Shintoism in Spirited Away by Hayao Miyazaki

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Shintoism in Spirited Away by Hayao Miyazaki

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Shintoism is a religion practiced mainly in Japan with roots dating to the late 6th Century. Although shinto does have a fairly distinct set of identifiers, Shinto has merged with countless other religions to create an ever changing but united religion through Japan and South East Asia, where it commonly found its way into variants of Bhuddist practices. Today, many Japanese films have several Shinto aspects put subtly into them, and Miyazaki’s Spirited Away is no exception. While Miyazaki puts his Japanese heritage into a lot of his films, Spirited Away seems to contain a bit more.

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One of the first aspects of Shintoism that can be seen in the film comes shortly after the introduction when Chihiro, the main character of the film, passes by a torii surrounded by several smaller, yet similar statues. A torii is traditionally a gate that symbolically marks the transition from the mundane to the sacred in shintoism. In the film, this torii marks the transition from the world Chihiro knows into the bathhouse. Upon entering the bathhouse city, Chihiro and her parents are tantalized by delicious food piled high. Hungry, Chihiro’s parents dive in and Yubaba turns them into pigs for their greed and thievery. This constitutes the inciting incident of the film and is the main goal of Chihiro’s journey. Another aspect of Shintoism seen in Spirited Away is the spirits, or kami, who populate the bathhouse. Many of the kami seem to embody natural entities, for example, the river spirit and the radish spirit. This provides a continuity to Japanese culture as kami tend to be elements of the landscape, or forces of nature. This provides a more concrete example for animatism, or the idea that everything has a “spirit.” As the plotline progresses, Chihiro finds work in Yubaba’s bathhouse. Now, in the midst of the kami, some deeper influences of Shintoism reveal themselves.

Two of the larger themes of Shinto are purification and the definition of a moral code. The idea of purification is evident figuratively and literally with the bathhouse, showing us how in order to achieve purification we must both wash the dirt from ourselves internally and out. Purification is also shown with the sludge creature who shuts down the city and bathhouse. While the spirit is putrid and disgusting, they still wash and help him, and once the mud is washed away, a powerful and wealthy river spirit emerges. The idea of the lack of a moral code is shown through No Face. The character No Face switches constantly back and forth from generous and loved to evil and feared. This duality follows Shinto idealism that states when we act wrongly, we warrant pollution and sin. No Face is only stopped when Chihiro doesn't accept the gold he offers her.

Shintoism still thrives in Japan today, and that can be seen with it's modern day cultural references. Although Shintoism is undefined as it is ever changing, core aspects still present themselves as they are, melded over time. Spirited Away places these concepts in an easy to understand format that follows a familiar story arc to communicate these ideals not only to those in Japan, but all over the world.

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