Screenings, nailbiting

The Crossroads Film Festival is upon us yet again. This year brings a special treat, one that makes me extremely nervous:

See Spirited Away on the big screen again! Or for the first time. Hayao Miyazaki’s beloved masterwork, winner of the Best Animated Feature Oscar and Berlin International Film Festival’s Golden Bear, Spirited Away tells the story of preteen Chihiro as she finds love, family, and a sense of purpose in a seemingly abandoned amusement park. This screening will also feature commentary by Jackson film critic and blogger Walter Biggins (

Good Lord, how do I get myself into these things? Public speaking makes me nervous. I’m no expert on Miyazaki, anime in general, or Japanese folklore. All the same, in two weeks, I’ll be standing before a crowd of people—many of whom will know much more about these subjects than I do—babbling on and on. I have about 30 minutes total—ten before the screening, 20 after it—to discuss Miyazaki’s masterpiece, and I only have an inkling of an idea on how to handle this. I’m thinking that my intro will essentially be a rehash of my 2006 essay, “The Daily Grind in Dreamland,” which was reprinted in my zine, The Patter of Raindrops. In some ways, I’ll personalize this, telling how I came to Miyazaki through this film—I had seen Princess Mononoke before this one, but Spirited Away was the mindblower that set me to seeing the rest of his oeuvre, and to Japanese animation.

Okay, I can deal with that. It’s the post-screening discussion that’s got me biting my nails. I would like it to be a Q&A where I throw out questions for discussion to the audience about what’s going on in this dream-like film. (If you’ve seen it, you know there’s a lot of room for interpretation.) So, instead of my acting as an expert capable of answering questions of minutiae about technical details and themes, the 20 minutes can be a conversation amongst the audience.

So, I’ll throw out some opening salvos here, in the hopes that you’ll provide guidance to me. What burning issues would you like to see discussed? What topics deserve exploration and/or sharper focus? What items in Spirited Away aren’t talked about enough? In short, what questions would you have, if you were in attendance? Please leave your thoughts in the comments box. I appreciate any help you can offer.

About Walter Biggins

Walter Biggins is a writer based in Atlanta, GA. He is the co-author (with Daniel Couch) of Bob Mould's Workbook (Bloomsbury, 2017). His work has been published in The Quarterly Conversation,, Bookslut (RIP), The Comics Journal, The Baseball Chronicle, and other periodicals. Twitter: @walter_biggins.
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4 Responses to Screenings, nailbiting

  1. Chris Guider says:

    You’ll do great, Walter.
    I can’t speak to the specifics of the film, but as a former teacher, I’d recommend involving the audience and acting as an informed moderator of the post-screening discussion. My anxiety as a new teacher began to subside when I stopped trying to be the expert and started viewing my role as one of strategic communication faciliation. This mindset allowed me to better use and incorporate knowledge/insights from others rather than viewing such instances as a threat to my authority.
    Again, I’m sure it will go well. Above all, just communicate your enthusiasm and fascination for the film. That will serve as the best stimulus for discussion.

  2. llws says:

    Just throwing out some possibilities:
    *the story about what inspired Miyazaki to make it in the first place
    *Chihiro/Sen: work and identity (talk a little about Whisper of the Heart here?)
    *the joy of Miyazaki’s makeshift families
    *background on Japanese gods and demons / visual style of movie
    *personal and political in Miyazaki (comparing Spirited Away with films like Princess Mononoke, Nausicaa, Castle in the Sky, etc.)
    By the way, Carolina brought me The Patter of Raindrops for Easter, and I’ve already read it cover to cover. I especially enjoyed the lagniappe.
    Looking forward to it.

  3. Michael says:

    Walter, what an exciting opportunity (though I can definitely understand the trepidation — there’s nothing like public speaking to make me do my homework!). I think introducing the film with something based on your “Daily Grind” essay is a good idea. If I were attending, here are some issues/ideas I’d love to discuss or ask about during the Q&A:
    *spirituality and how the film (or perhaps Miyazaki in his work overall) deals with issues of spirituality
    *identity (individual, familial)
    *what the film might suggest about Japanese customs and traditions and also about national history/memory
    *the film’s place within the canon of anime films
    Best of luck.

  4. C says:

    You’ll be awesome I know it! Feel free to plant a few of us in the audience with questions to get things started ;)

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