Studio Ghibli: Is No-Face Forgivable?

Screenshot of No-Face from “Spirited Away”. Copyright goes to Studio Ghibli.

Hey! Hallie here!

I recently rewatched ‘Spirited Away’ and, as much as I enjoy it, there’s always one character I come away completely conflicted about. That would be No-Face, the monster that Chihiro lets into the bathhouse who begins to eat everything once they arrive. Including other spirits. It’s difficult to forget No-Face’s horrifying mouth or the entire scene where No-Face barfs up everything they have eaten so far. But before this scene No-Face is docile and kind. Even cute. And after No-Face leaves the bathhouse, they revert to the same kind spirit they were before. So which is it? Are they cute enough to forgive for their disturbing tirade in the bathhouse, or so terrifying that you’d rather forget about them?

What is No-Face?:

I think the first step to answering this question is looking into what No-Face really is. I initially assumed that No-Face was originally some sort of folk tale, but No-Face is actually an original creation by director Hayao Miyazaki. Some people have drawn comparisons between No-Face and the Noppera-Bo, a faceless ghost in Japanese legend, but there aren’t many similarities here. The Noppera-Bo appear human to lure in their victims before letting their faces disappear to reveal smooth skin. They do this because they enjoy fear, though they don’t intend to harm. It’s pretty obvious that No-Face doesn’t appear human and fear isn’t their goal. No-Face is a spirit or a god according to Miyazaki, and their fading form attests to the lack of physical forms spirits have in legends. Beyond this, No-Face is an original concept that focuses on one major theme. Identity. This film focuses a lot on identity. Yubaba takes Chihiro’s name when Chihiro begins to work at the bathhouse and remembering her name is essential to being able to leave the spirit realm. Haku doesn’t remember his name and the importance of this carries through the entire story until Chihiro does remember it. No-Face has a name, but it doesn’t seem to do them much good. They’re name is No-Face. They wear a mask because they don’t have any identifying features and they communicate in grunts because they have no voice. They’re a blank slate with no identity. So, in order to gain an identity, they reflect the people they communicate with.

How Does Reflecting Other Characters Change No-Face?:

No-Face first reflects Chihiro, who demonstrates kindness to No-Face. She let them into the bathhouse, so they stole supplies for her. However, when No-Face enters the bathhouse, No-Face is surrounded by selfish and greedy individuals. Greed is a major theme that Hayao Miyazaki warns against in this film, and a lot of it is reflected in the staff of the bathhouse. From Yubaba, who doesn’t care if others suffer as long as she makes money, to the workers, who trip over themselves to please rich customers, all of them are severely punished within the plot. And No-Face, after watching several of these characters fight over the gold the river spirit left behind, reflects their greed. No-Face first lures a victim, a frog, in with money and eats him. Afterwards No-Face completely adapts this frog’s personality. No-Face takes over his voice and even his frog-like appearance. This leads to further greed, as propelled by the frog’s personality, which only keeps growing when the workers of the bathhouse begin to serve them solely for the large amounts of gold No-Face is giving out. When No-Face tries to offer Chihiro money she refuses, effectively stopping No-Face’s growth by denying No-Face any more greed. When Chihiro feeds No-Face food from the river spirit, No-Face begins to regurgitate everything they ate, and all their negative personality traits, until No-Face completely regurgitates everything, even the frog, and leaves the bathhouse. After this is done, No-Face is back to reflecting mostly Chihiro’s kindness. In some ways, No-Face can’t be blamed much for their actions. No-Face is even used by the plot to punish greedy characters.

The Dark Side of No-Face:

No-Face still isn’t completely moralistic. They’re lonely, and as a result, obsessive. No-Face speaks about their loneliness in the film, likely a result of both being labeled as a monster and not having a personality of their own. When Chihiro actually acknowledges No-Face’s existence and shows them kindness, they are touched by her actions. They also immediately become obsessed with Chihiro afterwards. No-Face attempts to offer her whatever she wants, going far beyond Chihiro’s original act of kindness. And when No-Face begins to reflect negative traits, a lot of their actions are a result of jealousy and frustration because Chihiro won’t spend time with No-Face. No-Face angrily eats two workers in the bathhouse because Chihiro refuses to accept their first offer of gold to her, and when she refuses the second time and feeds them instead, No-Face chases after her in anger. It actually shows quite a bit of character growth when No-Face agrees to stay with Zeniba at the end of the film instead of staying by Chihiro’s side.

Ultimately I’d say No-Face is no villain. Despite being the most terrifying part of the movie, No-Face isn’t showing their own disturbing qualities, but the disturbing qualities of other characters. I’d completely be on No-Face’s side if I could shake the image of their giant mouth out of my head. As it is, I’ll be satisfied with calling No-Face cute at parts, terrifying at other parts, and forgivable overall.

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!

Hallie

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