Fantastic World of Spirited Away: Japanese Folklore and Symbolism

Dr. Noriko Reider
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Released in 2001, Hayao Miyazaki's animation film entitled "Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi" (Spirited Away) is the highest-grossing film of all time in Japan. It won a number of awards including a 2003 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film and a Golden Bear at the Berlin International Festival in 2002. Derek Elley, a reviewer, writes, "It's almost impossible to do justice in words either to the visual richness of the movie, which mélanges traditional Japanese clothes and architecture with both Victorian and modern-day artifacts, or to the character-filled storyline with human figures, harpies and grotesque creatures." Many critics compared "Spirited Away" with western stories such as "Alice in Wonderland", "The Wizard of Oz" or even "Harry Potter". While the influence of western stories, art and architecture is evident, as Miyazaki himself expressed, "Spirited Away" is replete with Japanese folklore, tradition and symbolism. Indeed, the title, "kamikakushi" (hidden by the kami/spirit[s]), itself indicates Japanese folk belief. The film's major characters such as Yubaba (a descendent of "yamauba" or mountain witch) and Kamajii (reminiscent of "tsuchigumo" or earth spider) within the architecture of a bath house are symbolic not only as a representation of yamauba and earth spider respectively but also as a reflection of Japan's vertical society. To this point, situating the film as an exemplary work of the fantastic, I will examine both covert and overt Japanese folk beliefs, imagery, and symbolism of the film as a text which expresses voices of Japanese past and present.

Keywords: Fantastic, Spirited Away, film, Japanese folklore, imagery, symbolism.
Stream: Media, Film Studies, Theatre, Communication
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Dr. Noriko Reider

Associate Professor, Department of German, Russian and East Asian Languages, Miami University

Noriko T. Reider is a tenured Associate Professor of Japanese Language and Literature at Miami University of Ohio. Born and raised in Tokyo, Japan, Noriko attended Richmond College in Surrey, England for an A. A. After Richmond, she returned to Tokyo and attended Sophia University where she received a B.A. and a M.A. in Japanese history. Outside the auspices of the university, but while a student at Sophia, Noriko became a certified instructor of the Traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony. Noriko earned a second M.A. and her Ph.D., both in Japanese Literature at The Ohio State University in Columbus Ohio. She has published a book entitled "Tales of the Supernatural in Early Modern Japan: Kaidan, Akinari, Ugetsu monogatari" (The Edwin Mellen Press, 2002) and several articles in international journals. Her current research interest is 'oni' (demon/ogre).

Ref: H05P0088