Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away

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.

Douglas, Mary. Purity and Danger; an Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. New York:

Praeger, 1966. Print.

Macwilliams, Mark Wheeler. “History and Nostalgia in Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away.” Japanese

Visual Culture: Explorations in the World of Manga and Anime. Armonk, NY: M.E.

Sharpe, 2008. 256-73. Print.

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.


3 responses to “Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away

  1. No Face is somewhat similar to my chosen character, the vampire Lestat, in that he is an outsider looking for acceptance in a society that judges him by his destructive hunger to be a monster, even though he looks like one of them at first. He is lonely and searching for love, and his desperate desire for it can drive him to madness, excess, and cruelty. Interesting post!

  2. I enjoyed the depth with which you addressed the monstrosity of No Face. He is made monstrous due to his obvious physical appearance (the dark skin and lack of a recognizable face), his insatiable hunger (excess), and the exotic land of the spirits in which he dwells. These points all speak to the monster as something exotic or culturally other than established norms.

  3. Your analysis of pollution and absorption of monstrosity, both physical (with the bathhouse worker and the food) and symbolically (the acquisition of greed). The matter out of place and breaking of established norms is extremely prevalent throughout the movie, with the shape-shifting witch, a gigantic baby, etc. I would also point to the use of pollution to convey monstrosity in the case of the river spirit that visits the bath house. His filthiness leads the workers to try to ward him away, but this monstrosity is revealed to be a mask of sorts, and the spirit returns to his natural form upon being cleansed.

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