The Denouncing of the Capitalist Mentality in Spirited Away by Hayao Miyazaki

Spirited Away In Spirited Away, Miyazaki denounces the capitalist mentality found in postmodern Japan, relating it to the loss of Japanese spiritual identity. He, however, implies the necessity and permissibility of purification through Chihiro’s pedantic journey in the spirit world. While Miyazaki rejects certain aspects of a hectic, competitive capitalism, he demonstrates that it promotes Chihiro’s growth as a character. Evidently, Miyazaki outlines in his interview with The National that he intends to provide ambivalent and bored teenage girls with powerful subject matter beyond gossip magazines and with a heroine deserving of admiration.

To achieve such a goal, Miyazaki rewards Chihiro’s hard work and diligence but penalizes those trying to unfairly gain an advantage. When Chihiro’s parents decide to explore an abandoned theme park and gorge themselves on the food of the spirits, the spirits instantly penalize them, turning them into pigs. Miyazaki displays the parents’ greed as a contributor to the moral corruption that he rejects by emphasizing the pig-like features even before the transformation.

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Their mass, in comparison to the short and skinny Chihiro, displays the intense contrast between Chihiro’s caution and the parents’ haughty attitude to the spirits.

When the parents transform into pigs, Miyazaki fearfully depicts her parents making beastly salivating noises impede their ability to communicate with Chihiro. Miyazaki sharply characterizes the parents’ greed as ruthless because they filch the spirits’ food and offer worthless money in return as the spirits express discontent. When Chihiro criticizes her parents for taking the abandoned food, her father thoughtlessly exclaims, “Don’t worry.

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You’ve got Daddy here. He’s got credit cards and cash.” Chihiro’s parents ignore the irreparable destruction they cause and think that offering money can provide solace.

Thoughtlessly giving into desire and ignoring spiritual warning signs, Chihiro’s parents physically and mentally revert to the mammal, proving that greed consumes intelligent, compassionate humans. Miyazaki indicates the shortsighted and ignorant aspects of capitalist institutions; although her parents can pay back the spirits, they cannot undo the damage they inflict on the spirit world or replace the value of their food. Upon entrance into the spirit world, Chihiro witnesses a magnified version of capitalism’s flaws that fuels dangerous Japanese development.

In the boiler room, where she must work, small bugs throw large masses of coal into a fire. As Chihiro witnesses the deaths of these tiny workers in the fire, Miyazaki illustrates the dispensability of workers to Kamaji as he views it as an obstruction to his profit. Angrily rejecting Chihiro’s request for a job, he parallels companies’ cheap and greedy desire to maximize profits with a minimum amount of workers. Chihiro’s fearsome rejection and distraught upon discovery of the severe conditions for these seemingly minuscule workers demonstrates the modern ignorance of tragedy.

By immersing Chihiro in the Western-influenced Japanese industrial world of greed, Miyazaki proves that the Western pillars of greed and money makings spoil a pure Japanese culture; human’s capitalistic tendencies lack restraint and follow mammalian instincts. Wind reflects a hidden spiritual presence, attempting to push humans toward chaotic capitalistic tendencies. From the onset, Miyazaki indicates Chihiro’s keenness in her fear of winds. At the entrance of the abandoned amusement park, Chihiro views the bustling wind as a warning signal to stay away.

Contrastingly, the wind fiercely pushes Chihiro’s feeble-minded parents into dangerous spirit-ridden lands. While the spirits hide in the human world, Chihiro notices a spiritual presence through the wind’s boisterous whistling. Those who ignore their earth, push into disastrous territory by acting destructively. As capitalistic and selfish humans inflict pain onto the earth, they hurt themselves by ignoring the cries of the winds. Miyazaki indicates the idea of reciprocal justice as the parents ignore the spiritual warning signs and turn into pigs.

In the spirit world, the powerful witch Yubaba reveals her motive, exclaiming, “They got what they deserved. Your parents gobbled up the food of the spirits like pigs.” Miyazaki underscores the justice-serving phrase “you are what you eat,” by preventing any destructive consumption from going unpunished. In the spirit world, Miyazaki applies justice to those who have a compact moral compass and penalties to those who actively pollute society. As Chihiro makes her journey alone, the spirits attempt to physically and mentally knock her diligence and moral compass off course. On her path to rescuing her parents, hundreds of flights of stairs and wind pushing her obstruct her journey and almost intimidate her into inaction.

Chihiro’s ability to overcome her fear of the potent weather conditions indicate that the heroine actively accepts the challenges that she must face. The wind parallels temptation and greed, which may lure the heroine and other characters off course, but never entirely so. Because Miyazaki reflects the Shinto notion that all phenomena have spiritual potential, he offers that spirits may work tirelessly to obtain redemption. Miyazaki provides that moral and physical pollution block spirits’ abilities to safely and happily connect with nature, labelling pollution as destructive to Japan’s future. Touching on the context of Japanese development, Miyazaki reveals that the destruction of the Kohaku River left many homeless and confined to the spirit realm.

At the bathhouse, the site of much of Chihiro’s development, spirits of this river come to be cleansed of their past regrets and mistakes. Through the bathhouse, Miyazaki allows for his character’s a path of redemption and purification. When Chihiro cleanses the polluted river, its mask-like visage says to Chihiro, “Well done,” complimenting Chihiro’s good deed rather than affirming her natural state of purity. By returning the river to a state of natural, powerful freshness, Chihiro does not provide it with a new goodness but instead restores what once existed.

Spirited Away blurs the lines between good and evil, providing an accurate reflection of Miyazaki’s view of the world outside of the film. While one cannot vanquish moral pollution, he argues that one can learn to live with it and diminish it through rituals of kindness; one obtains the key to redemption by learning to live with a sound and pure mind. In the realm of endless and fantastic tribulations, Chihiro cultivates a cheerful and diligent heart, reminding herself of her true identity. Miyazaki, thus, reflects the Shinto notion that polluted capitalism requires cleansing and purification to manifest their vitality and remember their innate freshness. Immoral deeds, rather than destroying purity, instead cloud one’s character with dust.

Such redemptive depiction of pollution plays into the political undertones of the film. Miyazaki indicates that the post-boom economy inflicted serious pain on Japan’s cultural and spiritual life, but not beyond repair. In an interview with The Asian Conference on Arts & Humanities, Miyazaki reveals his desire for unity with the environment and recognition of the intertwined relationship of humans with nature. Miyazaki rationalizes, “In my grandparents’ time, it was believed that spirits [kami] existed everywhere …I like the idea that we should all treasure everything because spirits might exist there, and we should treasure everything because there is a kind of life to everything.”

The inherent spiritual value of all life, he argues, should not be dismissed or destroyed as the world shares a common thread of purity. Miyazaki further internalizes the idea of self-pollution as No-Face’s and Chihiro’s parents’ excessively consume food. Just as Miyazaki’s characters never represent fixed opposites of good and evil, food demonstrates a dual nature and, through unfortunate measures, set Chihiro’s entire journey into motion. Like before, however, Chihiro detects a wall separating her caution from her parents’ primal natures.

Although Miyazaki allows food to demonstrate the dangers of greed, he also underscores food’s comforting ability to create a sense of community. Before her journey, Chihiro demonstrates the intense reluctance to eat as she does not want to fail her parents by turning into a pig. Haku, representing the spirit world, however, reveals that Chihiro must eat to restore her strength. Miyazaki, thus, argues that one must balance the fears and cravings of greed to strike a balance with the spirit world. While the flaws of capitalism may daunt Chihiro and excite her parents, Chihiro must discover a healthy combination to succeed in her journey. Although Miyazaki criticizes capitalism for breeding competitive, selfish tendencies, he embraces the aspects of it that evoke hard work and collaboration by indicating the rewarding and guiding role of Chihiro’s diligence in the spirit world. Through his depiction of Chihiro’s hard work, Miyazaki indicates the redemptive nature of rituals; cleansing one’s mind and correcting one’s bad habits provides one with the power to carry on and succeed.

Works Cited

  1. “Anime Classic Spirited Away Turns 10.” Interview by Oliver Good. The Nation. N.p., 25 July 2011. Web. 3 Dec. 2015. < spirited-away-i-turns-10>.
  2. “The Many Faces of Popular Culture and Contemporary Processes.” Interview by Mateja Kovacic. The Asian Conference on Arts & Humanities. N.p., 2014. Web. 3 Dec. 2015. <>.

Cite this page

The Denouncing of the Capitalist Mentality in Spirited Away by Hayao Miyazaki. (2021, Dec 18). Retrieved from

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