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Analysis of The Movie Spirited Away from The Sociological Perspectives

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“I don’t know what I want, but I do know what I don’t have.” How often have you shopped through the racks of your favorite clothing store looking for something you didn’t know you needed until the moment you saw it? Or stopped by your local supermarket to pick up an item, only to find yourself leaving with a cartful of impulse buys an hour later? For the average consumer, these situations occur far too often. Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” highlights the issue of modern-day consumerism and how it relates to the loss of identity. The film is a coming-of-age tale that follows Chihiro Ogina, a ten-year-old girl who becomes trapped in the spirit world while traveling with her parents. Chihiro is forced to work in the bathhouse by Yubaba, the witch who owns the spa. Although the film is directed towards children, Miyazaki tackles topics such as capitalism, inequality, consumerism, and the loss of identity. Many of these themes can be explored through four major perspectives within sociology: symbolic interactionism, functionalism, feminism, and conflict theory.

The perspective of symbolic interactionism views society as the product of the everyday interactions and shared meanings of people and groups. Spirited Away heavily relies on nonverbal interactions such as symbols to convey many of its deeper messages. This makes the perspective of interactionism the best theory to relate to the film. One example of this is when Yubaba initially meets Chihiro and has her sign a contract to begin working. The witch then removes half of the signature and changes Chihiro’s name to “Sen”. The name Chihiro is composed of the Chinese symbols chi meaning “one thousand,” and hiro meaning, “to search or create.” In many cultures, the symbolic meaning of a name is seen as someone’s identity, encompasing who they are. The act of stealing half of Chihiro not only reduces her to a number, but also strips her of her identity. This aspect of symbolism is also shown through the reoccurring theme of hunger throughout the story. We continue to see characters in the story consuming abnormal amounts of food until they completely transform into something unlike themselves (i.e. parents turning to pigs after buffet, Noface becoming a monster). This symbolizes the dangers of surrounding yourself with materialistic goods. Here, Miyazaki implies that this needless consumption causes you to lose touch with reality and ultimately lose your sense of self.

On the other hand, conflict theory holds the view that society is composed of groups with clashing interests competing to gain control. This control is often gained through force and coercion rather than through a consensus. Yubaba is in full control over her employees; this is mostly established through threats, but goes even as far as placing some workers under spells to ensure their loyalty. Furthermore, this struggle is also shown through the unequal distribution of wealth as well as the discrimination among workers. Yubaba is by far the wealthiest person in this society. She lives in a luxurious mansion, has servants, and is always shown wearing plenty of jewelry—all while her employees wear rags and share overcrowded quarters. Lastly, the discrimination amongst the employees becomes evident after one of the characters is assigned to clean the dirtiest tub in the bathhouse. She calls the task “frog-work,” implying that it’s a lowly task and should’ve been assigned to the frog employees.

The functionalist perspective is easily seen when looking at the bathhouse society at a larger scale. This sociological theory focuses on the way each part of society work together to maintain stability. The bathhouse of the spirit world operates as a capitalistic society where you must work to be recognized as a member. Early on in the film, one of the characters warns Chihiro that, ‘If you don’t get a job, Yubaba will turn you into an animal.’ This shows us the value that is placed on being a functioning member of this world. Similarly, one of the earlier scenes in the film show pieces of dirt that were transformed into workers through magic. Their boss (Kamaji) mentions that if they were to stop working, they would be “turned back into mere soot.” This reinforces the functionalist theory of every member contributing to the society.

Lastly, the feminist perspective holds the viewpoint that women are treated unequally in societies. Due to the nature of the film, there aren’t many examples of this theory present. In fact, just the opposite seems to hold true. Chihiro is depicted as a strong, female protagonist who not only helps herself throughout the film, but guides many of the other characters towards finding themselves. Critics who subscribe to the feminist perspective could argue that Chihiro’s character began the movie as a timid, frightened girl — presenting women as weaker, and unable to fend for themselves. But this argument can be refuted by the detail that Chihiro is also a child, and was most likely given these qualities to liken her to any other ten year old.

In conclusion, Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” highlights the dangers of consumerism and sends the message that the more you needlessly consume, the more you begin to lose what makes you, you. Spirited Away is best represented by the sociological theory of symbolic interactionism, as many aspects of the film rely on symbolism and character relationships to build on the major themes.

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Analysis Of The Movie Spirited Away From The Sociological Perspectives. (2021, Jun 09). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 19, 2022, from
“Analysis Of The Movie Spirited Away From The Sociological Perspectives.” GradesFixer, 09 Jun. 2021,
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