This post contains spoilers, so if you’ve never seen Spirited Away, stop what you’re doing, go watch it, and then come back. Got that done? Excellent.
As I type this, my No Face doll is sitting atop my desk, my No Face wallpaper is lighting up on my phone, and my No Face shirt is resting in my laundry basket. And that’s not to mention my No Face stationary… Clearly, I have an obsession. I’m not sure if it’s the cute face or the sweet disposition that draws me to that cannibalistic psycho, but I love him. Upon reflecting for a while, I think I’ve finally figured out why. I am No Face!
Wait, wait! Before you run off to call the police and have me detained for threatening to eat people, just listen. In a way, we are all No Face. He was a harmless spirit when he arrived at the bathhouse, albeit creepy for standing outside all the time. He just wanted to be noticed. He’s just trying to repay Sen for her kindness. When no one else would see him, she did. That’s why he bides his time and learns what Sen likes so that he can truly repay her for her services (or so I believe). His time in the bathhouse is long. As he tries to win Sen’s affection, he loses himself to gluttony in the process.
Long story made short, Sen has a beautiful heart and takes pity on our gluttonous friend, giving him the medicine she desperately needed for her parents. No Face starts to vomit up all the nasty things he’s eaten, until he’s finally himself again, but he’s still on a rampage. It’s not until he leaves the bathhouse (remember the scene where he dives into the water?) that he finally loses that crazed monster look. He follows Sen to Zeneba’s cottage, where he discovers the simple joys of life (and chewing quietly) that allow him to eat food but retain that killer beach bod.
So why does No Face become such a sweetheart when he leaves the bathhouse? Chihiro tells us that when she says, “the bathhouse was making him crazy.” At first, that line is just a line. In fact, it’s very nearly unsatisfactory to explain why No Face, who seems to mean well and just wants to win Sen’s affection, turned into a people-eating monstrosity. But when I think about it, I realize that we all go a little crazy if we stay in the bathhouse too long. We get too wrapped up in our own tasks, following rabbit trails and losing bits of ourselves in the process. Sometimes we forget what our goal even was. No Face remembered eventually, but he lost a bit of himself in the process. Don’t I do the same thing? I get consumed by my work or school and I drive myself crazy just pushing to get everything on my list accomplished. I grow bitter and stressed and force people out of my life as I draw back into myself. I just need to dive into the water and swim for a while, or do something simple like spinning thread and then all of the stress will ebb away. Goodbye, monster me.
Think about it. And next time you start snapping at the heels of the people you love, try stepping out of the bathhouse for a while! You’ll feel so much better.