Shinto Spirit

200px-Spirited_Away_KaonashiThis week as I read Boyd and Nishimura’s essay Shinto Perspectives in Miyazaki’s Anime Film “Spirited Away”, I felt transported into the fantastic realm created by the film, while at the same time gained a wonderful insight into folk and Shrine Shinto ideas and imagery. Discussions in our course over the past few weeks have focussed on representation, religion and media, and I have wondered what benefits could be gained by stepping outside of our western perspective entirely. This essay provides an insight into a popular Japanese film which appears to have been constructed around characteristic Japanese cultural and religious concerns, for Japanese people. Western audiences may certainly enjoy the fantastic realm of spirit beings (kami) created by Miyazaki, however according to Boyd and Nishimura the deeper Shinto themes are more clearly stated in the Japanese language version of the film (Boyd and Nishimura 2004 [12]). Here we find an implication that the themes which arise within the film are culturally and religiously specific and more readily understood by Japanese people.

One theme which Boyd and Nishimura discuss in some detail is the moral ambivalence revealed in the character Yubāba and her twin Zenība. Rather than presenting a clear good and evil style characterisation common in western film, Yubāba and Zenība ‘represent a mixture of both bad and good encounters experienced by Chihiro (the main protagonist)—encounters that at times diminish and at other times promote Chihiro’s confidence (2004 [20])’. We are encouraged to understand, through these characters, that all situations either inhibit or cloud our ability to experience and participate in the vital energy which flows through all of life, a distinctly Shinto idea (Boyd and Nishimura 2004 [21]). This kind of ambivalence differs considerably from the Judeo-Christian flavour we find in western film, that of clearly defined evil which must be resisted or overcome in order to stay with the light or good.

In their conclusion Boyd and Nishimura suggest that Miyazaki’s film ‘asserts that there are some basic Japanese cultural values that need to be re-cognized as valuable insights in life’s journey’ (2004 [25]). In addition it could be said that western people may also benefit from encountering and reflecting on Shinto ideals, which teach that all of life as sacred and imbued with vital energy; that all we need do to interact with it is clear away the impurities; then we can become more genuine, authentic and open hearted.


Boyd, J and Nishimura, T. 2004. Shinto Perspectives in Miyazaki’s Anime Film “Spirited Away” in The journal of religion and film : JR&F, v.8 no.2. Omaha, Neb: University of Nebraska

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