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The Magic of Spirited Away

It is not every day that the experience of watching a movie can transport me beyond the structured confines of the plot and make me contemplate my own life. It is rarer still that the general sense of strong emotion that the movie provokes seems more important, more satisfying than the plot itself once all is said and done.

I experienced just such a movie when I watched Spirited Away.

What I found important was not the plot, the characters, or the setting. The movie’s true magic lies elsewhere. 

Somehow, if you let it, if you approach it with an open mind, Spirited Away manages to fill you with a sense of childlike wonder. It’s a fragile effect that would likely fall apart if you were to think about it too hard or try to analyze what, exactly, it is about the movie that manages to accomplish this wonderful feat, but the effect cannot be denied.

Watching the movie made me curious: why are such feelings so rare? Why have we allowed this state of mind to slip away from us, to be relegated to child’s play and the socially unacceptable fantasy worlds of those who haven’t properly “grown up”?

Clearly it’s not that only the young can experiences these feelings. Spirited Away left me with no doubt of that. I will admit that I had to battle my own sense of disbelief at the beginning of its tale. It took a good while for it to really draw me in. But once I did I was hooked. I was enveloped by it and felt a true sense of emptiness once the credits rolled and it was gone.  Like the mournful hours after a joyous celebration, I just wanted to go back to the good times that had somehow slipped away from me.

But what I missed was not the characters or the story or the world. What I wanted to go back to was not the classic “Alice falls down the rabbit hole” plot structure or dreamlike world.

What I wanted to go back to was that magical feeling of envelopment, of being in a different world. 

Some of my most cherished childhood memories are of creating such worlds for myself and for my friends. I think much of my interest in gaming and other forms of storytelling today might well be an attempt to recapture that feeling of being in another world. It doesn’t come close to those bygone days of youth, but I guess it’s the best socially acceptable outlet I have for seeking this type of fulfillment.

Frankly, that’s a problem.

Spirited Away reminded me how important such feelings are. Everyone needs to escape every once in a while. Everyone needs to build their own reality and live in it for a time. Real life can be a heck of a drag and it’s a damn shame that we treat imagination as such a leper, to be cast aside once we’ve entered adulthood.

Of course we must all face the sad truth that we have to grow up and enter the true world for ourselves someday, but we don’t have to leave a large part of ourselves behind in the transition. Child’s play shouldn’t just be left to the children.

Open up your mind, relax, and watch Spirited Away. See if you don’t agree with me by the time it’s over.

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