Film director Hayao Miyazaki is world-renowned for his enlightening fantastical Japaese movies, such as My Neighbor Totoro, Princes Mononoke, and Kiki’s Delivery Service. His most popular movie, however, is the horrific yet enchanting masterpiece Spirited Away. It tells the story of a young girl who must navigate her way through a parallel spirit world in order to save her transformed parents and also to become a stronger individual. This fantasy world is teeming with exoticism, from the large luxurious bathhouse in which the movie is centered to the bathhouse proprietor Yubaba’s richly decorated office. The over-the top and excessive decorations are characteristic of the myth of the Oriental and its opulence.
Pollution and over-consumption are a large theme in Spirited Away. The heroic quest itself even begins with the gluttony of the parents which eventually turns them into literal pigs. In Purity and Danger, Mary Douglas describes dirt as being “matter out of place”. The story mainly revolves around outside elements attempting to enter and defile the traditional and purifying Japanese bathhouse. One such element is the character Kaonashi which literally means “No Face” in English. Kaonashi is a tall black body with just a mask as a defining feature. He is very quiet and can not speak intelligibly. Although this parallel world is filled with all sorts of terrific creatures, Kaonashi is the one of the only ones who is considered a true monster, though this is not explained why. However, it is not until he absorbs one of the greedy bathhouse workers, which in a way “pollutes” his body, that he starts gaining a monstrous form. It is his need to feel accepted that pushes him to absorb the negative, selfish, and defiling behaviors of the bathhouse workers. He bribes workers with gold that he conjures and demands for more and more food to be served to him. His insatiable appetite is comparable to that of the eponymous protagonist novel Vathek, whose constant cravings were reflective of the extravagance of the Orient. As Kaonashi gains more of these behaviors, his body becomes larger and more monstrous, with dark ooze dripping from him, emphasizing the dirtiness which now resides inside of him. It is not until Chihiro feeds him an emetic dumpling given to her by the River Spirit (which is representative of Nature and purity) that Kaonashi begins to expel all of the pollution that he has absorbed. Little by little, he rids himself of all that has contaminated him until he has once again receded back into the timid creature he once was.
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Napier, Susan J. “Matter Out of Place: Carnival, Containment, and Cultural Recovery in Miyazaki’s
Spirited Away.” The Journal of Japanese Studies 32.2 (2006): 287-310. Print.
Spirited Away. By Hayao Miyazaki. Studio Ghibli, 2001. DVD.