One of the curses (or blessings) of a literary childhood is a distaste for simplicity in things like titles… and even website URLs.
Having dabbled my toes in the murky waters of 'web optimization' (oww!!) I'm well aware that other titles could have been more effective. Heck- I probably should have titled this site ‘Roon’s Pot Sales’ (or maybe not).
So why Kohaku River?
(The word 'sublime' gets thrown around casually, but its evolved through a range of very specific meanings. In almost all cases, however, it evokes something immeasurable in the natural world, even fearful... but also infused with a great, trans-rational loveliness. At it's best, I'd like to think that the sublime can be recognized in a dew drop as easily as a mountain thunderstorm... but it's a shivering
, uneasy recognition, while still intoxicating).
Obviously, my ‘day job’ as a wildlife/conservation biologist is a pivotal factor here, as is my love for canoeing in cold, northerly places.
In my ceramics, I’m interested in the intersection of the sublime, the mythological, and the threatened- as well as with themes drawn from ecofeminism and the tension between ideas of Christian stewardship and Eastern philosophy.
First- for anyone who hasn’t seen ‘Spirit Away’, the film teems with gratuitous beauty. It’s not ‘safe’ beauty, however. Miyazaki loves the play of light over water and grass and the gleam of moonlight on cloudscapes… but every scene hums with a fey potentiality.
In any case, I haven’t seen a better encapsulation of these ideas than Miyazaki’s ‘Spirit Away’.
The plot centers on a bathhouse where the spirits come to wash away the stench and decay of humanity. As with much of Miyazaki's work, the storyline is only tangentially linear. However, I'll mention one pivotal scene.
Part of what lends ‘Spirited Away’ its resonance is Miyazaki’s sense of concern, and even loss, with respect to the natural world. This theme was developed even more strongly in 'Princess Mononoke'... but it's 'Spirited Away' that sticks with me.
The child protagonist (Chihiro- more on her later) has been charged with catering to a troublesome 'guest'- a ‘stink spirit’, a shambling entity of pure filth. In vintage Miyazaki fashion, little is as it seems on the surface. The stink spirit, of course, is the fallen spirit of a river, and the ‘chains’ are all the years of rubbish, ordure and slime that have crippled it.
The river spirit- freed of its bondage- laughs through a weighted silence, whispers ‘well done’ to Chihiro, and soars into the night. It reminds me of the River God in Prince Caspian, seeing the bridge that enslaved him crumble at Aslan’s command.
The scene has transfixed me every time I've watched it.
t’s another river spirit, however, that gives my site its name. ‘Haku’ is an enigmatic changeling who befriends Chihiro when she is at her most vulnerable and fearful. He is- it turns out- a dragon… but moreover, the spirit of a river (the Kohaku River) that was buried beneath concrete some years in the past. His name and identity were lost as a consequence… but Chihiro, in her evolving courage and independence, find a way to restore them.
It evokes a thin veil between the world we see and something deeper… a veil that children penetrate with ease, but that thickens for most of us, unless we work tirelessly to defy it.
So- the phrase ‘Kohaku River’ evokes a natural world freed from tyranny. It evokes friendship and courage and the loveliness of the untrammeled.
‘Spirited Away’ epitomizes much that is splendid in Miyazaki’s work, including…
- An unsentimental respect for age- with its wisdom and cantankerousness intermingled
- Honor and empowerment of young women (Chihiro’s arc from sullen, spoiled child to loving, brave heroine is one of the finest things I’ve seen in cinema
- Constant revels in weirdness. I love the grunting, bouncing heads in the office of Yubaba (the sorceress-tyrant that runs the bathhouse). I love the radish spirit. I love No-face and his comical (but oh-so-poignant) subversion of the bathhouse and all of its denizens (except, of course, for Chihiro).
(Need I add- if you haven't seen it, hie thee down to the local house of DVD asap!)
Ultimately, however, it’s the co-mingled ideas of broken chains and the sublime that lead me to name my site after this character from Miyazaki’s wonderful film.