On Earth As It Is In Ghibli

Miyazaki has said that, for him, what “constitutes the end of [‘Spirited Away’] is the scene in which Chihiro takes the train all by herself.” Technically, she’s not alone, as she’s sitting next to No-Face, the uninvited bathhouse customer who became a monster, eating everything and everyone in his path.

At one point in “Spirited Away,” No-Face is described as “the richest man in the whole wide world.” He takes more bath tokens than he needs, and the bathhouse workers clamor for his gold, while Yubaba observes of them, “Your greed attracted quite a guest.”

No-Face represents the insatiable hunger of capitalism, a concept introduced early in the film when Chihiro and her parents first arrive in the spirit realm on the other side of a mysterious, temple-like gate. “It’s an abandoned theme park,” her father declares of the world inside the gate. “They built lots of them back in the nineties. But then they went bust when the economy tanked.”

This is a reference to the economic bubble bursting in Japan in 1992, less than a decade before Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli made “Spirited Away.” In the first of its 12-part “Defining the Hesei Era” series, The Japan Times summed up the bubble era with a single word: excess. It was a time when consumerism ran rampant and people, as Miyazaki put it, “turned into pigs.”

“Spirited Away” literalizes this transformation with Chihiro’s parents, as her father follows his nose to an unattended restaurant and immediately begins filling his plate and gorging himself on food. “Don’t worry, your father’s here,” he tells Chihiro. “I’ve got credit cards and cash.” As if that will solve everything. For her part, Chihiro rejects No-Face and his offers of gold, telling him, “You can’t give me what I want.”

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