I really enjoy animation movies for their humor and cheerfulness. What better way to relax, than to watch Garfield shovel down 450 pounds of lasagna? However, beneath the appearance of levity and simple fun, animation has it own unique way of handling the serious and abstract philosophical questions. Spirited Away and Soul are outstanding works in this regard. They sparked my interest, and made me value what I have in my life, and look at the world with a different point of view.
Twenty years ago, on July 20, 2001, a film that would become one of the most celebrated animated movies of all time hit theaters in Japan. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki and produced by Studio Ghibli, Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, titled Spirited Away in English, would leave an indelible mark on animation in the 21st century. The movie arrived at a time when animation was widely perceived as a genre solely for children, and when cultural differences often became barriers to the global distribution of animated works. Spirited Away shattered preconceived notions about the art form and also proved that despite being a Japanese film with elements of Japanese folklore central to its core, it could resonate deeply with audiences around the world.
Imaginative and inspired, Spirited Away immerses the viewer in a fantastical world that at once astounds and alarms. Many of the deities are based on figures in Japanese folklore, and part of the Japanese title itself, kamikakushi, refers to the concept of disappearance from being taken away by gods. The story is a tale of resilience and persistence, as Chihiro, our protagonist, gradually draws on her inner strength to endure this land where humans are designed to perish.
The story follows an ordinary 10-year-old girl name Chihiro and her parents as they stray into a strange world. Her parents turned into pigs because of greed, and Chihiro must go through various tests before finally rescuing her parents and returning to the human world. The parents, who were turned into pigs, have forgotten that they are human, and no matter how Chihiro calls, they just slumber. Just like the reincarnation of Sahas, there is no real reunion. Who do you remember? Are the parents of the previous life? Do we remember ourselves? In the film, those who forget their names cannot find their way home; and if we forget our true nature, we will also be lost in reincarnation for a long long time. For countless kalpas, we have had countless names, but they are all pseudonyms. What is our real name? Where are we originated? Why we come to this world? Everyone has to search inward to find their own answer.
What is it that makes you, well, you? “Soul” introduces Joe Gardner a middle-school band teacher who has a passion for jazz. “Joe wants more than anything to become a professional jazz pianist,” says director Pete Docter. “So when he’s offered a rare, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play with one of the greats, Joe feels he’s reached the top of the ultimate mountain.”
But one small misstep takes him from the streets of New York City to The Great Before – a fantastical place where new souls get their personalities, quirks and interests before they go to Earth. According to Docter, the idea for this unique world was 23 years in the making. “It started with my son—he’s 23 now—but the instant he was born, he already had a personality,” says Docter. “Where did that come from? I thought your personality developed through your interaction with the world. And yet, it was pretty clear that we’re all born with a very unique, specific sense of who we are.
In the film, Joe is about to usher in a turning point in his life to realize his dream, but inadvertently becomes a blue soul and becomes the mentor of Soul 22. He only wanted to return to earth, but due to 22, arrives in the “land of ecstasy”. In “The Realm of Ecstasy”, the mysterious old man called Wind of the Moon helps people who have lost themselves to find themselves, and even allows them to return to their consciousness through a special channel, and connect with the body through spiritual consciousness. He is like an accomplished practitioner of practice, who can go to various paths in meditation, and even go to hell to save sentient beings. After many twists and turns, Joe returned to Earth and performed on the same stage with his idol. But when the dream came true, he felt a little lost after the excitement of success. The lead player of the band tells him a story: a small fish swims up to an old fish and says,
“I’m going to find what they call the ocean.”
“Ocean?” the old fish replied, “You’re in the ocean right now. Here.”
“Is it here?” said the little fish, “here is water, what I want is the ocean.”
If a fish can’t feel the sea around it in the water, it can’t feel the real sea. The sea in its heart is actually the subtle existence in which it lives.
Joe eventually returned to Earth. At this time, he has realized that every step of life is like a piece of music, with the beauty of its notes anytime, anywhere. He has completely turned his life into jazz. At this time, his life has become beautiful and full of agility, and at the same time, he will not be overjoyed. His music score is no longer an external program, but a flow after inner awakening.