So, here is the rest of “Spirited Away” and living a lie …
… back to the discussion of movies in popular progressive culture. We were talking about a secular humanist review of the movie “Spirited Away”, which describes as “a refreshing and unusual characteristic” (of this animated feature by Hayao Miyazaki) is its refusal to set up a dualistic battle between the little girl and an evil adversary. (Seriously folks, is it really “refreshing and unusual” not to differentiate between good and evil?).
All the central characters have both a light and a dark side (is this not an essential characteristic of being a human, of being a member of “Mankind”). Our heroine must overcome the forces of fear, entitlement, selfishness, gluttony, and greed within herself (aren’t these part of simply being a human being, that is possessing these evil characteristics?) as part of the blooming of her soul. (But where did the soul come from? Who created the soul?)
Little Chihiro does what spiritual seekers (humans on the path of actualizing or developing their “self”) will recognize as “shadow work” — taking back her projections (evil is just a projection), and learning to love all parts of herself, including those mirrored by others — healing both herself and those around her in the process (no God needed here since we are the pinnacle of perfection already, all we have to do is “heal” ourselves). (This is just more of the psychobabble described in C.S. Lewis’s “Bulverism“.)
The film “Spirited Away” is a follow-up to Miyazaki’s extraordinary “Princess Mononoke” (1997). Once again he has fashioned an animated feature which transports us to a mysterious and always surprising world of spirits. In Shinto folklore, everything in nature has a god living within it. For the purpose of this discussion we ask “Is the deprecation of Christian Truth as “Exclusive” supported by the mere existence of another spiritual tradition in another culture?
How do the beliefs of “Shinto” discredit the Truth of Christianity? Why is the Shinto based model for an animated feature film presented as an argument for moral relativism and against Absolute Truth? What is transcendentally “good” about beings and characters in an animated feature film being presented as vulnerable to the excesses and defilements of (presumably religious) humanity?
Yes, this film is a touching story, but in the hands of this reviewer, like a computer virus, it is hiding a deadly payload of doubt, doubt about the importance of Truth. The story of “Spirited Away” begins as Chihiro (voiced by Daveigh Chase) and her parents (Lauren Holly, Michael Chiklis) are driving to their new home. She is sulking in the back seat, anxious about the future.
Her father takes a wrong turn, and they wind up driving through a bumpy forest road to a hillside tunnel. When her adventuresome parents decide to explore the place, Chihiro is frightened and doesn’t want to go ahead. But she follows them, and they enter what her father decides must be a deserted theme park.
When her father smells the odors of food, they follow the scent and come upon a row of restaurants and one empty one where food is piled high on the counter. Chihiro’s parents begin devouring the fare and, to their daughter’s dismay, are turned into pigs. Chihiro flees this scene and soon realizes she has stumbled into a world of spirits. A strange boy named Haku (Jason Marsden) comes to her assistance, shows her how to keep from becoming transparent in this world, and how to cross a bridge without being detected as a human.
Still, Chihiro is pretty scared. Then comes the bit when Haku has just taken Chihiro/Sen to see her parents in the pig stable, and he gives her a rice ball to eat, and she starts tearing up as she takes the first bite, and then halfway through finishing, just begins bawling from all the trauma she has accumulated over the past 16 hours or so, the overwhelming “reality”.
This overwhelming reality is one of realizing her true situation, her true nature, and is, in reality, a vivid metaphor for man’s realization of his true relationship to God. Truth is overwhelming. The understanding of Truth brings tears to the person that sees Truth! This is the natural reaction of every person who encounters God. It is important to understand this great little anime film is NOT about the superiority of moral relativism, it is actually about the inadequacy and unworthiness of man and about meeting God.
But in the skilled hands of this reviewer we easily lose that glimpse of Truth as we drift away into a Shinto based human centered alternate reality. Haku tells her that to save herself and her parents she needs to seek employment in a huge bathhouse that caters to all kinds of strange-looking nature spirits.
He sends her to the boiler room where the keeper, Kamaji (David Ogden Stiers), is assisted by hundreds of little soot-balls that carry coal to the furnace. They take quite a fancy to the human girl. Eventually, she meets Yubaba (Suzanne Pleshette), the greedy and selfish sorceress who runs the bathhouse.
This dominating woman puts her to work as a bath-attendant but not before taking away her name and giving her a new one, Sen. She is assigned to Lin (Susan Egan), another human. Their biggest challenge comes when they must deal with the “Stink Spirit,” an incredibly foul smelling being.
Only after his bath do they discover that he is a once noble and proud River God who is filled with sludge and worthless junk. Sen also proves her mettle in her relationship with Kaonashi (or No-Face), a lonely figure who follows her around and eventually brings havoc to the bathhouse spirits by drawing out their yearning for gold.
The Japanese version of “Spirited Away”, was the most successful film ever to play in Japan, and won the coveted Golden Bear Award at the 2002 Berlin Film Festival. The English language version, which uses the same animation, was guided by executive producer John Lasseter of Pixar Studios (Toy Story), director Kirk Wise, and producer Don Ernst.
Similar in spirit to “Princess Mononoke”, this animated feature can be thoroughly enjoyed by both adults and children. This anime is truly a great little film but it fails utterly when used as a pedagogical tool teaching the religion of modern secular humanism. “Spirited Away” is a masterpiece that takes us to an unfamiliar world where we see familiar things with fresh eyes. Miyazaki provides an ongoing commentary on contemporary society in Japan with the characters of Chihiro’s gluttonous parents who are turned into pigs; Yubaba’s gigantic baby, a spoiled brat who gets whatever he wants; and lonely No-Face whose efforts to use his wealth to make others like him backfires.
But the film fails as an exercise in humanist apologetics because it is not intended for that purpose. Unlike Abrahamic religions this film is actually and truly intended as simply entertainment and viewers ARE an audience, not a Congregation of Believers.
The transformation of Chihiro from a sulky, clinging, and fearful little girl into a resourceful, loving, sensitive, and respectful person is a marvel to behold. Her most magic moment comes when she embraces Haku’s dark side which manifests as a dragon. Seriously folks? Embracing the dark side is a “magic moment”? This feels like a desperate leap to justify a desperate lie. Oh, absolutely, Darth Vader is really just misunderstood, and I guess so were Stalin and Pol Pot. “Useful Idiots” sure seem thick on the ground around here.
In this “magic” moment, instead of turning against him, she reaches out to help him in his mission to discover his true identity. That’s what is so remarkable about Spirited Away, it acknowledges the shadow elements in everyone and works with these warps as part of the process of soul-making.
The problem with this is that we DO NOT make our own soul. Our soul is a created gift from God at the moment of conception which establishes us as human creations with person-hood. Instead of working to fix the warps the reviewer rationalizes them as normal parts of everyone. The reviewer has intentionally twisted the message of the movie. We, all humans, are conceived with souls, they are not made by our own process of growth. The soul is what makes us human from the moment of conception and it is created by God out of his infinite love for mankind.
According to the reviewer, “Spirited Away” frees us from excluding anyone from our world and helps us to see that we are all in this together — human beings and spirits, ghouls and benevolent ghosts, dragons and No Names, good and evil, are all the same under the skin. But what about those poor benighted human beings, those poor ignorant souls who disagree with the reviewer and are still stuck in the old fashioned simplistic exclusionist paradigm where the difference between good and evil matter?
I guess it’s just “too bad, so sad” for them, right? Those poor ignorant exclusionists are just so “yesterday” As John R. Mabry has put it: “We must not despise the rough, the dark, the empty, the flawed or the crooked. It is a package deal.” I guess we just have no choice but to take the evil with the good because they are only a difference of opinion and are really all the same.
But on what authority do we base this belief? Who says it is so, that this is truth? What about Good and Evil? What about God? What about hating the sin and the evil but loving the sinner? What about Christ on the cross, forgiving his enemies and keeping them in existence even as they were murdering Him?
I don’t know how anyone else reads this, but I find this review of “Spirited Away” deeply disturbing in its appealing attractiveness. Am I alone in seeing this review of “Spirited Away” as a covert subversion of the Truth of a Divine Source of all Good, of all Natural Law, the truth of God as the creator of all and the source of all good expressed in His creations? Is this review not actually a hymn to the supremacy of Man as the source of truth, as the natural pinnacle of all good and the arbiter of good and evil as man’s opinion and nothing else?
Another remarkably jarring thing about this film, and the reviewers interpretation and gushing praise of the film, is that it normalizes references to the “Dragon” as a “good” entity. But in the Abrahamic Catholic tradition we have Revelation 12: 1-17:
1And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: 2And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.
3And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. 4And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.
5And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne. 6And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.
The War in Heaven
7And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, 8And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. 9And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
10And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. 11And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.
12Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.
The Dragon Persecutes the Woman
13And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child. 14And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent. 15And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood.
16And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth. 17And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
In Abrahamic religions the dragon is the personification of Satan, the personification of evil, and the father of lies. Color me Curious about Truth. What do I see when contemplating Truth … This modern, man centered, view of reality, this vision of man as the penultimate being and arbiter of all value, this big lie is only possible for persons who have never experienced anything greater than themselves, who are totally wrapped up in self love. And the Dragon is the Father of Lies.
This modern religion of “worship of man” is characterized and evidenced in the fundamental sterility of the modern world, and modern culture, where creativity is measured in utilitarian terms and beauty is relatively worthless except to be commoditized or weaponized.
Where are the Mozarts of the 21st century, where are the Raphaels and the Boticellis, where are the Leonardo da Vincis, the Caravaggios, and the Rembrandts, where are the designers of Notre Dame and Saint Peter’s, where are the modern Donato Bramantes, Michelangelos, Carlo Madernos and Gian Lorenzo Berninis?
Where are the modern secular humanist artists, musicians, and architects? Who have we got that give our secular culture greatness to rival all the greatness of the historic masters?
All the greatest achievements of history were acts of worship rendered to a greater power, a Supreme Being, who was the creator of all and we, his creations, offered our best in praise of Him. There are very few places now where man can go to experience Power and Majesty greater than himself, to gain understanding of our true place in the universe, in “creation”. One of the few remaining places is the sea, that great blue water covering most of the planet.
The sea is a place of real hunger, real thirst, real death, and real spiritual combat, one is manifestly in the hands of a greater power, a Supreme Power. It is impossible to ignore the overwhelming power of the sea and by extension, it’s Creator. In the arms of the sea man is but a puny weakling and a pompous trespasser, held in existence only by the mercy of God.
Once one has survived a hurricane in a tiny 300 foot vessel one has no doubt about man’s place in the Divine scheme of things. A hurricane at sea is the ultimate reality check and no atheistic progressive survives a hurricane at sea. Blue water sailors are believers, without question or pause.
It is vitally important to understand the sea as a place to combat the dictatorship of the secular world which is filled with idols of technology and material goods, idols of convenience and comfort, the dictatorship of the secular world dominated and manipulated by the media and relativism, a world that flees God by taking refuge in distractions and noise, in effusive self worship. In the isolation of the sea we find the Chiaroscuro between silence and noise draws out and gently reveals a vision, an image of God.
The sea is silence and isolation, a blue water sailor is a long way from safety and the comforts of home and there is no one to call when things go wrong. The experience of the sea is necessary, in order to survive this modern world and to see it for what it really is, it is absolutely necessary to have the experience of the great blue sea.
There, at sea, we get some distance from everyday events, some proper perspective about what is important, especially our own personal importance. We can flee the noise and the superficiality of a relativistic world where the self comes first. The sea is a place of the Absolute, a place of freedom.
It is no accident that the sea is a place where monotheism predominates. There are no syncretic modernists, no atheistic humanists at sea. The sea is Abrahamic and monotheistic. The sea preserves us from the multiplicity of idols that men make for themselves. In this sense, the sea is the domain of grace. Far from his preoccupations, man encounters there his Creator and his God in all His Mighty Majesty.
Great things begin and are found at sea, in silence, in power, in abandonment to a force greater than man can ever be. The sea is where God leads us in order to speak to us in a heart-to-heart conversation. A heart to heart conversation within the silence of our souls echoing the great silence of the blue sea.