Asia 212_Lecture Notes on Matter Out of Place - Carnival, Containment, and Cultural Recovery in Miya

A vision of a troubled young girl casting herself

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a vision of a troubled young girl casting herself into the waters of the Uji River,anotherliminalimage.IntheindigenousShinto ¯ religion,especiallybe- fore the introduction of Buddhism, shrine maidens ( miko ) had an important shamanic function as mediators to the gods. In Spirited Away, Chihiro may be seen as having shamanness-like as- pects as she deals with the gods inside the fantasy bathhouse, mediating be- tween a variety of liminal worlds. Much in the same way Mary Schmidt de- scribes the shaman’s initiatory process, Chihiro must confront a world in which “all is chaos and dismaying juxtaposition. Everything that the child holds to be true and natural is transformed.” 26 Chihiro’s own liminality is echoed and amplified in the strange world of the bathhouse. The bathhouse itself is a liminal entity, its condition exem- plified most obviously by the fact that its business revolves around transients, its fantastic clientele who are always coming and going. Connected also to the world of the mizu shobai (literally “water business” but in this case re- ferring to entertainers and prostitutes associated with the more unsavory kinds of bathhouses found in red-light districts throughout Japan), the bath- house is socially liminal as well, evocative of the underground aspects of Japanese society. On a symbolic level, the bathhouse is also associated with a significant liminal substance, water. Not only is it surrounded by water (Chihiro has to cross a bridge to get to it and later must leave the bathhouse by boat) but, as a bathhouse, its function is of course totally dependent on water. Not surprisingly, water in its cleansing and purifying function plays a major role in the film. Napier: Spirited Away 297 26. Mary Schmidt, Crazy Wisdom: The Shaman as Mediator of Realities (Wheaton, Ill.: Theosophical Publishing House, 1987), p. 165.
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Other signs of liminality include the architecture of the bathhouse and that of its environs, a dazzling bricolage which includes elements of Meiji and Tokugawa temple architecture mixed with Chinese restaurant styles and even, as Shimizu points out, touches of the grotesque visions of Peter Breughel and Hieronymous Bosch, 27 capturing the mix-and-match in- betweenness of modern Japan. Furthermore, the bathhouse and its denizens appear at twilight (a liminal period), and some of its inhabitants shift iden- tities (Turner’s “liminal masquerade”), suggesting the flux of identity that characterizes contemporary industrial societies. Finally, as is typical of lim- inal sites, it is a place of ritual and initiation where Chihiro loses her origi- nal identity and is forced to undergo a variety of trials before constructing a new, more powerful form of subjectivity, which enables her to achieve the purging of the bathhouse in several significant episodes.
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  • Spring '14
  • GeraldFigal
  • Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli, Spirited Away, Chihiro, Culture of Japan, My Neighbor Totoro

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