Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

Spirited Back and Forth

Skylar is watching Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away in the front room. She has been getting increasingly interested in anime and manga lately, with Studio Ghibli's releases at the top of her list. I find repeat viewing of Miyazaki's films very rewarding because, in addition to being spectacularly beautiful examples of the animator's art, they are astonishingly complex from a narrative standpoint. His plots consistently manage to evade the ruts in which films aimed at both children and adults usually get bogged down.

And I think that's good for the people who watch them. The other day Skylar recounted a dream that she'd had the night before, which she said she'd remembered well because it was so strange. In it, she was on the playground at school. The boys, though, appeared in the shape of dogs. And she herself was not human, but, in her words, "a smoke spirit." Only her best friend looked and acted like herself.

"There were these little copies of paintings. She needed to go through the one that looks like the Mona Lisa, but the only way she could do it was if she cried," Skylar noted. "Because she was laughing, other paintings were there instead. I kept trying to make her cry, so she could go through the Mona Lisa." Eventually, passage through this unlikely portal was achieved and both Skylar and her best friend found themselves in the Louvre.

"There was a big costume party going on," she continued. "The weird part was that there was this yellow and white beehive hairdo I put on my head, but it blocked my view. There was also a piece of cloth that draped down over my eyes. And a collar that came up to cover my eyes too. I couldn't see anything." Hearing this, her mom remarked that it sounded like Skylar had dreamt a Matthew Barney film. I could certainly picture her dream that way.

But the presence of the "smoke spirit" and the emphasis on metamorphosis called Miyazaki's films to mind more than anything. Now, as I listen to Spirited Away in the background, I realize how much Skylar's recounting of the dream borrowed from his aesthetic.

And that gets me thinking about something that is obvious, but perhaps not taken seriously enough in its obviousness, namely the fact that the "dream work" of the psyche itself occurs under the influence of cultural artifacts, with narrative cinema playing an especially big role over the past century. Dreams antedate cinema. But the dreaming we do today is antedated by cinema.

It's possible, of course, that Skylar was only able to recall her dream in great specificity -- there were more details I didn't mention here -- by imposing a template borrowed from her film viewing onto memories that were more fragmented and inchoate. Or she may have made it sound more like a Studio Ghibli production because she knows that I share her fondness for Miyazaki films. Even if the Miyazaki imprimatur was purely a back formation in this case, though, I'll warrant that her future dreaming is shaped by her having retold her dream this way. Luckily, this in once case in which I heartily welcome the influence of the media. The "it" inside us could do a lot worse than assuming the forms proferred by Spirited Away.
Tags: daughter, dream, film, theory

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