A friend of mine is teaching a class on global Alice in Wonderlands and asked me to step in on the final discussion of Spirited Away. My instinct is to focus on the two interludes in the onsen, the ones with カオナシ/No-Face and 川の神/the River God. She says they've been focusing on "nostalgia" so far--an important topic when dealing with the film, I think we can all agree--but I think it's fascinating to see these two scenes in parallel with each other. I think each one is suffering under the superficiality and greed of the contemporary, mundane society--川の神 is filled with pollution and the detritus of everyday life to the point of being an entirely different being, a "stink spirit," and カオナシ repeats, pro-forma, the 川の神's reward system without understanding or particularly caring about the value of effort-->reward that payment must represent and that's how he becomes the grotesque version of himself that Sen has to save by referring back to 川の神's gift.
Does this sound good? Anybody have any other thoughts on what must/must not be discussed with undergrads about this film? I'm tempted to talk about the train too--for a film that takes so strong a position about the past (v. the present/contemporary/urban), it's both surprising to a Western audience and super understandable for a Japanese one that the train would exist outside that moral judgment. Because the train is beautiful, right? It's lonely, it's isolated, but it's also beautiful. And it found a way to exist in the presence of water--water, which is almost always a symbol of what was lost by modernity in this film--simply and without malice.
Anything else that must be covered? *thinking*