Shinto Perspectives in Miyazaki's Anime Film "Spirited Away"

by James W. Boyd and Tetsuya Nishimura


1. In 1998, the Walt Disney Company released  Miyazaki's Kiki's Delivery Service (1989) on video in the United States, and in 1999 their Miramax Films division released Princess Mononoke (1997).  Another popular film by  Miyazaki is My Neighbor Totoro (1988), released by Fox Video in 1994.  For a listing of anime films that involve Miyazaki's talents, cf. Helen McCarthy, Hayao Miyazaki: Master of Japanese Animation (Berkeley, California: Stone Bridge Press, 1999/2002).   Spirited Away  is a winner of the Best Animated Feature by the National Board of Review, the Golden Bear Award Best Picture in the 52nd Berlin International Film Festival, and winner of the Best Animated Film by the New York Film Critic Circle.

2. The "bouncing heads" are reminiscent of daruma dolls (representing Bodhidharma), or youkai, "mysterious, strange" human-like goblins.  The "kasuga sama" masks appear to be created from the fabric masks worn at "bugaku" performances offered at Kasuga-jinja in Nara prefecture.

3. It is safe to say that a Japanese audience would understand this ending, made expllicit in the Disney version, simply from the context. It need not be said.  The film concludes with an enchanting song titled "Itsumo nando demo" (lit. "Always, however many times"), translated "Always with me." A central verse is: "something is calling, deep inside, somewhere in my heart (kokoro); I want to dream an exciting dream."

4. Remarks made at a question and answer session with the press at the U.S. premier of the film on September 10th, 2002; cf.

5. This is most probably in reference to the Yutate Shinji or "Hot water ritual," part of a November Festival (Shimotsuki Matsuri), held for example in Nagano-ken.  Water is heated and the kami are invited to come and bathe in it.  The water, now full of superior potency, is sprinkled or splashed on peoples' bodies to revivify them during the winter season. Cf. http://www.;

6. The authors are especially grateful to the late Rev. Dr. Yukitaka Yamamoto and his associate priests at Tsubaki Grand Shrine, Mie Prefecture, for offering us insights into the religious significance of the "Way of the kami."  For further reference, cf. also J.W Boyd and R. G. Williams, "Japanese Shinto: An Interpretation of a Priestly Perspective," forthcoming in Philosophy East and West, 55:1 (January 2005).

 7. Helen Hardacre. Kurozumikyo and the New Religions of Japan.  Princeton University Press, 1986, p 19.

 8. Arnold van Gennep, The Rites of Passage (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960 (1909); Victor W. Turner, The Ritual Process:Structure and Anti-Structure (Chicago: Aldine, 1969).

9. In My Neighbor Totoro, Mei falls into a hole in a giant tree marked with a shimenawa (a rope of interwoven strands of rice straw used to mark a place considered sacred) and lands upon Totoro -- she also enters a liminal space.

 10. An alternative interpretation is that this liminal realm is populated mostly by youkai (mysterious, strange human-like figures that are said to have emerged from aged persons and things) who have come to be restored to their original kami nature.

 11. Japan Times Weekly, 9/28/02.

 12. Nushi is a term used to refer to an exceptionally big and old creature in a confined area, e.g., a large fish in a pond or small river, or to an especially large animal in a forest, such as a bear  or deer or a big wild boar  (as, e.g., the large white boar in Princess Mononoke).  The belief is that such creatures tend to accumulate special powers as they grow older because they live longer than most -- hence they are called the nushi of a place to show respect.  It is a designation similar to that of kami.

13. Toward the end of the film, such shadowy, human figures (possibly yurei --soul figures of dead persons who, in this film, appear to be from Japan of the 50's and 60's judging from their dress) ride on the train with Chihiro and get off at Numa Hara ("swamp field").

14. Cf. Hardacre (1986) p. 21.

 15. In the episode where Chihiro steps on the black slug  and Kamajī swipes his hand through Chihiro's fingers set in a square, the Japanese phrase, unlike the dubbed English ("Evil be gone") is Engacho kitta  which means "Break the relation [to the pollution] for thousands of years."  There is no term for "evil" in this Japanese phrase.

 16. "It's good" (yoki kana) could also refer to the treatment done by Chihiro and the bathhouse workers. In either case, there is no apparent intention to compliment Chihiro's work.

 17. This power of names may also echo the Shrine Shinto view that certain words (norito) have special spiritual powers.  It is interesting to note that Chihiro, though she has helped Haku realize his kami identity, seems not to fully realize the fact that he is a river kami, as she says "[your name] sounds like (mitai) a kami name."

18. Cf.  Kojiki, trans. Donald L. Philippi (University of Tokyo Press, 1995 [1968] ), p.531.

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