If you have not yet seen Bong Joon-ho’s Palme D’Or winner, Parasite, you should. Like so many other viewers, I am infected by this film and also do not wish to spoil any of its surprises.
I will restrict myself to one image from Parasite–that of a long staircase angled steeply against a wall. It is raining and three members of a family approach the top of this staircase. They are already drenched and they are still far from home. This image from Parasite is not on the web (yet), but the image it reminded me of is.
In Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (2001), the protagonist, Chihiro gains work but loses her name by the owner of a spirit bathhouse. She knows herself only as Sen (One Thousand); that is, her sense of self has been shortened to a number. At one point, Sen finds herself on the outside of the bathhouse, at the top of a long, steep staircase that clings to the external wall of the bathhouse in precarious liminality. Neither fully inside nor outside the bathhouse, Sen wobbles hesitantly and then practically falls down the stairs and into the boiler room–indicated in the second image (right) by a glowing orange rectangle. In the boiler room, a spider-like man Kamaji directs the bathhouse mechanics of filling the baths with water and fragrances. It also is where we are introduced to tiny soot-ball creatures that seem to be at least alienated laborers, if not out-and-out slaves. The staircase–accessed only from this liminal exteriority–connects the beautiful bathhouse above with boiler room below. What seems interesting–and perhaps parallel with Parasite–is that the division between up and down is not that between no-work and work, or between consumption and production. The bathhouse is a place of work, after all, and the workers strive to satisfy the spirit-customers who, themselves, need to consume the services of the bathhouse because of the arduous labors they perform in the world.
And yet opposition is drawn and it is drawn starkly by this wall-clinging, steep, long, and precarious staircase. The urban staircase in Parasite brought this other animé staircase to mind, and led me to reflect on the divisions it is demarcating.