My promise to Spirited Away

October 22, 2021
Drawing of a girl sitting on a balcony overlooking the sea in the nighttime. In the distance a boat sails away

By Tăng Hoàng Tố Thư

When I was 10 years old, I refused to watch Spirited Away. I thought I will watch it later when I’m wise enough to be able to understand it. I promised myself that I would definitely watch it someday. Over time, this promise I made to myself 10 years ago became just another memory, one of those things that happened but that fade from our minds before long. 

Yesterday when my friends randomly chose Spirited Away to watch together, I suddenly remembered my promise, knowing it would now be kept and done. 

I’m now lying on my bed, playing the movie’s closing track, ‘Always with me’, and writing my first blog. I was thinking about writing something to express myself for years, but my study load has always been an obstacle. As usual, I compromised on holding up my plan. We seem to always be swept up in the ordinary, hasty, tiring flow of work and study, and leave our promises behind. Thoughts such as, ‘Nah, I was too busy today’, ‘Now is not the time’, ‘Maybe I’ll do it over the summer break’, have become my catchphrases. I didn’t realise that I would never finish my promises, because all I did was neglect them.

But Spirited Away reminded me that it’s those promises which empower us to keep the toxicity of adulthood at bay. 

‘Once you do something, you never forget. Even if you can’t remember.’ 

I was really impressed by this quote from Zeniba, a warm-hearted witch in the spiritual world, spoken to Chihiro who was bewildered by familiarity with Haku. When Haku was at death’s door as a punishment for stealing Zeniba’s cachet, Chihiro decided to go to a faraway place to apologise to Zeniba on behalf of Haku. It was her promise to save Haku that gave her strength. She always remembered the promises that she made to herself and to others, which prevented her from being degenerated to become greedy, despite being surrounded by all the avaricious demons and ghosts.

It’s hard not to lose yourself in the real-life adult world when there are all these things to be concerned about. Day by day, more and more people are bragging about how rich and privileged they are, overflowing on my social media. It triggers my ambition. It plants in my mind that a mediocre life is not enough, that I must earn a lot of money. 

It made me ask myself, if I got lost in Spirited Away, could my mind stay sound and not become absorbed in greed? Sadly, I don’t have an answer. 

It’s scary to realise this is not the person who you wanted to be. Maybe we all are Chihiro. Maybe we are all waiting for our Haku to wake us up, and stop us from chasing illusions. 

Luckily, it will not happen if we all have something, be it love, family or little peaceful moments in life, to cherish. Even though Chihiro misplaces her memories about everything that happened in Spirited Away, once she meets Haku again, she will remember. Perhaps it will take a while for her memories to return, but we never really forget someone that we’ve met before, right? 

The movie’s ending is neither sad nor happy. It’s practical. After defeating temptation, we go back to our world, never look back, but never forget. As long as we are wise enough to know what is worth sacrificing ourselves for, even if we get lost, we will find the way out. This appears to be the right way to mature. 

After all, it’s not that hard to keep a promise, is it? 

Tăng Hoàng Tố Thư (Vee) hosts R U Really OK?, Friday 8pm during semester on Radio Fodder

Image from: https://www.rogerebert.com/far-flung-correspondents/chihiros-journey-analyzing-spirited-away