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a vision of a troubled young girl casting herself into the waters of the UjiRiver,anotherliminalimage.IntheindigenousShinto¯ religion,especiallybe-fore the introduction of Buddhism, shrine maidens (miko) had an importantshamanic 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 inwhich “all is chaos and dismaying juxtaposition. Everything that the childholds to be true and natural is transformed.”26Chihiro’s own liminality is echoed and amplified in the strange world ofthe 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 alsoto the world of themizu shobai(literally “water business” but in this case re-ferring to entertainers and prostitutes associated with the more unsavorykinds of bathhouses found in red-light districts throughout Japan), the bath-house is socially liminal as well, evocative of the underground aspects ofJapanese society. On a symbolic level, the bathhouse is also associated witha 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 bathhouseby boat) but, as a bathhouse, its function is of course totally dependent onwater. Not surprisingly, water in its cleansing and purifying function plays amajor role in the film.Napier: Spirited Away29726.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 andthat of its environs, a dazzling bricolage which includes elements of Meijiand Tokugawa temple architecture mixed with Chinese restaurant styles andeven, as Shimizu points out, touches of the grotesque visions of PeterBreughel and Hieronymous Bosch,27capturing the mix-and-match in-betweenness of modern Japan. Furthermore, the bathhouse and its denizensappear at twilight (a liminal period), and some of its inhabitants shift iden-tities (Turner’s “liminal masquerade”), suggesting the flux of identity thatcharacterizes 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 anew, more powerful form of subjectivity, which enables her to achieve thepurging of the bathhouse in several significant episodes.
Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli, Spirited Away, Chihiro, Culture of Japan, My Neighbor Totoro
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