Spirituality in the Anime Blogosphere: Shinto Perspectives in Spirited Away

Can you believe that it’s been 10 years since Spirited Away was released in the U.S.?  I remember going to see it in the theaters – I was the sole dissenter, deciding to view the film on my own rather than join my friends to watch The Ring.  It was certainly one of the best movie experiences I’ve ever hard.

Chihiro and Haku
Winner of "best drawing EVER" (Art by 月穂)

Much has been made about the Shinto references in the film, by a wide range of individuals, including scholars, reviewers and of course, bloggers.  Here on this blog, I interviewed Jolyon Thomas, PhD candidate at Princeton, who wrote an article about religion in Miyazaki films, including in Spirited Away.

Here are other articles discussing religion as presented in this film:


1. Shinto Perspectives in Miyazaki’s Anime Film “Spirited Away”
by James W. Boyd and Tetsuya Nishimura
The Journal of Religion and Film

This feature, plus the portrayal of various other folk beliefs and Shrine Shinto perspectives, suggests that Miyazaki is affirming some basic Japanese cultural values which can be a source of confidence and renewal for contemporary viewers.

Complete article

2. Spirited Away: Film of the Fantastic and Evolving Japanese Folk Symbols
by Noriko T. Reider
Film Criticism

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.

Complete article

3. Animism inside Japanese animations
by Mikyung Bak
Cumulus Kyoto 2008

Chihiro, in order to help Haku and to save her parents, works hard, and as a result, she returns the stink god back to be the river god, and earns a precious medicine. The image of water is the source of all possibilities, death and rebirth.

Complete article

4. Spirited Away (lesson plan)
by Paul Gomes
University of Hawai’i

The term Spirited Away in Japanese is kakushi. Tengu, which were a type of spirit originally from China, were known in Japan for taking people away to their realm and returning them to the real world with no memory of their journey. Missing children were often blamed on these creatures.

Complete lesson plan

5. Spirited Away Genre
by Jamison Morrow

The film’s disassociation from good versus evil shows the Shinto belief that people are inherently good, and that there aren’t any evil people, just people whose kami have become polluted and are hindering their ability to function in society.  No Face represents someone who is introspective and self centered.

Complete essay

6. Shinto in Miyazaki’s Spirited Away
by Sabrina Speranza

The themes of the anime Spirited Away are a blend of selflessness, environmentalism, independence, and purifying the self. This blend of themes is the foundation for the main message of the film; the presence of Shinto is in people’s daily lives.

Complete essay

Note: This appears to be a draft for an essay, but still contains a number of good points.

Blogs and Reviews

7. Miyazaki, Shintoism, & Ecology
by Michael J. Anderson
Environment and Ecology

Chihiro, the ten year-old protagonist, judiciously cleans the monster, ridding the spa of this terrible spirit. In this way, not only does Spirited Away manifest a Shinto causality, but further upholds one of the religion’s four affirmations: the importance of physical cleanliness. To bath in Shinto is to participate in an important purifying ritual.

Complete post

8. Spirited Away
by Howard Shumann
Talking Pictures

As she [Chihiro] and Haku move toward freedom, they both realize that they cannot escape their enslavement until they remember who they really are, a metaphor for all of us groping toward our spiritual connection.

Complete article


I also really enjoyed this article about Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind:

Shojo Savior: Princess Nausicaä, Ecological Pacifism, and The Green Gospel

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