«SpiritedAway: Film of the Fantastic and Evolving Japanese Folk Symbols Noriko T. Reider Released in 2001, Miyazaki Hayao'sI (1941 - ) animated film ...»
Specifically termed an earth spider, tsuchigumo is an appellation used derogatorily in ancient Japanese literature for those who defied imperial (central) authority. 19 For example, in Kojiki (Ancient Matters, 712) on his eastward expedition to claim his heavenly authority, Emperor Jimmu and his men smite a great number of resisting indigenous pit dwelling tribe-men described as tsuchigumo (Kurano and Takeda 1958, 157).20 An overwhelming majority of tsuchigumo had fought and been eliminated in bloody battles; only a few survived by apologizing profusely and escaping capital punishment. 21 Regarding the origin of the term, ltsubunSettsu Fudoki (a missing writing from the Topography of Settu Province, known from other literary sources) notes that, "in the reign of Emperor Jimmu, there was a villain called tsuchigumo - he was given of the disdainful name tsuchigumo because this person always dwelled in a pit" (Uegaki, 437). An attribute of pit dwelling is strongly associated with tsuchigumo. This also applies to Kamaji, who lives in the basement of the bathhouse - a form of pit dwelling.' In SpiritedAway, Yubaba is paralleled to the central authority ruling the bathhouse from the top of the building, and Kamaji is likened to tsuchigumo who live in the pit dwelling, or bottom floor. While Kamaji does not openly battle with Yubaba, he does not always go along with her either; sometimes, he outright resists Yubaba's wishes.
The most evident example of this occurs when Kamaji protects not only Chihiro but also Haku, abandoned and left for dead by Yubaba.
And yet, Kamaji works for Yubaba, as some tsuchigumo did.
Kamaji is a warm being who understands human feelings.
However, the descriptions in the ancient chronicles hardly express anything that encourages the readers to empathize with tsuchigumo.
After all, from a viewpoint of the editors of Nihongi, tsuchigumo is a certified enemy of the central government. Interestingly, though, the sympathetic descriptions of tsuchigumo appear in the later text, specifically in the Noh text entitled Tsuchigumo (ca. late Muromachi Period).2" According to-the Noh's tsuchigumo, the mighty imperial warrior, Minamoto no Raik6 (or Yorimitsu) is attacked by a strange illness. One night, a strange priest appears at Raik6's bedside and begins casting silken threads across Raik6. Surprised, Raik6 strikes the creature with his renowned sword and the being disappears, dripping its blood behind. It turns out that Raik6's illness was caused by this strange creature, whose real identity is the spirit of the spider who had been killed by the emperor's army at Mount Katsuragi. A Raik6's vassal follows the blood trail and kills the spirit of the spider. The tsuchigumo cries at the moment of his death, "I am the spirit of tsuchigumo, who, long ago lived at Mount Katsuragi. At this present time, too, I wished to harm the Imperial land and approached Raik6 [who protects the land].
But to the contrary, you are going to kill me." (Sanari 1931, 2065) As Baba Akiko notes, this statement does shed a sympathetic light on tsuchigumo as a victim of the central government (175-178). Perhaps he had lived peacefully before the advance of the heavenly imperial army to his district. From tsuchigumo's point of view, the Imperial army not only disturbed their way of living, they eliminated their tribe without legitimate reason. Tsuchigumo's statement is just a few lines, but it reveals tsuchigumo's pent-up emotions.
Likewise, in SpirtedAway Kamaji is a man of few words and helps those whom Yubaba is no longer interested in. In this sense, Kamaji is reminiscent of the tsuchigumo narratives of the past Kamaji has cherished train tickets for forty-years, implying that he has a desire to be away from the bathhouse someday. Yet, he gives them up to help Chihiro save Haku. Kamaji, a spirit that understands the meaning of "love" and an important pillar of the film, becomes complex when one considers the relationship between him and Haku, the Yubaba's apprentice.
Haku Throughout the film, Haku helps Chihiro, and in return, Chihiro saves his life and also helps him recall his identity as a river deity named Nigihayami kohakunushi. As his name Haku (literally meaning "white") reveals, he is a white dragon, and when he takes human shape, he wears white clothes (with water-color blue pants). In spite of the symbolism of "white" being "pure," he possesses a somewhat dubious aspect. While he gives a helping hand to Chihiro, he is working for Yubaba to learn Yubaba's magic.23 He further steals Zeniba's (Yubaba's twin sister) precious seal. Haku "is a thief," according to Zeniba.
Tachibana Takashi, a critic, surmises a source of Haku Nigihayami kohakunushi in Nigihayahi, a heavenly deity in Japanese ancient chronicles. Tachibana says, Nigihayahi is an important name in ancient Japanese history.... During the Emperor Jimmu's eastern expedition, the emperor meets the resistance of Nagasunehiko [lit. a man with long legs], a chief of a powerful native clan. Nigihayahi had married to Nagasunehiko's sister who bore him a son; therefore, he is supposed to be on Nagasunehiko's side. But Nigihayahi abandons Nagasunehiko and comes to the emperor's side. With the defeat of Nagasunehiko, Yamato region is pacified.....Haku is Yubaba's apprentice, but [Nigihayahi's act of deceiving Nagasunehiko] is similar to Haku's betraying Yubaba.
... Probably Haku's name is based upon this narrative [of Nigihayahi] (Uekusa, 30).24 Tsuda notes that Nagasunehiko, a man with long legs, probably was considered tsuchigumo as well (Tsuda,191). Indeed, in the world of Nihongi, Nihihayahi suddenly showed up one day to Nagasunehiko's region, just as Haku did in the land of the bathhouse. However, if the act of Nigihayami's betrayal is applied to the Yubaba-Kamaji paradigm, Haku betrays Kamaji to be richly rewarded by Yubaba. In the film, however, there is little to suggest Haku's intentional betrayal of Kamaji.
Miyazaki departs from the Nigihayahi source on this particular point, probably because of Chihiro's intervention. Haku could-have betrayed Kamaji's innocent trust. But then, Chihiro came from nowhere, "entering a life of 'the other world' as a new social being" through kamikakushi.
By entering "the other world," Chihiro has saved Haku's life, and importantly through Chihiro's love for Haku, Haku's true nature came back. With a positive chain of reactions, Chihiro ends up saving Kamaji's life, too.
That Haku's river has been reclaimed and he does not have a home to return to leads to Miyazaki's familiar environmental theme: Modem technology continues to encroach upon nature, destroying natural habitats.
Spirits Arrive at the Bath House (PHOTOFEST) Chihiro and No-Face (PHOTOFEST) The world of spirits on Japanese land is getting smaller and less friendly.
Yet, Miyazaki gives hope that Haku will find a place and Haku and Chihiro will meet somewhere - though there is no guarantee that "somewhere" is in this world.
No-Face Without doubt, the character of No-Face (Kaonashi)is a most baffling creature, worthy of note here simply because he is so peculiar.
No-Face first appears on the bridge that connects to the bathhouse. He is a mysterious man, who, "like Chihiro, came to the world of the bathhouse from a different realm. He is a pathetic creature who does not have self, and he can only communicate through the voice of someone he has swallowed" (Sait6, 59). No-Face may be interpreted as a lonely young Japanese person who does not know how to make friends.
Apparently, at the beginning of the production, No-Face was just a character standing on a bridge, but because of the need to finish the film on time Miyazaki assigned No-Face a major role of "something like a stalker" (Uekusa, 106). And5 Masashi writes that, "No-face is basically expressionless, but I ended up adding just a tiny bit of expression. It might have been better to make his mask more Noh-like without any expression at all, conveying his expressions through lighting. No-Face swallows the bathhouse workers, and I thought it might have been interesting if he acquired their personalities and ability to reason. This way he might become more human and appealing" (Yu, 109). Born entirely of Miyazaki's imagination, No-Face does not readily correspond to any conventional folk image. As fans of Miyazaki's film know well, the creatures of Miyazaki Land also tend to appear in his other films. A notable example is susuwatari,which appeares in My NeighborTotoro (Tonarino Totoro, 1988) and also shows up in Spirited Away as Kamaji's helpers. Likewise, No-Face seems to carry an image of Tatarigami (curse spirit), which appears in Miyazaki's previous film, PrincessMononoke (Mononoke-hime, 1997). At the beginning of the film, Tatarigami is shot by Ashitaka, the hero, and Tatarigami furiously chases Ashitaka, trying to kill him. Tatarigami's fast and violent movement is repeated in SpiritedAway, when after eating food given by Chihiro, No-Face lividly chases her, with the intent of seizing and then swallowing her whole. In both cases, the chased are the protagonists of the film, and the chasers put misguided anger against the chased, who are trying to do good for others. Both Chihiro and Ashitaka narrowly escape their fatal assaults.
Though by far not a conventional folk image, No-Face does resemble several other literary/folk sources. One such source is manga (graphic novel) and/or anime. Authors influence each other. It may be just a coincidence, but No-Face-like creatures appear in the enormously popular manga titled Inuyasha (Dog-demon), which has been running since 1996. In one of Inuyasha'searly episodes, "Gendai ni yomigaeru noroi no N6men" (Revived Cursed Noh Mask), a woman has an ominous old Noh mask which "once one puts it on, it can never be removed.., except in death" (Takahashi 1997, 89).25 The owner tries to get rid of the mask, but becomes possessed by it. The neck of the masked woman stretches like No-Face's neck. After a while, the mask cracks open vertically in the middle, and the crack transforms into a huge mouth with sharp teeth. Similar to No-Face, who swallows up frogs at the bathhouse, the Noh mask-monster of Inuyasha has a voracious appetite. Simultaneously, the Noh mask-monster gets fatter as it consumes humans. The monster's appearance is exactly like that of No-Face. Further, the way the Noh mask-monster chases the heroine bears a great resemblance to the scene in which No-Face is chasing Sen. Again, it may be just a coincidence, but it is interesting to see that frightening chasing scenes and images continue to turn up in modemday Japanese animation.
It should also be noted that in both cases, Noh masks play an important role. In the case of SpiritedAway, as quoted earlier, a Noh mask was considered for the face of No-Face (a higher deity, river spirit, has a face similar to Noh's okina [old man] mask). As attested to by Andb's comment, there is an expression in Japanese that goes, "someone is like a Noh mask" meaning "someone is inscrutable."
Regarding the role of the mask itself, Doris Bargen writes, "Symbolically, masking can hide or disguise the self; it can also be a form of self-disclosure or revelation. Sometimes masking is associated with twinning in that the doubled face has the effect of blurring or confusing identities. Masking also has the potential for making a face both more elusive and more expressive.No matter what the interpretation, the 'effect of this double exposure is central to the aesthetics of Noh'. It can also create the impression of immutability, thereby claiming universality" (Bargen 1991, 149). Using a Noh mask creates an otherworldly ambience. Ema Tsutomu, a noted folklorist and a Kyoto scholar, recounts an example of a mysterious old mask transforming into a mysterious woman. Ema notes that an old mask transforming into something/someone is called menreki (mask monster);
this has been a conventional phenomenon since olden days (Ema 1923, 40). A masked, trouble-making spirit is a conventional, even sometimes common folk belief. No-Face is a lonely figure. But it is reassuring that No-Face does find a place at the end by becoming Zeniba's helper. This development is perhaps, again, explained by Chihiro's intervention just as she did for Haku.
So what is the significance of all the symbolism and folk beliefs intertwined in SpiritedAway? It is often said that in Japan high technology and traditional customs live side by side. They exist in fact not only sideby-side, but are inseparable, symbiotic. The animation, SpiritedAway, provides a good example of how, within the modem and the technological, folk beliefs and customs still thrive. As quoted earlier, Miyazaki writes, "It is a poor idea to push all the traditional things into a small folk-culture world. Surrounded by high technology and its flimsy devices, children are more and more losing their roots. We must inform them of the richness of our traditions." Miyazaki is very successful in informing children (and adults) about the richness of Japanese traditions through the high-tech world of animation. Just as in olden days where a storyteller would entertain the audience by fireside with interesting stories (with some moral edification), Miyazaki's story is entertaining and hopeful. It appears that the folk beliefs and images come to surface in artifacts regardless of the media form. The phenomenon of Kamikakushi gives an unstable youth a period of rest from this world (social death) while s/he has disappeared.
If and when s/he comes back to this world, s/he is ready to start a new life. During the time of disappearance, s/he may have saved the lives of some creatures in the other world, much as Chihiro did. That world may be inhabited by supernatural beings who have lost their place in this world. Those beings who have lost their physical place in this world-be it by modem technology and/or belief in materialism-have reclaimed it in the very modem technology such as animation and computer games.
In the screen of virtual reality, folk characters including yamauba, tsuchigumo, and millions of spirits appear abundantly with some modemday additives to the original images. At the same time, the "original" images are evolutionary rather than set in stone. They are alive and continue to stay alive, morphing with the times and they remain both important and dear to the Japanese.
Notes 'To be consistent with Japanese name order, family name comes first in this paper.
2 It should be noted that neither characters nor audience experience any uncertainty in Harry Potter.
3The original text is found in Sait6 2001, 74.
4 D.G. Harwell, New York Times Book Review (1990), p. 1, quoted in Napier 1996, 6.