CONTENT WARNING!

This post contains sensitive material that may not be suitable for all readers. The material in question includes:

- Bad language
- Frightening visuals
- Graphic violence

Now, compared to the lost media and beta content two-parter that started this blog, this post is going to seem noticeably barebones, so let me be frank and explain exactly why that is. See, a rather cathartic dissection video regarding Studio Ghibli’s own Spirited Away has been embedded above, and embedding that video is the main purpose of this post existing. Seems simple, right? Well, it might be, but you wanna know what most certainly is not simple? Copyright. It should be noted that I am very familiar with fair use laws, and for all intents and purposes, the video that this post is devoted to technically falls in line with fair use. Well, except for one element, but… well, that’s where it becomes a shit-show.

You might be asking, “why not upload it to YouTube?” Well, see, the video does contain copyrighted music, particularly “I Don’t Know” by the Beastie Boys at the end, but that’s not why I’ve been unable to upload it there. I don’t know if people who release video analyses on anime like Spirited Away just can’t use any actual footage period, but this is apparently a big no-no on the platform, because it seems that including any footage, with the original audio or otherwise, marks the start of an unbeatable battle with the copyright holders. I haven’t found enough credible information to know that this is specifically a result of copyright law in Japan, but I tried filing a dispute after the entire video was banned from viewing worldwide, and next thing I knew, it was removed altogether along with a copyright strike. So, for the record, the music that I had zero right to include in the video when it comes to fair use was accepted without punishment, but the footage taken straight from the film that was used for the purposes of criticism and comedy (purposes that are, in fact, regularly defended under fair use) was where YouTube and/or Studio Ghibli took strict criminal action. So, yeah, looks like it all balances out.

As I stated in a brief but scathing community post, “no Spirited Away video, no more uploads,” as this would’ve been the only time that you’d ever get to hear a take on the movie like mine. So, here it is in case you want something to complain about on Twitter, but there is one final note that I’d like to add below, and it relates to a minor (or, to some people, inexcusably severe) flaw in my overall argument against the movie.

This was an issue that my sister Olivia addressed when I showed my family the video. Overall, it was a fun viewing experience aside from the same parents who call my autism-related discomfort towards anime “a serious problem” going on about how indescribably wrong the film in a way that was only mildly aggravating. Granted, as someone who always liked the film and has watched it plenty of times in the original Japanese (which I have in the past, but not since I was probably fourteen), Liv explained that it’s not quite as weird or confusing in the original language as it is in English. Now, as I mention in the intro to the video, I had to rewatch (or skim, more like) the whole film over again as to fill any holes in my argument, and as the clip of George C. Scott in 1979’s Hardcore demonstrates, that was a painful goddamn experience. So, in order to present a perfect, logic-fueled critique towards one of the greatest animated films of all time, I’d have to rewatch the whole thing again, but in a language that I don’t speak and with the added trouble of reading line after line of subtitles.

Or, would I?

To be fair, I’m not denying that watching the movie again in Japanese could potentially help my argument. All I’m saying here is that I also don’t have to trigger my very specific sensitivities caused by my disability by doing so, and here’s why. See, I’m not the kind of person who’d poke fun at someone and call them a “weabboo” or “otaku” for having a strong interest in Japanese culture—it’s undeniable to me that it is, indeed, a fascinating culture, and believing that is very healthy and open-minded. The problem comes when they avoid ethnocentrism regarding their own culture (American, in my case) so much that they become ethnocentric regarding Japanese culture, meaning they always think from a Japanese perspective and see that culture as being superior to all others. They basically become Japanese nationalists, and any other culture on Earth is immediately brought down a peg. As much as I try to appreciate Japanese culture, I also try not to place it on a pedestal above all other cultures, and I do think that people (especially on the internet) have a tendency to do the latter without question. As a result of that, it’s become apparent to me that when, say, an anime or Japanese video game is translated and localized to another language like English, people immediately side with the original Japanese version. Now, if you ask me, anytime you watch a live-action foreign film, I always have to suggest that you watch it in the original language with subtitles, considering you’re watching… you know… real people onscreen? However, I do believe that animation is a more lenient format in which dubbing and localization is more acceptable (I despised shows like Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! as a kid, but let’s not act like most American kids didn’t grow up with them in English.) I mean, this is certainly the case with anime, in which a character talking is basically three frames repeated over and over in the cheapest and most unnatural way imaginable, but suffice it so say, many of the over-the-top Japanese enthusiasts out there would beg to differ.

It seems to be a common belief that the original Japanese versions of an animated work are superior to the English version because of the localization involved in the latter, that the directly translated dialogue into subtitles is so much more “subtle” and “thoughtful” and “intellectually stimulating”. Well, here’s my problem with that: the dialogue you’re reading as a direct translation isn’t more intelligent, because that’s not what’s happening. It naturally sounds strange as hell because it’s a direct translation. No direct translation from any language to any other language sounds natural because of all the drastic differences in vocabulary and syntax. That’s what localization’s for—to make dialogue spoken or written in a different language fit within the culture that it’s being translated for.

If you thought swapping the classic “Have no fear! Amy Rose is here!” line for this wasn’t enough of an unforgivable crime…
It’s pretty telling when the gist of this text is identical in the localized English version…
…but the directly translated version of this text just sounds insanely weird and overly formal by comparison.

Given weird moments in the English version of Spirited Away, like the dragon boy (whose name is Aku, which just confuses me by making me think of Samurai Jack) giving Sen a rice ball thingy that’ll “give her back her strength” but only ends up making her cry, the film could very well be more coherent in Japanese, but I don’t necessarily have to find out, especially since that doesn’t seem to be a guarantee. As a whole, anime of all kinds has never sat right with me for reasons that I’ve never been able to articulate until recently, but Spirited Away in particular simply comes off as a collection of elements that rarely tie together in a way that implies any deeper narrative or thematic sense.

Yes, the video that this blog is centered around does come off as cynical at times, but as an aspiring writer, the most considerate way for me to finish this post off would be, “what would I do differently from this movie?” It’d be pretty easy for me to make myself sound like a pretentious narcissist who thinks he can do better than Spirited goddamn Away, so just to harken back to a fun little period of experimentation, I’ve previously thought about a complete rewrite of the film’s story. It would feature most of the same cast but also be changed to more of a character study and/or classic hero’s journey about Sen (or Chihiro, rather, as her name wouldn’t be changed like in the movie) setting out on a more clear-cut quest for a way out of the spirit world. She would be on a literal path to a temple on the horizon to request a safe return home from a mysterious ancient monk named Father Mirage, and along the way, she’d meet characters that would’ve allowed her to reflect on the struggles in her social life and her relationship with her immediate family. Two ideas I had for new characters were the lonely blob-shaped spirit of a deceased child and a mischievous goblin-like thief inspired by an unused character from Shrek (check out part two of my lost media and beta content post for more info on the latter.)

At the end of the day, this was just part of a general hobby of mine, which is rewriting flawed stories as to put my own storytelling, world-building, and character development skills to the test. I’m in the middle of doing this with the game Shadow the Hedgehog, and I’ve considered doing the same with old creepypastas that I used to read as a teenager. Case and point, I took a TV and film screenwriting course during my last college semester, and when the time came to work out the premise for my final project—a full draft of a screenplay with a minimum of ninety pages—I basically adapted my idea for a Spirited Away rewrite into an original screenplay called The Soul Trail. Since I finished the draft, I’ve half-jokingly referred to it as “if Guillermo Del Toro made Spirited Away“, although it obviously features an original cast in the place of the film’s (Riley instead of Sen, the Bone Queen instead of Yubaba, an umibōzu instead of No-Face, etc.), along with my own added characters like the thief and the child.

I guess the silver lining in my struggle to comprehend this “masterpiece” is that it’s led to the start of several new and interesting creative projects of mine, some of which are more likely to see any actual publication in the future than others. In fact, speaking of being inspired by things I don’t like, stay tuned for the next post if you want to hear about something far, far more painful to recount.

Riley encountering Father Mirage at the top of his temple, The Soul Trail (2022, colorized).
Yeah… Spirited Away could’ve used more ’90s alternative hits like “No Rain” by Blind Melon…

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