Shintoism in Miyazaki’s Film Spirited Away

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About this sample

About this sample


Words: 578 |

Page: 1|

3 min read

Published: Jun 9, 2021

Words: 578|Page: 1|3 min read

Published: Jun 9, 2021

Table of contents

  1. Depiction of Shintoism in "Spirited Away"
  2. Conclusion
  3. Works Cited

Shintoism, a religion primarily practiced in Japan, traces its origins back to the late 6th Century. While Shintoism possesses distinct characteristics, it has continuously integrated with numerous other belief systems, shaping an ever-evolving yet cohesive religious landscape across Japan and Southeast Asia. It has often intertwined with variants of Buddhist practices in these regions. Contemporary Japanese cinema frequently incorporates subtle Shinto elements, and Hayao Miyazaki's "Spirited Away" is no exception. While Miyazaki frequently infuses his Japanese heritage into his films, "Spirited Away" appears to carry an even deeper connection.

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Depiction of Shintoism in "Spirited Away"

The film begins to showcase Shinto influences early on when Chihiro, the protagonist, encounters a torii gate surrounded by smaller, similar statues. In Shintoism, a torii traditionally serves as a symbolic gateway marking the transition from the ordinary world to the sacred realm. In the film, this torii signifies the passage from Chihiro's familiar world into the enigmatic bathhouse. Inside the bathhouse city, Chihiro and her parents succumb to the allure of delectable food piled high. However, their greed and gluttony prompt Yubaba to transform them into pigs, triggering the film's central plotline. This incident represents the film's inciting moment and sets Chihiro on her transformative journey. Another aspect of Shintoism depicted in "Spirited Away" is the presence of spirits, known as kami, inhabiting the bathhouse. Many of these kami appear to embody natural elements, such as the river spirit and the radish spirit. This reflects the enduring connection in Japanese culture, where kami often represent elements of the landscape and the forces of nature, reinforcing the concept of animatism, where everything possesses a "spirit." As the story unfolds, and Chihiro finds employment in Yubaba's bathhouse, deeper Shinto influences come to the fore.

Two significant themes in Shintoism revolve around purification and the establishment of a moral code. The film symbolically and literally explores the notion of purification through the bathhouse, emphasizing that achieving purification requires cleansing both the internal and external impurities. This concept is further exemplified by the sludge creature that disrupts the city and bathhouse. Despite its repulsiveness, Chihiro and others wash and assist the spirit. Once the muck is washed away, a powerful and prosperous river spirit emerges. The absence of a clear moral code is embodied by the character No Face, who fluctuates between benevolence and malevolence. This duality aligns with Shinto idealism, which posits that wrongful actions result in impurity and sin. Chihiro ultimately quells No Face when she declines the gold he offers, underscoring the importance of moral choices.

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Shintoism continues to thrive in contemporary Japan, bearing testament to its enduring cultural significance. While Shintoism remains flexible and adaptable, its core tenets persist, shaped by the passage of time. "Spirited Away" adeptly encapsulates these principles in a comprehensible format, following a familiar narrative arc to convey these ideals not only to the Japanese audience but to viewers worldwide.

Works Cited

  1. Kidder, J. L. (2006). Shinto: The heart of Japan. Oxford University Press.
  2. Teeuwen, M., & Rambelli, F. (Eds.). (2003). Buddhas and kami in Japan: Honji suijaku as a combinatory paradigm. Routledge.
  3. Miyazaki, H. (Director). (2001). Spirited Away [Film]. Studio Ghibli.
  4. Miller, A. (2015). The shinbutsu bunri: How the kami were separated from Buddhism in Meiji Japan. Asian Ethnology, 74(2), 343-370.
  5. Picken, S. D. (1994). The A to Z of Shinto. Scarecrow Press.
  6. Van Gorder, A. C. (2010). Miki Kiyoshi and the Shinto Moment of Modernity. Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, 37(2), 261-278.
  7. Philippi, D. L. (1999). Norito: A translation of the ancient Japanese ritual prayers. Princeton University Press.
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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

Shintoism In Miyazaki’s Film Spirited Away. (2021, Jun 09). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 22, 2024, from
“Shintoism In Miyazaki’s Film Spirited Away.” GradesFixer, 09 Jun. 2021,
Shintoism In Miyazaki’s Film Spirited Away. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 22 Feb. 2024].
Shintoism In Miyazaki’s Film Spirited Away [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2021 Jun 09 [cited 2024 Feb 22]. Available from:
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