Hiyao Miyazaki, one of my favourite filmmakers, is the Japanese director of the animated movies Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke and Totoro. Of all his films these three are favourite, probably because they are the most Japanese in their aesthetic. And of these three, I have the most affinity with Spirited Away.
Most of the film’s action takes place in a large bathhouse in an alternate spirit universe. A grumpy 10-year old girl on a family cross-country trip, angry that her family is moving to a new town, accidentally crosses into this odd spirit world and must win her way out by her labour and her wits.
No Face, above, is one of Spirited Away‘s key characters. A mute, forlorn, faceless spirit, he wears a mask reminiscent of Noh theatre. I first saw the above drawing of No Face after I saw someone using it as a Twitter avatar and then found the original here. [Was unable to get permission as I don’t read Japanese; apologies.] Two years ago at a Hallowe’en party I had a sudden encounter in a hallway with a perfect, spooky, 8-foot-tall No Face. It was by far the best Hallowe’en costume I’ve ever seen in person, but then I love No Face. Like most villains in Miyazaki, he’s not really a villain; his behaviour is circumstantial. His omnivorousness is just a symptom of his abject loneliness. The Spirited Away DVD contains an interview with the very shy Miyazaki in which he says No Face probably stands in for himself.
Above is the Japanese trailer, so restrained compared to Hollywood. I find the American English-language dub really untrue to the film’s spirit (and that ubiquitous Hollywood trailer voiceover is unbearably cloying) but if you want to watch it in English, click here.
You can see glimpses of the traditional Japanese village architecture Miyazaki studied while making Spirited Away. He has said that he visited a historical architectural open air museum for inspiration.
Above, traditional Japanese bathhouse. Below, scenes from Spirited Away.
There is apparently a Japanese drinking game around the film’s Radish Spirit character (he’s the spirit of daikon radish). You have to drink a shot for every time you see one of the his nipples. I’m just reporting what I’ve heard.