Studio Ghibli has been responsible for creating some of the best animated films in the world and has often seen them experiment with human civilizations and ancient magic coexisting to tell fantastic and imaginative stories. Since My Neighbor Totoro for Princess Mononoke for Ponyothese films were celebrated around the world and introduced audiences to some of animation’s most iconic characters.
But Taken away as if by magic is no exception and has often been considered one of the acclaimed studio’s finest. With so many characters inhabiting the spirit world, Hayao Miyazaki turned to many folklores and myths to create a recognizable cast of characters. But how exactly do they fare in relation to their mythological origins?
The Susuwatari made their Studio Ghibli debut in My Neighbor Totoro, leaving dusty soot everywhere before leaving the house. They returned for this movie where they act as assistants to Kamaji, who operates the bathhouse boiler room and was considered one of the finest creatures in Taken away as if by magic.
Despite much Japanese mythology being used to create many of the film’s characters, the Scottish spirit known as Brownie appears to have influenced Susuwatari behavior. Known to perform various tasks around homes in exchange for food, they can easily get offended and leave for good.
The mustachioed Kamaji works and appears to live in the bathhouse’s boiler room, acting as a manager who tries to keep the bathhouses warm for patrons while mixing different scented soaps. With six arms that can extend, he is able to complete his tasks without leaving his seat.
Since the Middle Ages of Japan, Tsuchigumo have been depicted as spider-like yokai (Japanese spirits) and in ancient artwork they are depicted as monstrous creatures. Although some artistic interpretation was used to create Kamaji, his multiple limbs and magic could have been very much influenced by the Tsuchigumo.
As seen briefly in the film when they enter the bathhouse, the Onama-Sama were just one of many groups of spirits considered patrons. Appearing to wear cloaks made of leaves and sporting different sets of horns from each other, they share a lot in common with a certain group of Japanese folklore beings.
Based on the Namahage, they are traditionally represented in New Year’s rituals by people who wear straw capes and cover their faces with ogre masks. And while these masks may differ, they generally appear to have horns and large teeth.
7 spirit of the river
Initially mistaken as a stinking spirit, the muddy, grimy one is made for one of the film’s most iconic scenes as Chihiro tries to restore him to his former glory. After all the dirt and pollution is removed, he is revealed to be a river spirit.
There are various river spirits in folklore and fairy tales around the world, but the river spirit in the movie could be the Kawa-no-Kami. Known to be the king of the river gods, people today still gift this deity with dolls created by various plants.
The three bouncing heads that reside in Yubaba’s office initially bully Chihiro as she asks for work at the witch’s company. Appearing as the heads of green-skinned bearded men, they serve Yubaba’s orders and even try to get rid of Haku.
The characters are most likely based on the Daruma doll and its historical context in Japan. Originally, these charms were created to protect children from disease in the 1600s and many people believed in the magic these dolls would have produced to protect their children from harm caused by a demon that produced smallpox.
5 Hopping lantern
Most likely inspired by Pixar’s iconic animated lamp, the Hopping Lantern in Taken away as if by magic makes a brief appearance. Acting as a guide for Chihiro and No-Face, he shows them to the lair of Zeniba, Yubaba’s twin sister and witch.
Inspired by the Tsukumogami, these spirits possessed objects and tools and were popular beliefs in the Middle Ages. Many artists have drawn inspiration from this folklore, and there are many art forms that revolve around this type of yokai, including woodcarvings and paintings.
Aogaeru is a spirit that takes on the appearance of a frog and initially signals Chihiro’s presence in the bathhouse. He is also one of the few spirits that No-Face eats before spitting them all out, making him one of the least powerful. Taken away as if by magic characters.
Among Augaeru and the other frog-like spirits that appear in the movie, they might be inspired by The Tale of Gallant Jiraiya, the Japanese folk tale. The story’s protagonist, Jiraiya, was a ninja who had the ability to transform into a large toad and could have played a key role in creating this particular spirit.
One of the main characters of Taken away as if by magic, Haku helps Chihiro throughout the film as she tries to find her parents while trapped in the spirit world. A mature and knowledgeable river spirit, he also has many powers and transforms into a dragon to help Chiro through his story, which also makes him one of the coolest dragons in anime.
Dragons in fairy tales and folklore took many shapes and designs from country to country, but Haku’s dragon form could have been inspired by Japanese dragons. Specifically, its design is similar to the Mizuchi, an eastern dragon that has a serpent-like body and has a strong connection to water.
Acting as the film’s antagonist, Yubaba is a witch with an overly large head who uses magic for her own gain. She owns the public baths that the spirits visit and work. Yubaba even forces Chihiro to do dirty and difficult jobs, including cleaning the spirit of the polluted river that made her one of the most iconic animated witches.
She may have undergone some artistic changes from her mythological source, but they both share the same dangerous attitude. Yubaba is based on Yama Uba, a Japanese witch who lived in the mountains and tricked travelers into making a meal out of their flesh.
1 no face
Easily one of the most iconic and recognizable characters in the entire film, No-Face is a spirit who appears to wear a mask and is dressed in black. He slowly befriends Chihiro throughout the story and with his unusual magical abilities he is responsible for creating some of the best scenes in Taken away as if by magic.
Of the many yokai in Japanese mythology, No-Face is based on the Noppera-bo. These spirits appear as faceless humans and they often like to trick people without putting anyone in danger.
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