Wonderment and Awe: the Way of the Kami Essay

Wonderment and Awe: the Way of the Kami Essay

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Wonderment and Awe: the Way of the Kami


When watching the fantastic anime (animation) of Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki, it soon becomes apparent that he has infused his richly detailed worlds with an animistic world-view that references ancient Japanese beliefs, practices and myths. His films describe an intriguing mixture of earthy spirituality particularly drawn from the Shinto tradition. Shinto is less a religion than a way of life – a pantheistic and animistic faith that believes that every object possesses a spirit, and encourages nature worship, folk beliefs, ancient deities and rituals. It has no dogma or moral doctrine, except for four general tenets: worshipping and honouring the kami; love of nature; tradition and the family; and cleanliness (Picken 1994:9-10). For the scope of this article, I will be looking at how respect for the kami and nature inform two of Miyazaki’s films Princess Mononoke (Mononokehime 1997) and Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi 2001).

The key to Miyazaki’s work lies in his knack of transformation and transfusion. He transforms and reinvigorates the tenets of Shinto and also elements of Japanese myth such as dragons and gods. His films do not rework specific stories – rather he creates a hybrid Japanese ‘modern myth’ that is accessible (in different ways) to post-industrialised audiences all over the world. Film critics have praised his films: many appearing to share the sentiments of American film writer Chris Lanier that ‘ultimately, when the movie is over, one doesn’t chiefly savour its sequences or incidents, or even the audacity of its imagination. One rather savours the world-view that seeps through it, which is an eminently kind one’ (2002). I would suggest that Miyaza...


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...s spiritual roots. Tokyo: Kodansha International.

Picken, S. (1994) Essentials of Shinto: An analytical guide to principal teachings. Connecticut & London: Greenwood Press.

Saitani, R. (1995) ‘I Understand Nausicaa a Bit More Than I Did a Little While Ago: Long interview with Hayao Miyazaki’ in Comic Box special memorial issue: The Finale of Nausicaa. January. Website accessed 15 May 2003: www.comicbox.co.jp/e-nau/e-nau.html

Mes, T. (2002) ‘Hayao Miyazaki Interview’on Midnight Eye. 1 July. Website accessed 15 May 2003: www.midnighteye.com/interviews/hayao_miyazaki.shtml

van Bremen, J. (1995) ‘Introduction: The myth of the secularization of industrialized societies’ in Ceremony and Ritual in Japan: Religion in an Industrialized Society. London: Routledge.

Weber, M. (1965) The Sociology of Religion translated by E. Fischoff. London: Methuen & Co.

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