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Shintoism and Spirited Away
Transcript of Shintoism and Spirited Away
Shintoism is an Ancient religion of Japan which dates back as long ago as 1000 B.C.E. but is still practiced today by at least five million people. The followers of Shintoism believe that spiritual powers exist in the natural world.
The name Shinto comes from Chinese characters for Shen ('divine being'), and Tao ('way') and means 'Way of the Spirits'.
Shinto sees human beings as basically good and has no concept of original sin
Shinto has no founder, canonical scriptures, or God.
Shinto does not require adherents to follow it as their only religion.
Shinto is a very local religion, in which devotees are likely to be concerned with their local shrine rather than the religion as a whole.
This Shinto perspective asserts itself right from the beginning, as Chihiro passes a group of
As Boyd and Nishimura note in their article, "Shinto Perspectives in Miyazaki's Anime Film 'Spirited Away,'" Hayao Miyazaki himself "acknowledges his indebtedness to this tradition."
For instance, he makes note of the "solstice rituals," during which locals would call
forth to bathe in their baths--apparently inspiring Yubaba's bath house for the spirits.
The essence of Shinto is the Japanese devotion to kami, shrines, and various rituals.
Kami are spirits that are concerned with human beings. If they are treated properly, they will intervene in our lives to bring benefits such as health and success.
Shinto is not a way of explaining the world. What matters are rituals that enable human beings to communicate with kami.
a brief summary
begins with Chihiro, a young girl, moving to the rural countryside with her parents.
After taking a detour to a supposedly "abandoned amusement park," Chihiro finds herself in the realm of the spirits.
When her parents incur the wrath of the witch Yubaba by eating the food of the spirit realm, they are turned into pigs!
Chihiro is forced to work in Yubaba's bath house for the spirits in order to save her parents--by the film's end, she ultimately transforms from an apathetic girl to one capable of immense bravery, hard-work, and compassion.
Haku, a River Spirit
The manifestation of this power as
-- a pure heart and mind.
Unfortunately, this is hard to maintain, as often the real world causes our
to turn inward, upon ourselves.
Thus we need to live lives that cultivate this purity--this sincerity, or
, to the world around us and those who inhabit it.
These small, house like structures "a place of superior potency that can effect changes in one's life."
supposedly inhabit these structures in some form or another, one has to be sensitized to their presence in order for it to have any sort of effect.
This occurs when one moves into a liminal realm--for
one returns, one finds that one is, in essence, "reborn."
Chihiro's journey through the tunnel and across the dry riverbed represent her movement into this liminal space--and her growing sensitivity to the spirits.
This notion is expressed in the Japanese title to the film:
Sen to Chihiro no kami-kakushi
, which refers to "
," a folk idea of being taken by the
and then (sometimes) returned. ("Hidden by
The strength of
's shinto ties lie in its ability to display a myriad of spirits. Just as Shinto purports that
can inhabit anything, so
they inhabit anything in Yubaba's bath house.
In one memorable sequence, Chihiro helps to cleanse a "stink spirit"--actually a polluted river spirit--returning it to a state of balance and purity.
As Boyd and Nishimura note, "[Chihiro] sees the true nature of this river kami through the purifying waters -- at that moment her kokoro is clean and bright and she witnesses the forceful dragon-like river kami sail away white and pure."
Haku & Chihiro
A central aspect to the film is the relationship between the river spirit Haku and Chihiro.
Haku is bound to Yubaba, forced to work for her because he cannot remember his name. By the film's end, Chihiro--willing to risk her life in a bid to save him from an evil spirit with which Yubaba's twin sister, Zeniba, infected him--helps him to remember this.
The subsequent relationship that forms can be seen as a shinjin-gouitsu, or "a 'uniting of kami with the human spirit,' which occurs only when one approaches the other with the 'sincerity and purity of one's heart' (makoto no kokoro). " In this way, Chihiro seems to reach the ultimate level of "purification."
Shintoism's ambiguous conception of good and evil can be seen within the character of No Face.
No Face transitions fluidly between various different states of being- from a generous, grateful creature that exemplifies good to one that is filled with a ravenous hunger and a willingness to be satiated no matter the means, including consuming multiple bath house workers.
This insatiable hunger comes from the greed of the bath house workers who feed him excessively hoping to gain gold in return. Shintoism states that when human beings act wrongly, they bring pollution and sin upon themselves, which obstructs the flow of life and blessing. No Face's antics can only be put to an end when Chihiro, who has a pure heart, doesn't accept the gold he offers her.
& Cultural Authenticity
As Aurora van Zoelen notes in her article, "Hayao Miyazaki: Recovery of Japanese Cultural Values," "Miyazaki employs fundamental Shinto symbols in his movies in order to retrieve Japan’s cultural heritage in today’s context."
"Shintoism predates historical records."
Chihiro begins the movie with no real awareness of this background--for example, passing the
at the film's beginning, she has to ask her parents what they are.
There is the suggestion, then, through Chihiro, that the "younger generation" is not aware of these spiritual values that have constituted a large part of Japanese history--and so, culture.
As Andrew Yang notes in his article, "The Two Japans of 'Spirited Away,'" here Miyazaki is claiming the image of a "traditional" Japan in opposition to the increasing industrialization of his country--the industrialization that caused Haku to forget his name, or polluted the old river spirit.
Believing that the Japanese have alienated themselves from the natural world, Spirited Away is a film that attempts to re-introduce a new generation to old beliefs, while simultaneously showing the cornerstones of those beliefs, thus reclaiming something he believes lost.
Yang, Andrew. "The Two Japans of 'Spirited Away.' International Journal of Comic Art 12.1 (2010): 435-452. PDF.
Megan Brown & Elise Cimino
The bathhouse represents the perfect setting for a Shinto-based film--a physical representation of the drive for purity, where the spirits gather to cleanse themselves in a nightly ritual.
"In my grandparents' time, it was believed that gods and spirits existed everywhere-- in trees, rivers, insects, wells, anything. My generation does not believe in this, but I like the idea that we should treasure everything because.. there is a kind of life to everything..."