Spirited Away: Connections to Asian Mythology

This paper will be discussing Spirited Away and its connections to Japanese Shinto Mythology and its recurring themes. More specifically, the story of Izanami and Izanagi as well as the themes of good and evil and its amalgamation.

Spirited Away follows the story about a young girl by the name of Chihiro, who is moving to a new place with her parents. They encounter a large tunnel that leads to an abandoned theme park. Chihiro’s parents decide to explore the park and come across a food stall that is open but unattended and begin to devour the food that is on the counter. Chihiro refuses to join them, and so she decides to explore the park further and comes across a large bathhouse, where she meets Haku. This meeting is where the movie takes a drastic turn. Haku tells Chihiro that she should not be there and asks her to leave at once when she goes to inform her parents; she bears witness to a horrible reality that they have become pigs. Chihiro then has to overcome her fears and work for Yubaba in hopes that she can save her parents and return to her old life.

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The film is heavily influenced by Shinto mythology with certain aspects such as the setting of the bathhouse and the presence of different spirits and Yōkai (supernatural monsters, ghosts, demons in Japanese myth). The reason for the setting being a bathhouse is because, in Japanese folklore, bathhouses are where Kami and other Japanese folklore spirits came to bathe. The relation is Miyazaki’s way of acknowledging how vital his tradition was to him. He refers, for example, to his “very warm appreciation for the various, very humble rural Shinto rituals that continue to this day throughout rural Japan and cites the solstice rituals when villagers call forth all the local kami and invite them to bathe in their baths.”[1] Spirited Away is one movie which strives to blurs the line between the concepts of Western and Eastern tradition; he does not represent either as good or bad, but rather it suggests that Japan can gain a new form of identity from assimilating western culture.  Unfortunately, any contemporary reactions of the movie have been directed towards the artistic and storytelling ability of Miyazaki Hayao as the connections to Japanese myth and culture are subtle and have not been brought to the forefront. This means that even though Spirited Away was influenced by Japanese myth and Japanese mythology and contemporary Japanese culture, it was not expressed enough for the audience to notice. The Japanese’s concept that religion has to be practiced and not preached as it refers to the practicing of religion in Japan and how most of the youth ignores it. [2]This is further emphasized by Chihiro’s mom’s dialogue in the movie when Chihiro does not recognize some of the Shinto shrines, and she replies, “some people think little spirits live there.”[3]

After watching the movie, it could be inferred that there is one significant allusion to the story of Izanami and Izanagi. The story is mainly depicted with the scene of the Chihiro’s parents eating at the food stall in the abandoned amusement park. The way this relates to the story of Izanami and Izanagi is because Izanami, the female creator of Japan, dies while giving birth to a fire deity. “Izanagi, her brother, husband as well as the male counterpart, missed her so much that he goes to the nether land to retrieve her. However, Izanami says that she has already eaten the food from that realm, implying that it would be difficult for her to return easily to this one. The food produced in the other world has the power to make one stay in that world.”[4]   The connection is also in the scene where Chihiro is seen to be disappearing when she is in the spirit world; this is until Haku provides here with a candy-like substance that allows her to stay in the world.

The context is in more of a modern-day setting with characters who are from to the modern age rather than ancient. However, the myth is told from the perspective of Chihiro, who plays the role of Izanagi, while both of her parents play the role of Izanami as they eat the food of the spirit world. The main differences from the original story of Izanami and Izanagi are the fact that it represents in a more modern context and the roles for the characters reversed. Meaning that Chihiro, who represents Izanagi in this story, is a female, while her parents represent Izanami. Furthermore, rather than becoming decaying corpses, to which thunder-kami were attached, they became pigs.

The story of Spirited Away tells us about the different themes such as the renewal of life and do not look. The story reflects in the myth of Izanami and Izanagi as when Izanagi received an opportunity to release Izanami from the constraints of the world of the dead, and he was told not to look at her; however, he breaks this taboo when he looked at her. He saw that her body was already decaying and he was because of this, he left the underworld and sealed the door to the world of the dead with boulders. A large part of the story of Izanami and Izanagi was the ultimatum of creation and destruction. When Izanagi blocked the entrance to Yomi with a boulder, Izanami became furious and said, “O my beloved husband, if you do this, I shall each day strangle to death one thousand of the populace of your country.”[5]  Izanami replied by stating, “O my beloved spouse, if you do this, I will each day build one thousand five hundred parturition huts.”[6]  This story seems similar to the concept of creation and destruction in Hindu mythology, which believes that there can be no creation without destruction and that both creation and destruction are a part of a cyclical process. That concludes the connections between Spirited Away and Izanami and Izanagi.

Moving on, a significant theme that is pertinent in Japanese Shinto mythology is the concept of good and evil, which shows with the two characters Zeniba and Yubaba, who are sisters. Zeniba and Yubaba are necessarily two sides of a similar coin and share similarities in their appearance but in only that specific aspect. Yubaba, who is the owner and runs the bathhouse, is seen as a particularly malicious woman, as she is seen ordering Haku (her apprentice) to do unethical tasks including theft. Yubaba is shown as someone who is overcome with greed, as seen with her collection of diamonds, jewels, and her obsession for the gold that No Face throws during his visit to the bathhouse. On the other side of the spectrum, Zeniba seems to be a very content being, who enjoys living in a quiet place and finds interest in routine tasks such as sewing and reading. It is interesting to understand how despite having being birthed by the same person, their personalities and goals vary greatly.

 The use of these two characters bears a striking similarity to stories from both Japanese Shinto mythology as well as Confucian mythology. From Confucian mythology, Zeniba and Yubaba are similar to the Yin Yang. Although the Yin Yang recognizes Yin as female and Yang as male, it infers that Zeniba and Yubaba emphasize the aspect of negative and positive charge as Zeniba is seen to a positive influence to Chihiro, while Yubaba a negative influence to Chihiro. Another story that bears a resemblance from Shinto mythology is the story of Amaterasu and Susa-no-o; Although having being born from the same being, Izanagi, Amaterasu came to be known as Heaven’s shining and Susa-no-o as the Raging rushing man. The story reflects the theme of good and evil that is prevalent in Shinto mythology. It is also worth noting that Amaterasu banished Susa-no-o as punishment for his actions; it infers that this is similar to Zeniba’s actions after Yubaba had Haku steal the golden seal from her.

Although the movie depicts good and evil as two respective sides as seen above, there are scenes in the movie where Miyazaki blurs the lines between them. “It is a well-known fact that there is no clear boundary between good and evil in Miyazaki or Studio Ghibli films.”[7] This is seen with Yubaba’s character change throughout the movie. Initially, Yubaba was antagonistic towards Chihiro when she first asked to work; however, when the river spirit, or Kawa no Kami, came and visited the bathhouse, Yubaba encouraged the rest of the employees to help Chihiro to remove the trash that contaminated the Kami. After the Kami left, she sang Chihiro’s praises and told every employee to be like Chihiro. This grey area is also shown in the last scene where Yubaba offers to let Chihiro go free if she can tell which pigs her parents are. “This reflects the typical Eastern philosophy, that of Vedas or Yin Yang.”[8]  In the image of the Yin Yang, the Yin and Yang sides are seen to have a small amount of each other. The imagery means that means that even with the concepts of good, there is some evil and vice versa.

Overall, the film Spirited Away maintains underlying connections with contemporary Japanese mythology through its allusion to the story of Izanami and Izanagi as well as its inclusion of the theme of good and evil with its amalgamation in Miyazaki’s films. It emphasizes these stories from myth while also maintaining strong storytelling and animation.

Works Cited

Boyd, James W. and Nishimura, Tetsuya (2016) “Shinto Perspectives in Miyazaki’s Anime Film “Spirited Away”,” Journal of Religion & Film: Vol. 8 : Iss. 3 , Article 4. Available at: https://digitalcommons.unomaha.edu/jrf/vol8/iss3/4

“Traditional Japan In Spirited Away.” UKEssays.com. 11 2013. All Answers Ltd. 12 2018 .

Chihiro’s mom says, “some people think little spirits live there” (Spirited Away)

Reider, Noriko T. “‘Spirited Away’: Film of the Fantastic and Evolving Japanese Folk Symbols.” Film Criticism, vol. 29, no. 3, 2005, pp. 4–27. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/44019178.

Heldt, Gustav. and Ō, Yasumaro.  The Kojiki : an account of ancient matters / [compiled by] Ō no Yasumaro ; translated by Gustav Heldt  Columbia University Press New York  2014 Page 16

Heldt, Gustav. and Ō, Yasumaro.  The Kojiki : an account of ancient matters / [compiled by] Ō no Yasumaro ; translated by Gustav Heldt  Columbia University Press New York  2014 Page 16

Naskar, Deep. “SPIRITED AWAY : A Study of the Symbolical Significances in Hayao Miyazaki’s Surreal Masterpiece.” Academia.edu – Share Research, IJELLH, Dec. 2017, www.academia.edu/35519666/SPIRITED_AWAY_A_Study_of_the_Symbolical_Significances_in_Hayao_Miyazaki_s_Surreal_Masterpiece.

Naskar, Deep. “SPIRITED AWAY : A Study of the Symbolical Significances in Hayao Miyazaki’s Surreal Masterpiece.” Academia.edu – Share Research, IJELLH, Dec. 2017, www.academia.edu/35519666/SPIRITED_AWAY_A_Study_of_the_Symbolical_Significances_in_Hayao_Miyazaki_s_Surreal_Masterpiece.


Connections Between Art and Fashion

The significant connections between art and fashion

Defined within the same creative spectrum, the relationship between art and fashion can be seen as far back as the renaissance period 1300 in the form of embroidered textiles (Fig.1). As time goes by, both art and fashion continue to evolve thus the connection within both subjects becomes even more apparent. The on-going topic of “Can fashion be considered as Art?” generates many mixed opinions and debates within the industry. While fashion designer Norman Norell (1967) stated “The best of fashion is worthy of the name art” to the question “Is fashion an art?” within a journal article interview article for The Metropolitan Museum of Art, when asked the same question Alwin Nikolais (1967) argues

“Fashion is not an art because women rely so much on other people to design them …Creativity is a statement of self, so for clothes, fashion, to be an art, a woman would have to design herself” (Nikolais 1967)

This study will begin to explore different views towards the relationship between art and fashion. Taking a closer look at the impact art leaves on the fashion industry. Exploring how designer’s work such as Rei Kawakubo’s is sharing the same museum space as Art by which shifted the public’s perception of her from ‘fashion designer’ to ‘artist’, her designs has been “forced into the debate of art and fashion” (Bolton, 2017).

Chapter one – Fashion as exhibitions, and different perspectives of fashion.

Fashion as art exhibition

As time goes by, fashion vastly progress and become more prevalent in today’s culture. Other than catwalks and runway shows, fashion often can be perceived within the same space as art museums. Home to many famous art masters works, now share the same confined space with fashion designer’s works, fashion exhibition within art museums has shifted the way people perceived fashion. “Some fashion designers should be considered real artists” (Loriot, 2011). In 2011 Thierry-Maxime Loriot curated “The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk” exhibition at The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Consisting of holograms projected on mannequins giving them live faces and the ability to blink, speak, and burst into songs (Fig.2), Jean Paul Gaultier (2010) Explained he wanted his work to be shown in an interesting and unexpected way as it is not a fashion show but an exhibition. Demonstrating Gaultier’s reputation for his performance and passion to break taboos and defy conventions. ‘From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk’, exhibition is considered ground-breaking as it is the first museum retrospective of Jean Paul Gaultier’s work (Guinness, 2011). When it comes to the topic of art and fashion, the current Head Curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Andrew Bolton has a very strong opinion of fashion as an art form. Bolton insist that fashion is an art form as he believes that fashion is more than its wearability but rather about the ideas and concepts.

“Designers like Hussein Chalayan and Alexander McQueen, for example, use fashion to talk about ideas of gender, identity, politics, religion; fashion is a vehicle to express ideas about the subject” (Bolton, 2012).

Over the years, Bolton has tried to influence and shift people’s views of fashion through his exhibitions at the Costume Institute. Curated by Andrew Bolton in 2011, “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” exhibition celebrates McQueen’s astonishing creativity and impact on fashion. Attracting 650,000 visitors, the exhibition consists of a large selection of McQueen’s archive in London, displaying his fashions as work of art.

“There are any number of fashion designers with the creative distinction to warrant a presentation of their work in an art museum. But I can think of a few whose careers fit as easily within the language and methodologies of art history as that of Alexander McQueen” (Campbell 2011).

McQueen designs portray themes that pushes boundaries, expectation, and the imaginative possibility of fashion. Revolving his visions for fashion around the romanticism, ‘love and beauty’. Bolton (2018) stated that McQueen never cared whether people liked or hated his shows, he just wanted to inflict reactions from his audience. Many people would view McQueen’s catwalk shows as performance art, his show evoke emotions, they were “beautiful” “but also unnerving and haunting”, “His shows were not runways as we’d seen them before” (Guinness, 2013).

“in the costume institute, our challenge is to come up with an idea, and a way of displaying fashion in a way that’s new and innovative that will make people think of fashion differently” (Bolton, 2018).

Bolton (2017) claims “Rei Kawakubo/ Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-between” in 2017 marks the first to be display in a monographic exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s since Saint Laurent 1983. The exhibition envisages Kawakubo’s perspective and thoughts process on the conceptual role that fashion has in modern culture. According to Bolton (2017) within the exhibition, Kawakubo claim’s that she does not want ‘one grand narrative’ to be establish on her work thus “the actual display itself is presented as an artistic intervention” (Bolton, 2017). Divided in multiple sections Kawakubo’s works are displayed in a maze-like manner, inviting the viewers to take their own paths and experience the works at their own pace. The exhibition consists of 140 examples for Kawakubo’s work from 1980s to her most recent collection from 2017, each section has its own theme. Kawakubo’s final section of the exhibition “Clothes/ Not Clothes” reflects Kawakubo’s radical changes within the development of her designs, (Bolton, 2017)

“It was spring 2014 where she began to see fashion as objects on the body. It’s more akin to conceptual art or performance art; it wasn’t really about wearability. Prior to that, her clothing always was viable as clothing”. (Bolton, 2017)

Bolton admits he always try to inspire people to have a different outlook on the boundaries of fashion within the exhibitions curated by him at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

One of the most outstanding examples of art and fashion fusion is “Prada Marfa” (Smith and Kubler 2013). Created by Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset in 2005 Prada Marfa is located Marfa, Texas. The installation location being in the middle of nowhere is significant to the concept as it shows a radical contrast between the environments and demands visitors to take on a long journey to view installation (Smith and Kubler 2013). Modelled to replicate a real Prada boutique and filled with real Prada merchandise from their fall 2005 collection yet cannot be accessed to ensure that it does not function as store. Prada Marfa sculpture is a vitrine paradox that created to be left unchanged and decay over time. As Smith and Kubler stated, “As a sculpture it functions as a contemporary memento mori, a meditation on mortality and the futility of existence” (2013).  Prada Marfa not only portray a strong fusion between fashion and art but also attracts many viewers whether its fashion or art enthusiasts, Prada Marfa brought a lot of attention to the topic of art and fashion.

“Like any popular work of public art, Prada Marfa has become something of a cultural landmark in recent years….and in that way that art and fashion like to mingle, Prada Marfa evolved into a destination for more than just the art curious.” (Force, 2014)

When asked during an interview “How has the perception of fashion within an art museum changed in recent year” (Smith, 2009) head of National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne fashion department Katie Somerville (2009) admitted that the most ‘noticeable’ change within the recent year is visitors now expecting to see fashion within their gallery visit. Somerville (2009) revealed within her 17 years of working at the gallery, the fashion collection has gone from being pushed aside in a corridor and categorised as “Costume and Textiles” in the “Decorative Art” department to having “major seasonal exhibitions within dedicated fashion gallery spaces and beyond” (Summerville, 2009).  Somerville (2009) mentioned although ‘cynical’, there is a truth in the thought of fashion drawn audience that would not normally visit galleries. “Fashion plays a powerful role in popularizing the traditional art space” (Somerville 2009). Similar to what Bolton mentioned about fashion as an art form, Somerville (2009) believes that a dress also has the ability to drawn viewers in and ‘connect’ on the same level as a painting.

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Organized like an art exhibition, Karl’s Lagerfeld Spring Summer 2014 fashion show venue is decorated with abstract paintings and sculpture (Fig.3). The Chanel fashion show at the Grand Palais called “Art” “Ironically and intelligently questioned the status of contemporary art in today’s world” (Leturcq and Perrin, 2015). Within an interview regarding his “Art” fashion show Lagerfeld admitted he decided to organise his show like an exhibition because “Everyone is talking about art” (Lagerfeld, 2015), his idea for the show stems from his intertest in pop art and minimalism and stated that “paintings are a bit dead” (Lagerfeld, 2015). Throughout the years, Lagerfeld has pushed the creative limits of his fashion shows with extravagant catwalk stage that can be viewed as artistic environments (Leturcq and Perrin, 2015). While Lagerfeld hinted that considers his Spring Summer 2014 show as an artistic platform that categorized as “meta-art” he stated, “I’m not an artist or anything” (Lagerfeld 2015).

Chapter two – Collaborations 




“Rei Kawakubo/ Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-between” – BOOK

Art / fashion in the 21st century – BOOK (8,178,197, 198,)




Alexander McQueen Savage beauty

Norell, Norman, et al. “Is Fashion an Art?” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, vol. 26, no. 3, 1967, pp. 129–140. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3258881.



KARL LAGERFELD ON ART AND FASHION 2015. 2018]. Available from: http://www.crash.fr/karl-lagerfeld-interview-on-art-and-fashion/