2001’s “Spirited Away” is saturated with colorful characters. That’s to be expected in a film that takes place in an interdimensional bathhouse for spirits, the denizens of which include miserly frogs, anthropomorphized radishes, and hard-working soot sprites. For the story’s protagonist, Chihiro, the world of “Spirited Away” is as much a spa as it is purgatory. When her parents greedily nosh on food meant for spirits, they turn into pigs, and young Chihiro must find a way to save her porcine parents and return to the human world while working at a bathhouse populated by otherworldly characters.
A novice employee, Chihiro invites the enigmatic No-Face inside, assuming he is a customer. As his name suggests, No-Face is a blank slate. He is mild-mannered, silent (save his cooing “ah” sounds), and, above all, lonely. In the spa, however, he becomes a manifestation of the establishment’s worst qualities, and his loneliness is a vacuum. No-Face is consumed by the insatiable greed that runs rampant in the bathhouse. Soon he begins gobbling up gold, material possessions, and even other customers.
No-Face’s greatest power — and the source of his undoing — is that he is a mirror to his environment’s greatest ills. He may not be outwardly evil like some Miyazaki inventions, but he represents a very human capacity for greed and, in some instances, terror. As Miyazaki pointedly said, “No-Face is inside all of us” (via Otaku USA Magazine). No-Face only relents when he achieves what he wanted all along: companionship.