«SpiritedAway: Film of the Fantastic and Evolving Japanese Folk Symbols Noriko T. Reider Released in 2001, Miyazaki Hayao'sI (1941 - ) animated film ...»
- it is universal, but should nonetheless be mentioned, as it is part of the film's title. The act of depriving a person of one's name has far more reaching consequences and implications than simply affecting how one person addresses another; the very act implies total control over the person whose name is being withheld. A good example of this can be found in the European folktale Rapunzell, and a counter example is present in the Japanese story Daiku to Oniroku (Carpenter and Oniroku). In this tale, a carpenter has to build a bridge over a fast river and is worried as to how to go about its construction. A demon then appears from the river offering the carpenter a deal: He will build the bridge for him in exchange for the carpenter's eyes. The carpenter agrees and the bridge is magically completed. Having fulfilled his side of the bargain, the demon intends to collect his prize, but the carpenter runs away from him. While running in the mountains, the carpenter hears a song that identifies the demon's name as Oniroku. On the following day the demon demands his eyes again unless, he says, the carpenter spots the demon's name. No sooner shouts the carpenter, "Oniroku," and the demon disappears. In SpiritedAway, Yubaba has Chihiro sign a contract and takes three-quarters of Chihiro's name, i.e., three characters,gX'ff out ofOgino Chihiro - from the signature, leaving only Sen F. Actually, the audience never knows the content of the contract Chihiro signs.
Throughout the quartet, names are critical as "who knows a man's name, holds that man's life in his keeping" (Le Guin 1968, 75). In the second book, the Tombs ofAtuan, when a girl remembers her true name, her memory as a human gradually comes back and she fights against the dark forces. This experience is similar to Haku's recalling his true name, quitting as Yubaba's apprentice. Beliefs in the importance of names are ubiquitous and universal.
How Chihiro goes to the other world-entering through a tunnel entrance building of an abandoned theme park)-is also based upon (an conventional beliefs. This mysterious tunnel leads to a strange town in another realm, a land of spirits. The locus of the spirits' recreational place, a bathhouse, is located across a bridge. Conventionally, in the world of Japanese folklore, bridges, tunnels, and crossroads are often considered to be a demarcation point between this world and the other.
Regarding the location of the film, a bathhouse, Miyazaki states, "It would be fun if there were such a bathhouse. It's the same as when we go to hot springs. Japanese gods go there to rest for a few days, then return home saying they wished they could stay for a little while longer" (Sait6, 116).8 Needless to say, a place of relaxation, such as the bathhouse in the film, also reflects the Japanese proclivity for bathing, The Character in SpiritedAway Yubaba Among various Japanese customs and conventions depicted in the film, perhaps most noteworthy is the emphasis on character depth.
The spirit-characters are rich, multi-faceted entities replete with cultural memories and histories. It is said that some eight million deities reside in Japan. Some of these, not necessarily in their traditional Japanese forms, appear in the film to take a bath or to work at the bathhouse.
The most interesting among them is the memorable Yubaba, the witch who owns the bathhouse. She is an avaricious old witch who is quite strict toward her workers. Many critics have pointed out the similarity between Yubaba and the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland.
Indeed, And6 Masashi, the art director of the SpiritedAway, states, "In our previous project,... Yubaba... was drawn as a grotesque character, the kind that might appear in the illustrations of Alice in Wonderland."9 Yubaba's appearance and demeanor, the very way she commands her minion workforce, is reminiscent of Lewis Carroll's Queen of Hearts character. But Yubaba, who is also seen excessively pampering her gigantic spoiled baby-boy named B6, strikes me most as a descendent of a yamauba, Japanese mountain witch.
To many contemporary Japanese, a yamauba conjures up the image of a mountain-dwelling hag who devours unsuspecting humans who happen upon her path. In many ways, she can be considered the Japanese counterpart of the witch in Hansel and Gretel of the Grimm Brothers as well as Baba Yaga of Russian folktales. In the tale Ushikata to yamauba (Ox-Cart Puller and Mountain Witch), a ravenous yamauba attempts to devour anything she can obtain: first, she demands fish from a young man carrying fish in his ox-cart. After consuming all of the fish in his cart, she demands the ox and after devouring the ox, she sets her sights on eating the man. He flees from her and soon comes upon a lone house in the woods that turns out to be the yamauba's dwelling. Eventually, he vanquishes her with the help of another maiden who is living with yamauba (Seki 1956, 155-161).
Yamauba are almost always endowed with supernatural powers.
In the Medieval Noh text entitled Yamamba, the protagonist yamauba uses her supernatural power to darken the sky so that the courtesan/ entertainer who is reputed to be good at yamamba dance would be forced to spend a night at her lodging. In SpiritedAway, Yubaba is an old woman with white hair who controls her employees through the power of language and magic. She can freely transform humans into animals and eat them, which is entirely reminiscent of yamauba's cannibalism.
Yamauba is regularly portrayed in an unflattering manner, but one of yamauba's lesser-known traits is her nurturing character, often associated with motherhood.'0 Hor Ichiro writes, "In the popular belief of rural areas, the mountain deity is believed to be a goddess who gives birth to twelve children every year. She is therefore called Mrs. Twelve (Juni-sama), and her twelve children symbolize the twelve months of the year" (Hori 1968, 167). The dichotomy of the Yamauba persona, that she is on the one hand viciously cannibalistic while on the other a nurturing mother, seems virtually irreconcilable. However, as Yoshida Atsuhiko asserts, the roots of the yamauba can be found in various female deities in Japanese myth, i.e., her real identity is a dichotomous primordial goddess -the Great Mother-who brings fertility and wealth as well as death (Yoshida 1992, iii)." Kawai Hayao writes that in Japan, Kannon, who accepts everything, is the positive Great Mother, and yamauba, who appears in fairy tales as an all-devouring mountain witch, is the negative image.12 One example of yamauba's motherhood appears in legends of yamauba being the mother of Kintar6. The legend goes that a mountain yamauba gave birth to and raised a son possessing Herculean-strength, by the name of Kintar6. Kintar6 was then discovered by a great warrior, Minamoto no Raik6 (or Yorimitsu, 948-1021), changed his name to Sakata no Kintoki, and became one of Raik6's shitennd (four guardians/ lieutenants). Eventually Raik6 and the shitenn& eliminated such supernatural beings as Shuten d6ji (Drunken Demon) at Mount Oe and tsuchigumo, the earth spider. The oldest extant story of Yamauba being the mother of Kintar6 is found in the oldj5ruri(Puppet Theater) text of the middle of the seventeenth century.13 Given the widely held perception that yamauba was the mother of many children or superchildren in the medieval period, it is not surprising to find her as the mother of a strong warrior who conquers demons. Kintar6 is portrayed as full of energy and presently often identified with his red harakake (bib/apron) on which the character, kin (from Kintar6) is printed.
Yamauba's motherly aspect toward her son is further enunciated through a series of yamauba-buybor yamauba dances in Kabuki; which appear in the late eighteenth-early nineteenth century. In the dance pieces, yamauba's doting motherhood is amplified as she speaks of him, "it's been seven years since... Day and night, my pleasure is my only son, Kaid6maru [i.e., Kintar6]" (Tsuruya 1975, 61).
In SpiritedAway,Yubaba is the mother of super-baby, B6. Just like Kintar5, B5 wears a red harakake on which a big character B6) is written. Similar to Kintar6, B6 has prowess in accordance with his gigantic size - he can easily break Sen's arm if he so wishes. In contrast to her strictness to her employees, Yubaba dotes on B6 and protects him almost to excess, confining him in a germ-free playroom full of germ-free toys. In this detail, the director may be hinting at an aspect of present-day Japanese parenting: the tendency to spoil/shelter children while depriving them of negative experiences, some feel, deprives children of developing their full potential. Perhaps most strikingly, this same image of over-protecting one's offspring is portrayed by yamauba in Kabuki's dance pieces.
The visual juxtaposition of a white-haired elderly mother bearing a baby boy may appear rather strange. Indeed, be it Kabuki dance pieces or famous ukiyo-e series of Yamauba and Kintar5, yamauba is portrayed as an alluring mature beauty.' 4 Yet, the predominant image of yamauba as an old hag remains, and there are a number of precedents in which a white-haired elderly yamauba is portrayed with Kintar6. One notable example is a votive painting of Yamauba and Kintari created by Nagasawa Rosetsu (1754-1799), a treasure of Itsukushima Shrine in Miyajima. In Rosetsu's painting, yamauba looks like a distrustful old woman - what Robert Moes calls "a caricature of geriatric non-beauty." Moes, however, also comments, "there is a sympathetic humor in the way the mythical old hag stares out suspiciously at the beholder" (Moes 1973, 28).15 Yubaba does, on occasion, have a humorous look embedded into her suspicious character.
Indeed, Yubaba and B5 may be looked at as a pumped-up, well-fed version of Nagasawa Roan's Yamauba andKintard. Further similarity is found in the absence of Yubaba's male partner. Yamauba first appeared as the mother of Kintoki in the seventeenth century text, though yamauba's partner was never mentioned. Likewise, Yubaba's husband is non-existent in the film.
Moreover, while Yubaba is avaricious and strict toward her workforce, she also has the ability to observe diligence in her workers.
When the Stink Spirit (okusare-sama)visits the bathhouse, for example, after checking how hard Sen works, Yubaba decides to give her hand to Sen. Similarly, Yamauba also helps humans that are helpful to her.
The yamauba in Hanayo no hime (Flower Princess, ca. late Muromachi period to the early Edo period), for instance, brings wealth to the princess who helped kill coiling worms in her hair (Yokoyama and Matsumoto 1982, 531).16 From the spatial point of view, too, there is a parallel between Yamauba and Yubaba. Komatsu Kazuhiko writes that "ft]he concept of mountains, as a mountainous realm where oni [demon/ogre] and y5kai [strange supernatural creatures] reside, is better understood as the "spatial other world" (Komatsu 1991, 58).11 Indeed, the mountains are often the entry-point to the realm where the oni and y6kai live along with other mountain deities and deceased ancestors. Yamauba is also a resident of the mountains. Likewise, the environment of Yubaba's bathhouse is a locus of the other world where all the supernatural beings come to relax and unwind. Pertinent to the spatial aspect, a further parallel is seen in the altitude where yamauba and Yubaba live. The mountain where yamauba lives is higher than ordinary flatland.
Likewise, Yubaba lives on the top floor of the bathhouse - higher than anyone else, a command center where Yubaba controls her operation and gives orders to her employees. This architectural structure is reflective of vertical, hierarchical Japanese society. As delineated by Nakane Chie, Japan is a society where relations such as senior-junior rankings are strong and strictly prescribed, people in the lower social ranks work for and obey the orders of those in the higher echelons. In return, the senior members advise and take care of the junior members (Nakane 1970). Junior-ranking members may be assigned monotonous and basic work, but the work is vital to the promotion of teamwork. Of course, the relationship between bosses and junior members is not without tension. The character who lives on the opposite end of this vertical relationship-steadfastly resisting Yubaba, but still providing vital work to the bathhouse-is Kamaji; one of Yubaba's employees, he lives in the basement of the bathhouse.
Kamaji Kamaji is an old man who controls a boiler room. He has six 'long arms and two ordinary length-legs. At first sight he looks scary, but in reality he is a kind and understanding man (Uekusa 2001, 10).
From all angles - the way he sits and manipulates his unusually long limbs - Kamaji resembles a spider (or spirit of a spider).' 8 On the symbolic significance of the spider, Merrily Baird writes, "...with the importation of Chinese traditions, the Japanese adopted the view of the spider as an emblem of industry and ability" (Baird 2001, 120). As evident in the film, Kamaji is a diligent worker who makes full use of all his extra limbs and his helpers, sootballs (susuwatari). spider has A an ominous aspect, too. It is commonly accepted among scholars to consider that tsuchigtmo refers to less-cultivated indigenous people who had lived before the Heavenly descendents claimed his authority.