The mysterious No-Face

I was watching Spirited Away with my wife, and scenes that always confused me were the subplot involving the No-Face. From the other characters, it sounds like some kind of spiritual pest. It spends most of its time in the bathouse givinh people gold and gobbling them up. Im not quite sure I understand.

Is there some sort of mythology behind it?

It’s a pun in English and Japanese. He has “no face”, but the mask he wears is a Noh mask… so he’s also “Noh-Face”.

Have you watched the film all the way through? He’s not giving the workers real gold. He’s tempting them, making them act foolishly because of their greed. Several of the characters at the bathhouse are like that: neither really good nor evil, and No-Face fits right in with them, playing on the employees’ emotions for his own needs.

No-face saw how the bathouse workers reacted to the gold from the river spirit. Since he was lonely he thought if he made some gold for them, they’d love him. And he was right. Of course, he couldn’t really make gold–just fake gold. Just like he helped Sen by getting her the bath token she needed. Then he figured she wanted more bath tokens, and was hurt when she didn’t want them.

He couldn’t talk until he ate the talking frog. Then he could talk using the frog’s voice.

So, when he started giving the workers gold, they reacted with greed, and he began to act like they did–consuming more food, more pleasures, until finally he ate the two people. He became out of control because he didn’t understand how to react. He wanted to be like everyone else, but had no limit to his behavior. Everyone was encouraging his gluttony, so he became gluttonous, until he went too far by eating people and destroying things.

Then Sen finally gave him the River Spirit’s medicine, and he regurgitated everything he had absorbed and experienced at the bathouse, and returned to the gentle spirit he had been in the beginning. And Sen leaves him with Zeniba, because No-face needs a gentle quiet place to learn how to be a person, if he is around greed and violence he will become greedy and violent himself because he doesn’t know how to act.

So No-face’s story is a kind of reflection of Chihiro’s story, except he didn’t learn and grow from his experiences at the bathhouse like she did. Instead he turns into a monster, forgetting his true self like so many of the other spirits there. Chihiro saves him from this and takes him away to a safer place for him.

Noh Face is part of the movie’s identity loss theme. He has no identity–no “face”–of his own, and seeks something to fill his emptiness. He needs to be around people to do that, so he tries to give them what they want. He saw the workers grabbing for gold, so he offers them gold. That inspires their feelings of greed, which Noh Face takes as his new “mask”, creating a downward spiral. The spiral is broken when he is confronted by Sen, who is not greedy, and is also seeking her identity. I’m not entirely certain how much of the effect of the medicine was from the medicine itself, and how much was from Sen’s generosity in giving it to him. In her company, he takes on a measure of her growing selflessness, and later finds peace in a reflection of Zeniba’s simple country life.

I don’t think he corresponds to any particular sort of creature from Japanese myth; the “hungry ghosts” have identities of their own–generally quite nasty ones. He actually reminds me more of the importance of names in certain ancient Egyptian beliefs, and of the Mayan-influenced Mexican concept of “the third death”, which occurs when the dead are completely forgotten.

Thats very interesting. I knew the gold was fake, and that he was trying to get some sort of connection with Chihiro. But something else-

It seems like at first, only she can see him. When hes standing next to the foreman, the foreman doesnt seem to notice him. Also, the boss lady seemed to recognize what he was, yet tried to hadokken him to death.