A Monster Called “No Face”

When a character’s name is simply No Face, a lot of conclusions can be drawn without looking deeply into any of his actions. No Face essentially has no identity, he is a blank slate at first that simply wants a friend. Outside influence forces this misunderstood character to change for the worse.

Face01

You might not even have noticed him the first time watching the film; he is just a spirit standing on the bridge as Chihiro and Haku cross the bridge to the bathhouse for the first time. He’s ignored by everyone around him. During the day, now Sen sees him on the bridge and politely bows to him as she crosses. This moment must have been odd for him as he’s never been noticed by others Face02before. This causes him to follow Sen and happily comes inside out of the rain. He returns the favour to Sen by getting the tag she needed for the bath tub. Sadly, No Face doesn’t understand things completely and produces more tags for Sen then she needs (despite it coming to her advantage later). He sees this and the reaction to the workers had to the gold produced by the River god and takes it as a lesson. If he can make things for Sen, she’ll be happy and she’ll be his friend.

The bathhouse is not a good environment for No Face as he entices a frog with gold, eats him Face03and soon starts growing larger, demanding more things (now that he has words), continues to entice the workers with gold, and eating copious amounts of food. He has been consumed by greed and worldly wants but he has also learned he will get attention from people if he offers them gold. He now has the attention of people (all but the one he wants). His greed and need for attention soon has all the workers doing anything and everything to get money (their own greed fueling his need for attention). Upon finally finding Sen, he offers her a lot of gold but she refuses. Once again, he doesn’t understand why Sen doesn’t want what he has to offer her despite everyone else’s reactions. First she didn’t need more tags for the bath and now she didn’t want gold. He wanted her to accept his gifts and be his friends. In his upset state, he drops the gold he offers her and eats another frog and slug. The workers go into a panic and call him a “horrible monster.”

Yubaba tells the workers that “your greed attracted quite a guest”, meaning that the workers greed for gold and material wealth
attracted someone who only knows how to consume which only is only fueled by their greed. He becomes out of control and Yubaba can’t control him. Sen arrives and he offers her food and gold but again she doesn’t want it. For the third time, No Face can’t understand why she doesn’t want anything from him despite his willingness to give her what she wants. He only wants her because he’s lonely, he obviously needs a friend. When No Face chases after Sen afterwards, Yubaba tells him, “not on her premises”, and we start to see this scene in a much darker tone than originally.

The images of the women before now in the bathhouse start to take on a different tone. The women in kimonos may not just be workers in the bathhouse but a form of geisha meant to entertain guests. Geisha, despite popular culture, were not prostitutes as the “geisha ideal did not contradict the ethos of the ‘maiden’ since it involved no sexual activity”[i]. Despite this, “before modern times the boundaries between them and the higher-ranking prostitutes were notFace04 always clear” because in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century, “geisha included both men and women who not only performed on stage but also freely sold sexual favors”[ii]. With this fact in mind, we begin to see the darker undertones expressed with No Face. No Face is in a bathhouse with geisha and is trying to buy Sen. Thus Yubaba’s words, “not on her premises” starts to suggests she runs a business where her girls cannot be bought for sexual favours and that she is not going to allow No Face to touch Sen in an inappropriate manner. This theory is reinforced by Lin’s words to No Face when he follows Sen outside the bathhouse: “No Face, if you so much as touch that girl, you’ll pay for it!”. Lin seems to know that No Face’s intentions earlier were not as innocent as Sen seems to think they are. He may really be a monster after all but I just think he’s a little misunderstood.

No Face’s identity though is made clear by Sen. She says to him, “Where did you come from?” and tells him “You should go back to where you came from. You can’t help me with what I want.” She asks him more questions when he is unable to respond. “Where’s your home? Don’t you have a mom and dad?” and finally “Can’t you go home?”. He responds by telling her he’s lonely but he hasn’t answered the question. No Face has no identity. He has no collective group to say he belongs to. As mentioned before, in early Japan, a person’s identity was based on the family unit and for No Face, with no home he has no family and thus no status or identity. He is an outcast.

Face05Sen’s questions cause him to get confused as to who he is. His ingestion of three people has caused him to consume three different identities which do not seem to help him any. The three identities cause him to consume everything. The only thing that seems to be part of his identity is his connection to Sen. He just wants her while the other identities he has absorbed want to be pampered and feed, all in the name of greed. He has become corrupted by the bathhouse environment which is because his identity was a blank slate; it was easily influenced and shown incorrect behaviour and motives for getting what he wanted: a friend.

Face06When he is finally back to his “self” after purging himself of everything and anything bad, he seems to lose the “monster” who only knew how to consume. He continues to follow Chihiro as much like Boh, he isn’t entirely sure what to do. Sen seems to be the only one who can help him perhaps gain some form of an identity that he can call his own. Her trip to Zeniba is what finally gain No Face what he needs: a home, a friend, a family, and an identity. Zeniba is able to teach No Face how to do things that are productive for others instead of greedy consumption. In the end, he seems happy to have found a home.

 

Overall, No Face is a complex character due to his none identity and his ability to absorb other people’s identities. His none identity allows others to forcibly influence his decisions, his actions and create a monster where there was none before. No Face simply wanted to be part of a collective identity or to find a way to gain his own identity which thanks to Sen, he gains the beginnings of a better environment to grow into a proper identity.

End Notes

[i] Johnston, William. Geisha, harlot, strangler, star: a woman, sex and morality in modern Japan (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), 38.

[ii] Johnston, Geisha, 38.

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