In this article:
- No-Face is a mysterious spirit who seems to have lost his way (and his identity) in the 2001 animated film, Spirited Away.
- Lonely and lacking a sense of self, he absorbs the traits of the spirits he consumes (both physical and personality).
- When Chihiro shows him a little kindness, he latches onto her quickly and tries to win her over as a friend.
- The character is a well-written allegory of how powerful even a tiny bit of human kindness can be.
While many people hail Spirited Away, the 2001 animated film created by Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, for its captivating visuals, it also offers deep emotional insights that will make you think differently about how you treat other people.
The film follows the journey of the main character, Chihiro, a 10-year-old girl whose family moves to a new town.
On the way to their new home, her family runs into a tunnel in the forest that ultimately leads Chihiro into a strange world filled with spirits and creatures. To escape and save her parents, she must convince these mysterious beings to help her.
One character she meets, No-Face, forces viewers to consider the ways in which people deal with loneliness and rejection, and how we often try to mask our unhappiness in things like greed and gluttony.
A deeper examination of the character of No-Face offers a valuable insight into human nature, and might even bring a tear to your eye when you relate the character to people in your own life.
No-Face’s Search for Identity and Companionship
While the movie is filled with many interesting spirits, the character of No-Face is one that stands out the most. In his first couple of appearances, he does not speak at all, yet still portrays very human emotions that viewers can easily resonate with.
It seems that No-Face has lost his way in the world and no longer knows who he is. He becomes easily attached to other characters in the movie. He is highly sensitive to others’ reactions to him. And he seems to emulate the behaviors of those around him. No-Face, as his name implies, lacks an identity.
The first interaction that Chihiro has with him is when she is first entering the bathhouse. Haku leads Chihiro across the bridge and tells her that she must hold her breath, or the other spirits will recognize her as a human.
None of the spirits notice Chihiro, with the exception of No-Face, who seems to be staring directly at her. Perhaps the fact that Chihiro is lost in a foreign world, just like No-Face, gives him the ability to see her.
The next day, Chihiro walks across the very same bridge and sees No-Face standing in the same spot. He seems to be wearing a smile on his mask, but Chihiro just greets him and quickly rushes away.
When Chihiro turns around to see if he’s still there, he has disappeared. In this scene, No-Face exhibits behavior similar to a nervous child trying to make friends by positioning himself close to someone he favors, but not having the courage to initiate any sort of interaction.
From then on, it seems like No-Face latches onto Chihiro. He appears to her in the garden outside the bathhouse, and Chihiro expresses concern that he may be getting wet. Chihiro tells No-face that she will leave the door open for him so that he can enter the bathhouse.
This encourages the spirit, who seems very lonely and not accustomed to being noticed, much less helped. When Chihiro shows kindness towards him, he sees this as a source of hope that he might not be so lonely anymore and sets out to win over her friendship.
In a later scene, No-Face helps out Chihiro when she’s washing the River Spirit. When the River Spirit has been cleaned, it leaves behind a bunch of gold for the employees of the bathhouse, and they all get very excited.
No-Face observes the hysteria over the gold and begins to understand that gold is a way of winning the favor of others.
Later that same evening, he lures a frog spirit in with gold only to consume him whole. After doing so, No-Face begins to take on the characteristics of the frog: speaking in the frog’s voice, sprouting frog-like legs, and taking on some of the greediness of the frog spirit.
He begins tossing gold out to the employees of the bathhouse, who are all serving him and swooning around him. At this point, he could be compared to someone who doesn’t really know who he is or how to make friends, so he uses their wealth to try to make others like them.
When Chihiro does not accept his gift of gold (signaling that she’s not greedy like the rest of them), No-Face goes into a rage and begins eating the other spirits. He cannot understand why the one who he wishes to please most, Chihiro, is not won over by his gifts, and so he descends into gluttony and anger.
Yubaba then discovers that Chihiro was the one who let No-Face into the bathhouse in the first place, and says that Chihiro must deal with him.
This scene, in which Chihiro speaks privately with No-Face, is perhaps the most revealing of No-Face’s character. When Chihiro first enters, No-Face requests that she take some of the food in the room or accept his gift of gold.
When Chihiro refuses, he recoils, as if suffering from the pain of rejection. Chihiro then asks him if he has a mother or father, and he replies that he has no one. He is completely alone.
Chihiro then feeds him a bitter dumpling that she got from the River Spirit and he begins to run around the bathhouse vomiting a black sludgy substance. It almost seems like he is purging himself of his greedy and gluttonous ways.
Perhaps this scene is symbolic of Chihiro forcing No-Face to realize that his efforts to fill his void of loneliness with greed and gluttony are futile, and that these vices are no substitute for true friendship. This seems especially true since, once Chihiro leads No-Face out of the bathhouse, he returns to his normal form.
He then follows Chihiro to the home of Zeniba, Yubaba’s kind and benevolent twin sister. From the moment No-Face enters Zeniba’s home, he seems to be heavily influenced by Zeniba’s presence. He’s calmer, more assured, more polite, and happier.
Zeniba even teaches No-Face how to knit, and gives him positive reinforcement as he does so. As Chihiro prepares to leave Zeniba’s home, Zeniba tells No-Face that he is welcome to stay with her, and he accepts her offer.
This is the last time that No-Face appears in the movie, but I think it’s safe to assume that he has found a place where he can be happy, have companionship, and be himself at Zeniba’s house.
What We Can Learn From No-Face
I think that the character of No-Face is extremely beneficial for thinking about the way we treat other people, especially in today’s world. Often, when people do bad things, it’s a way of trying to get attention or of lashing out against a world that they feel has forgotten them.
When you get down to it, everyone really just wants to be accepted and loved. It may sound cliche, but many of the world’s problems could be solved if we could simply learn to show more kindness toward one another and let other people know that we care about them rather than letting them brood in their loneliness.
If we could all leave the door open for someone when it’s raining, like Chihiro, or invite someone into our home, like Zeniba, every once and a while, there would be far fewer unhappy people in the world.