Weblog Archives

  Wednesday  May 7  2003    09: 36 AM


Cartoons To Ignite Your Id
Can animated gems like "Spirited Away" save the ravaged American imagination?

And then along comes one of those extraordinarily rare and shimmering hunks of gorgeous pop-culture art/entertainment to make you rethink everything you thought you believed and about which you were sort of comfortably sad and bitter and resigned.

You know the ones. Those astonishing unexpected gems that somehow manage to break through your thick wall of bitter media-numbed ennui and slip right around your fine-meshed bullshit filter and hit you right in the solar plexus of hope and enchantment and maybe humankind isn't so utterly savagely doomed after all even though it probably is, but oh well.

Because this is when you finally catch the animated Japanese masterpiece "Spirited Away" on DVD. This is when you finally find a pop-culture art piece that speaks to multiple levels of human creativity and divine imaginative power, which you want to champion and cheer and exalt and bow humbly before and say to the jaded world hey, you know what?

And if you are anything like me, you see this movie and you are completely taken aback, dazzled and humbled and impressed, at once enthralled and encouraged and also realizing in one sad sighing punch how utterly and embarrassingly bereft American popular culture is of any sort of fresh and ingenious mythmaking.

One little girl. One stunning adventure. No clear villains. No simplistic and ham-fisted good vs. evil plot line (sorry, Dubya). Breathtaking range of magic and fantasy and character and detail. Endlessly inventive, completely unpredictable, randomly imperfect. Complicated, nonlinear storyline, almost to a fault. A messy and odd but still radiant moral universe at once familiar and entirely extraordinary.

And oh dear God, how necessary and invaluable this kind of movie is right now.

Look. All signs point to the fact that we are facing a dire failure of imagination in this country. We are clinging like blind bats to dying (dead) myths about who we are and what we stand for and what angry patriarchal war demons we believe in. Our sour leaders frantically clutch crumbling and outdated and jingoistic notions of empire and God and righteousness. You know they do.

Magic and imagination and free thinking are reviled right now, threatened, openly despised as anti-American and unpatriotic and oh my God don't you dare question the prevailing boot-stompin' cowboy-hatted violence-happy ethos of God and guns and might-makes-right or John Ashcroft will come to your house and suck the pith straight outta your soul with a Shop Vac, unnerstand?

You gotta find your gorgeous reminders where you can. You gotta hold up the occasional beacons of pure divine imagination as high as possible and point to them more frantically than ever and wave your hands in the air and try to get some attention, because everyone seems to be looking down and askance and forlorn, scared of their own mythological power, afraid to make eye contact with the potent forces of creative and nubile supernatural myth lest someone think them some sort of, you know, evildoer.

When in fact quirky, lush, incendiary art such as "Spirited Away" can only help us rediscover those invaluable traits we need the most, those very ones that Chihiro, the film's initially bratty 10-year-old protagonist, ultimately embodies: that is to say, radiant, and self-defined and utterly, wonderfully fearless.