Messages from Scholars about History and Culture
Below I attached a blog discussion from my MLG 300 (International Cinema) course, a class designed to educate students about community and activities that contribute to the social good, linking themes such as identity, human communication, and gender roles to establish a thematic analysis of film while also connecting to society. This discussion is based on the 2001 film Spirited Away.
Many elements go into the production of a film that contributes to the overall message and impact of a movie. For instance, theme is one of the most important elements of any good screenplay. It is the driving intention behind a film and allows the writer to convey a broader message about life to his or her audience. I have noticed that the movies we cherish the most are those with common themes that have affected us as viewers in one way or another.
This leads me to the movie Spirited Away, an animation about a young girl named Chihiro who stumbles upon an abandoned amusement park with her parents on their journey to their new home. Due to Chihiro and her family being somewhere they did not belong, she had to go on a journey of self-identity to free her parents and get back home. When I look at the class themes, I feel the two that most apply to this film are identity and human communication. Identity is a huge theme in Spirited Away, especially in Chihiro’s quest for freedom. In the film, names play an important role in the identity of each character and their ability to escape Yubaba, the head honcho of the resort. Yubaba uses names to trap her victims at the bathhouse, and she steals Chihiro’s name to make her forget about herself. However, Chihiro’s love interest, Haku, warns her that if she forgets her name, she will forever be trapped in the spirit world. This resolution encouraged Chihiro to never forget herself throughout the various obstacles she encounters, and she does exactly that. As an audience, we see Chihiro find herself as a character. She was once a whiny little girl, but she later became a brave young lady.
Another theme I noticed in the film was human communication or a lack there was of it, specifically between Chihiro and her parents. From the very beginning of the film, you can see a communication barrier between Chihiro and her parents. For instance, Chihiro’s father was insistent on going through the tunnel; however, Chihiro disapproved of that idea and stated it gave her the creeps. Her father responded to her remark with, “Don’t be such a scaredy-cat, Chihiro. Let’s just take a look.” Her parents’ curiosity and sense of wonder led them to their downfall, as Chihiro was more aware of the life around them.
In many ways, I feel Spirited Away is similar to the movie Alice in Wonderland; both films are about young girls who get lost in strange worlds that require them to undergo journeys of self-discovery to get back home. Two women who were once fearful display bravery in the face of adversity. I think these films serve as great testaments for life, especially for college students. In many ways, our identity is formed or solidified through the adversities we overcome in life. Personally, I have learned more about myself as a person when I surpassed challenges. College is not easy. It requires a lot of time, energy, and commitment, but determination is the key to success. In the film Spirited Away, Chihiro never gives up. That is something I admire about her as a character. She saved herself and her family due to her willpower, something all students should have.
Typically, when writing a paper, I tend to read peer-reviewed articles and excerpts on a topic, then piece together all my supporting evidence into categories. I then color code and highlight points that I feel I can use to build on my own ideas. From there, I create a vague outline, in which I write down my main points for each paragraph. With that outline, I then write my essay. For this discussion post, I did something slightly different, since I was writing a film analysis, not a research paper.
First, I began by watching the movie Spirited Away, the assigned movie of the week for my MLG course. I then took notes on information I found interesting throughout the film, such as quotes, settings, and character interactions on a piece of paper. In my opinion, notes are the key to success in writing papers, as they help keep one’s mind at its peak performance, stimulate the brain, and help one stay focused on the question at hand. For instance, while watching the film, I jotted down notes about Chihiro’s relationship with her parents. Though they had a traditional family dynamic, they lacked a true bond. Of course, Chihiro’s parents loved her, but they often shut her down and never listened to any of her concerns. I also noticed that the film was rich in culture; the animators created a lot of traditional Japanese settings, which invoked a sense of magic and symbolism. The viewer could almost feel the characters’ sense of amusement as they were truly captivated by the mystery scenery they wandered around.
Furthermore, I noticed that the author used film elements, such as close-ups, editing, and composition, to aid in the overall communication of the film as a story. Spirited Away is simply an animation, the illusion of movement. Though inanimate objects appeared like they were moving, they were not. Yet despite all that, it displayed so much depth. For example, there were so many scenes that showed the manifestation of human fear through the lens of Chihiro’s eyes. These were the types of things I jotted in my notepad, because I knew before typing my final body of work these were all topics, I wanted to elaborate more on in my blog post, as these were all things that crossed my mind watching the film. After creating my outline for this project, I did a broad search of the movie to learn more about when Spirited Away was first released, its director, plot, and main characters. I could not just discuss the film at face value. I also wanted to understand the era it was released in and the impact it had on its general audience. Hence, upon coming to a fair understanding of the film in its entirety, I then begin to work on typing my discussion post.
Thus, after reviewing my notes on the film, I read the blog prompt a second time and reorganized my notes into categories, in this case, thematic analysis, film element, and connections. I then placed character quotes that correlated with themes of the class under thematic analysis, and textbooks quotes along with their pages under film elements. Lastly, I brainstormed ways the film and its main points related to students and society. A good thing to remember is that notes do not have to be perfect. For me, my notes serve as a guide for what I want to write officially on paper, so my draft is my vision.
With this in mind, underneath each category, I broke my discussion up into bullet points, of short sentences I wanted to convert into body paragraphs. Some might wonder how I transitioned my draft into a blog post. Well, I first began by typing my introduction. Typically when writing an introductory statement, I start off with a general topic then go more specific. In this prompt, I decided to start by discussing theme itself, which led me to my first body paragraph on the theme of identity, along with a brief film synopsis. That first body paragraph then led to my second body paragraph on human communication as an alternative theme, as it also stood out to me while watching the film. After building on those two main points, I wanted to create a connection, so I correlated Spirited Away to Alice in Wonderland to express the journey of self and self-determination most college students encounter.
Last, while typing my post, my main intention was to make it understandable to all viewers, so I was very careful about my word choice. I wanted my readers to understand the various elements that impact a movie’s overall message, especially theme, the main idea of my post. After all, theme is the driving intention behind a film that allows writers to convey a broader message to their audience. I wanted my readers to feel as if I was having a casual conversation with them. I say all this because I feel it is very important for writers to be aware of their audience. If there is not a clear understanding of one’s audience, a clear message cannot be delivered. Hence, for this assignment, I was aware that my audience was fellow college students, so my goal was for my paper to be entertaining yet informal.
Overall, after reading this manuscript, I hope writers of all ages and skill levels take away the importance of organization, planning, delivery, and intention in paper writing, as those are the key elements for any great response regardless of the course. In order to organize a response, one must first plan how to deliver the message to properly grasp the attention of the audience and convey a grander idea. Just as it is important to know what to say, it is equally important to know how to say it. However, never forget that writing is supposed to be fun. Do not let it intimidate you. It is a form of expression and communication, but remember to always keep the task of the assignment in mind. Happy writing, everyone!