Notable Reads: Susan J. Napier

Matter Out of Place (2006)

Good month for filmgoers in New York: while Film Forum, the West-side NYC film mecca, brings us the filmography of French master, Robert Bresson, the good people at IFC continue to run Japan’s beloved Studio Ghibli’s catalog, including the internationally acclaimed “Spirited Away.” Above you’ll find a link to Susan J. Napier’s cultural analysis of the film, courtesy of JSTOR and The Society of Japanese Studies. (If you’re new to the film and Mizayaki’s critical perspective, as I am, it comes highly recommended.)


“The bathhouse organization privileges traditionally sanctioned virtues such as endurance and hard work, as seen by the fact that the only way Chihiro can rescue her parents is by taking whatever job is offered to her, no matter how burdensome. Chihiro must also relinquish her name and identity, suggesting that she must subordinate herself to the group, another value connected with indigenous Japanese social structures such as the prewar ie, or extended family. Finally, the jobs she is given evoke the teachings of the native Shinto religion, one of whose central tenets is the cleansing of pollution.”

From Matter out of Place: Carnival, Containment, and Cultural Recovery in Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” by Susan J. Napier (2006)

No Face

“No Face’s orgy of excess is ultimately contained, allowing the film’s final message to be one of somewhat guarded optimism for the survival and even perhaps the renewal of traditional culture. The agent of this renewal is, of course, Chihiro, transformed from her earlier apathetic and dependent self (not, perhaps, so different from No Face in certain respects) at the beginning of the film to a figure of moral authority and courage by the end.”

Stink spirit

“When asked by an interviewer whether the film includes unclean things along with fantasy, Miyazaki explained that ‘in the act of creating a fantasy, you open up the lid to parts of your brain that don’t usually open.’ These more subversive elements found when the director ‘lifted the lid’ of his unconscious make the film one of Miyazaki’s most powerful and protean works. ‘Spirited Away’ offers disturbing visions of excess, liberating moments of carnival, and a sharp critique of the materialism and toxicity of contemporary Japanese society through its complex vision of a quasi-nostalgic fantastic realm threatened by pollution from within and without.”