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How Miyazaki Perfectly Encapsulated The Psychedelic Journey

Illustration by Jaya (Arianna Lusardi)

Three of the most psychedelic movies by Hayao Miyazaki that you can watch today

How do we show an invisible world? The psychedelic world can be hard to depict. Still, Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli stroke a stride by making timeless movies that resonate with the viewer deeply while bringing us on a true psychedelic journey. In this article, we will discuss some of the most transformative Ghibli movies and how they relate to the psychedelic experience. We will also speak about the Greek idea of Katabasis: the journey to the underworld and how Miyazaki’s characters also experience their own Katabasis journey.

Amid fantastical characters, vivid backgrounds, and entrancing storytelling, the following movies go beyond the experience of watching an animation and touch on themes deeper than the surface of our being. Miyazaki is a master of creating the perfect environment to send the viewer on their mind-expanding journeys. Each one of the three movies we are going to speak about today has its unique themes and personality, however, they all seem to be similar in that all three movies are about a journey of self-growth and transformation.

Ghibli’s Most Psychedelic Movies

It seems impossible to rank Ghibli movies according to how psychedelic they are. Miyazaki movies are filled with a rich soundtrack and plenty of mystical themes that seem to come straight out of a psychedelic retreat. While it’s tough to rank them, we can still choose three movies as a sample of his work and use them to draw parallels with the experience with entheogen substances and psychedelic integration.

Spirited Away: Chihiro’s Journey

Image Courtesy from Studio Ghibli

The first movie on our list is twenty-plus years old and still captivates generation after generation of movie watchers. Spirited Away follows the journey of Chihiro through the world of spirits to integrate Haku, a boy who guides the protagonist through thick and thin in a world of vivid colors and lively characters. Spirited Away touches on themes of coming of age, facing life changes, and integrating the shadow. It feels like Miyazaki was intentionally trying to depict a psychedelic experience with forest medicine.

The first time I watched this movie I had the privilege to see it in the theatres, but I admit that I was too young to understand it. I thought it looked amazing, but I couldn’t tell what Spirited Away was about. This was until recently, when I gave a second chance to Spirited Away during a psilocybin ceremony and I had the most awesome insights and epiphanies that made the movie click totally with me.

This is a video I made about Spirited Away and the analogy to the human soul. It can help you finally understand the movie if you are having trouble grasping it:

Most psychedelic scene: Cleaning The Dirt Spirit

Going on a psychedelic experience and engaging in the integration stage that comes afterwards, is an exercise of self-cleaning. Going deep within the self looking for how we can improve ourselves is at the core of going on a sacred ceremony with entheogen substances. Spirited Away uses the bathhouse and the job of cleaning the spirits as a metaphor for the process that happens every night when we go to sleep when the sensory information experienced during the day is processed and stored in the memory.

Image Courtesy from Studio Ghibli

To enforce this picture, remember how in Spirited Away the ghost city was flushed with spirits who crossed the bridge to the bathhouse to be cleaned? This represents the process of self-optimization that happens in our brains during our sleep. Scientists have linked this process of self-optimization that happens during sleep with the benefits of going on a psychedelic ceremony, highlighting the importance of good sleep during your integration process.


Image Courtesy from Studio Ghibli

When the dirt spirit first appeared, Chihiro felt repulsed. Nevertheless, she got down to it and put effort into cleaning the spirit. Once she uncloged the first piece of trash from the spirit, more garbage came with it in a chain reaction. Chihiro released a stream of garbage that had accumulated in that spirit, revealing an ancient spirit. This represents issues in our lives that we ignore and accumulate.

We usually avoid facing these things, but during the psychedelic experience, they seem easy to analyze and resolve. This scene reminds me of my psychedelic integration journey that started with having to teach myself how to untangle the thoughts and emotions within and to accept the things inside of me that I deemed to be dirty and avoided dealing with. Only after I put all things aside and got down to clean the accumulated psychological garbage, I was able to go deeper into my psychedelic journeys.

Howl’s Moving Castle

Image Courtesy from Studio Ghibli
Image Courtesy from Studio Ghibli

Based on a book, this movie follows Sophie’s encounter with the strange Wizard Howl and their respective journeys of metamorphosis. Howl’s Moving Castle is a movie about using rationality to understand and master the self, making all parts of the being work together as a coherent organism.

This animation depicts some of the most realistic representations of psychedelic experiences (especially Ayahuasca) that I have ever seen. The visuals and soundtrack transported me to my own Ayahuasca experiences and it honestly makes me doubt that the animators never tripped before—a must-watch for people who want to have a taste of the peak psychedelic experience.

Most psychedelic scene: Howl’s Fever: Metamorphosis

I have to start by saying that the best depiction of a psychedelic peak experience is Sophie’s and Howl’s encounter with the Queen. But in this session, I am going to speak about another scene. Howl starts as a charming blond man with amazing clothes and classy as hell. At a certain point, Howl catches a fever and undergoes a deep metamorphosis that turns him into a shapeless blob and transforms him into a humble down-to-earth young man afterwards.

Image Courtesy from Studio Ghibli

This scene reminds me of my early experimentations with psychedelics where I finally came to reckon that the image I held of myself was just a pompous view of who I was. My psychedelic explorations led me to a similar process of deconstruction and rebuilding of my relationship with my Ego.

Princess Mononoke

Image Courtesy from Studio Ghibli

Princess Mononoke is one of Ghibli’s most iconic movies. Like the other two movies we mentioned, Princess Mononoke goes beyond the theme of journey within the self and integration. This movie has a strong message of natural conservation and touches on other social issues in Japanese society. 

The characters, scenarios, and storytelling seem to indicate that Princess Mononoke is an analogy to the human soul and the personal struggle of the individual to integrate the genuine — instinctive — self and become one with the whole of nature. This is a narrative method that is consistent among these three Miyazaki movies. Let’s discuss this further in the next chapter.

Most psychedelic scene: The Prince Learns To Breath

Image Courtesy from Studio Ghibli

It’s tough to pick one scene as the most psychedelic one, but I am going with one that will probably surprise the reader. If you haven’t watched Princess Mononoke recently, then you probably don’t even remember this scene. I am talking about the part when the prince takes the place of the Tatara women, workers in the furnace who have to swing a huge wooden platform. The prince fails miserably. This scene depicts someone trying to take over the control of their breath and learning that some things work best if we observe without taking control.

There is a similar scene in Spirited Away when Chihiro helps the little coal creatures with their work in the boiler room of the bathhouse and she also disrupts the entire system that was working fine without their help.

Image Courtesy from Studio Ghibli

In Buddhism, meditation is considered a door to higher states of conscience. In Japan, even children learn how to meditate. When learning to meditate, every novice has to go through a process of getting to terms with the rhythms of their bodies, especially their breath. Learning how to breathe sounds silly, but if you ever tried meditating, then you may have noticed how quickly you lose your breath if you try to control it actively.

Image Courtesy from Studio Ghibli

Part of the art of meditation is being comfortable observing the breath without interrupting or taking over the work of breathing that would otherwise happen involuntarily and perfectly. This perfectly translates to the psychedelic experience, where the participant has to take some time to get used to the changes in their senses and perception like learning how to walk again.

Plato’s Movie Review Tips

I always thought that Plato’s The Republic was a book about political science, but now I feel like when Plato wrote The Republic he was making a a point about the human soul. Instead of studying men by writing about the experience of one individual, he used the rise and fall of a city to paint a picture of humanity.

The Republic ends with the Myth of Er, which is a fascinating story of a soldier who died on the battlefield, but he came back a few days later with all the memories of what occurred during the time he was dead. Plato describes the afterlife in a way that rivals Alex Greys’ visionary DMT paintings. Plato was an initiate of the Eleusinian Mysteries, so the Myth of Er could contain a taste of what happened during the Eleusinian Mystery rites.

This kind of journey to the underworld story was a common theme in Greek Mythology and is named Katabasis. Gods, goddesses, and even humans have been told to have been allowed to venture to the Underworld and back. In some of these stories, the hero always undergoes a complete and utter metamorphosis.

Your Journey

With this idea in mind, what would it look like if Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Princess Mononoke were also analogies to the human soul and mind? 

Similar to Katabasis stories in ancient Greece, all three movies start with a trauma or sudden and drastic change in the lives of the characters. After the characters embark on a journey where the main character meets their counterparts of opposite genders, which speaks to the duality of the soul. Then, the movie progresses ultimately culminating in the full integration of the being.

Next time you watch a Studio Ghibli movie, keep your psychedelic explorations in mind, and I am sure that you will find plenty of material to support your psychedelic integrations.

Need professional help? Contact a psychedelic integration coach today and start your journey.


1. Froese T, Leenen I, Palenicek T. A role for enhanced functions of sleep in psychedelic therapy? Adaptive Behavior. 2018;26(3):129-135. doi:10.1177/1059712318762735

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