    sorry for the randomness. Haha, I'll check back later for when you find out about the hidden meaning behind that scene.


  4. Hi, Ez! I have to read Kanji--when you're the one who has to take the kids to the doctor and fill out the immunization forms...you learn to read whether you want to or not:))

    So, which is your favorite Miyazaki?

    I'm laughing about your sensei taking obento everyday to her homeroom teacher to get him to quit smoking. I can just hear that conversation in my head...:))

  5. what the heck - this is the second time i've posted on your blog and it hasn't saved. DAMN YOU BLOGGER!

    Ok to try and recreate my original comment:

    First, huge fan of Miyazaki here. We grew up on My Neighbor Totoro.

    I can't watch the clip on this PC so i'll have to recreate from the last time i watched it.

    Much like KK said, she gives her a new name. But, i always assumed that she takes the characters from Chihiro's name and what's left, the kanji that remains, reads Sen, hence her new name. Whether Sen or Chihiro have specific meanings, i don't know.

    It reminds me of how, in Deathnote, Light's name is written as "Moon" but spoken as "Light" which is just one of those Japanese language/kanji things that doesn't translate well in american culture.

  6. Thanks for weighing in! As a side note--sorry about your post getting lost:(( I've had that happen, too--no idea why. (I didn't do it! I didn't!)

  7. As if the Ever-Growing Book Queue wasn't bad enough, we now have movies too...

    Madre de Dios!

    *sighs, and starts a new 'stuff to get' text-document*

  8. Daz! You've never seen Spirited Away?! Seriously--run don't walk. And don't be put off by the fact that it's animated--this is a film which happens to be drawn, art which happens to be moving. My Neighbor Totoro is actually my favorite, but maybe that's because it's the one I've seen several times. Princess Mononoke is amazing, too. It's hard to pick a favorite:)) If I owned a copy, I'd give it to you, stat.

  9. I have a sudden urge to watch this movie over again. :)

    They play it all over my school on the last couple of days of the school year where we sit around and do nothing all day.

  10. That's just what I've been thinking--only we don't own a copy. Maybe that's what we'll have Santa bring for Christmas...:))

    Is Sen a Kanji you know? Are you up to that one? I wonder if your sensei is following the same order as Japanese elementary schools and teaching you guys the 80 first grade Kanji (second grade is 160, third and fourth 200 each, fifth and sixth 180 each. whew! One thousand-- and still almost a thousand to go before you master the Joyo list... i'm nowhere near that:((

  11. my favorites are Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle.
    But each and every one of his movies has something that is fantastic. And Ponyo is just frickin' adorable.

  12. Ponyo *is* adorable. That particular film impressed on me how good Miyazaki is at flicking back and forth between the utterly fantastic (ponyo running atop the leviathan waves) and the specifically real (the seaside town, the road that crosses the drydock--I've seen I don't know how many towns at the nether end of the Izu peninsula that look just like that. And I wonder, parenthetically, whether Miyazaki says somewhere where he went to draw that town...)

    My favorites are Totoro, Spirited Away, and Mononokehime, not necessarily in that order. But maybe Totoro first. If I ever leave Japan, I would buy a copy of Totoro so I could revisit whenever I wanted. It depicts the Japanese countryside so perfectly...

  13. Ponyo was adorable, and what a great story. I have to admit if I hadn't known it was from Miyazaki I may have missed it. But I see everything he has touched.

    As for Favorites, I liked the complexity of Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle and Mononoke. Nausicca(??), Totoro, Castle in the Sky were good stories but simple. The plot and character complexity of Spirited and Mononoke absolutely enthralled me. The ethics and strength of the characters were also great, but as I said before, my favorite part is the lack of a real villain. The adversaries are all real people who may be doing the wrong thing. They just think they are doing the right.

    A lesson all of us could learn again and again.

  14. Agreed--Mononokehime especially is not really a kid's movie. My kids haven't seen it yet--not because of language (not any) or scariness or anything, I just think it would be over their heads. Although my oldest is 10 now and he likes history, so he might be able to watch it and get something out of it now. We watched Spirited Away a year or two after it came out, but they were too little to get it, and Teddy was *really* scared of the parents turning into pigs. But I think we need to get it again and watch it together with some running commentary from me.

    Ebert has great reviews of all those movies--and he's a much better writer than I am:)) He also discusses the point, in the Mononoke review I think, that there aren't really any "bad" guys, just people doing what they think they should do, or the only thing they think they can do in the circumstances. Or a person who seems bad from one point of view but good from another. His films are not simplistic, not even Totoro and his other "simpler" films.