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This “Rewind” post goes far back, to a movie I haven’t seen in seven and a half years.
I call Naruto my first anime. In truth, I first watched anime over three years before the orange-clad ninja ever crossed my screen. I just didn’t know it.
I was at my friend’s house for her thirteenth birthday party, along with a few other girls. Looking back, it makes sense that she’d like Miyazaki’s films. From my perspective, our middle school didn’t have the stereotypical social ladder, but we were definitely one of the fringe groups. I bet that a couple of my friends were into anime and manga, but I was neither observant enough or close enough to realize it.
My friend turned on a movie I’d never heard of before, called Spirited Away. It was weird, and a little creepy. A girl got separated from her parents, who I think turned into pigs for a while. Instead of the tourist spot they were supposed to be at, she found herself in a much darker place with strange creatures. There was a really odd, scary old lady with a huge head. Her creepy baby was gigantic, much bigger than any adult. There were also some oppressed-looking people working in a hot, big, windowless place with water.
From what I recall, it was like a dark Alice in Wonderland with even weirder creatures and an Asian twist.
Remember, when I watched this, I didn’t know it was from Japan. I didn’t know who Miyazaki Hayao was, or even what anime was. I was unfamiliar with Japanese culture, and I wouldn’t have recognized Japanese bathhouses, let alone the influence of Japanese folklore. My understanding of Japan was limited to lower level history classes, which covered the samurai and mentioned atomic bombs. I hadn’t even seen Nickelodeon's Avatar the Last Airbender, which would have at least prepared me a little for the spirit world in Spirited Away.
As a result, I really didn’t like the movie. I didn’t enjoy it, and I wasn’t mature enough or informed enough to appreciate it as an art.
Two years later, in ninth grade, I attended a tiny home school co-op. A couple of the other girls were really into Miyazaki’s films. They even declared Tuesday to be “Totoro Tuesday,” and would bring a stuffed Totoro to class. But, since I disliked Spirited Away, they didn’t think I’d like My Neighbor Totoro or Howl’s Moving Castle. I wasn’t eager to try those movies anyway. So, when they watched Howl’s Moving Castle during lunch time, I sat on the other side of our only classroom, doing my own thing. I still didn’t really know what anime was.
Looking back, I can’t believe how oblivious I was. I had no idea that my friends were standing on the edge of such a vibrant subculture. I hadn’t made the connection between what they watched and the manga-style drawings my cousin showed me a couple years before. My past ignorance almost amazes me.
I want to re-watch Spirited Away. I think I’d like it, now that I’ve watched and loved a few of Miyazaki’s other movies. I wonder if our library has it... even if they don’t, I’ll return to school soon. Someone in my dorm is bound to have a copy. Are you a fan of Miyazaki? Are there any anime that would have weirded you out in the past, but that you enjoy now?