Hauntological Aesthetics in Taiwanese Animation Feature Grandma and Her Ghosts (1998)

By Li Guo

In her recently published monograph Puppets, Gods, and Brands: Theorizing the Age of Animation from Taiwan, Teri Silvio insightfully observes that for the author, the animation model could also be utilized to display “how specific local cultural traditions make sense of and contribute to global transformations.”[1] Further, Silvio observes that “recent transformations of Taiwanese animation practices offer alternative (and not just reactive) concepts of animation in the broader sense, and thus, alternative ways of imagining and bringing into being the Age of Animation.”[2] Among the many understudied animation works that Silvio discusses, the classic Taiwanese animation feature Grandma and Her Ghosts (1998), directed by Wang Shau-di, is mentioned as a successful example representing “folk Daoist magic with an environmental theme.”[3] As Silvio observes, in this animation, “Daoist magic is framed, not within the wuxia genre, but within a nostalgic family drama about a boy from the city visiting his grandmother in the countryside.”[4] Building on Silvio’s ground-breaking work, this essay explores the hauntological imaginations in this seminal animation film. Animated cartoons, from an Eisensteinian point of view, could “return the reviewer to a pre-logical state, to the realm of sensuous thought.”[5] Eisenstein terms animation’s ability to articulate “freedom from ossification” and take on nascent and dynamic forms of expression as “plasmaticity.”[6] The potential of animated cartoons to bespeak the transgressive and the metaphorical, furthermore, invites an engaged discussion of hauntological aesthetics in animation films representing ghosts, with a focus on Grandma and Her Ghosts.[7]

Fig 1: A still from Grandma and Her Ghosts, 1998

The concept of hauntological aesthetics, Mark Fisher incisively observes, could be immediately related to the use of hauntological music in cinema and television, although the term itself bespeaks a connection with deconstruction theory and postmodernism. Jacques Derrida famously puts, “To haunt does not mean to be present, and it is necessary to introduce haunting into the very construction of a concept.”[8] Martin Hägglund, in addressing Derrida’s formulation of hauntology in contrast to “ontology,” observes that “What is important about the figure of the specter, then, is that it cannot be fully present: it has no being in itself but marks a relation to what is no longer or not yet.”[9] Building on these critical discussions, Fisher proposes two directions to understand hauntology, that is, the “no longer,” which though in actuality has ceased to be present is “still effective as a virtuality,” and the “not yet,” which in actuality “has not yet happened, but which is already effective in the virtual (an attractor, an anticipation shaping current behavior.”[10] Hauntology, with this understanding, could express anxieties about spatial or temporal crisis. As Fisher observes, haunting “can be seen as intrinsically resistant to the contraction and homogenization of time and space.”[11]

Wang Shau-di’s animation feature expresses this hauntological aesthetics throughout the story. Doudou, a boy who grows up in metropolitan Taipei city, is sent to his grandma’s village near Keelung one summer when his mother has to leave and visit his father who works at the sea and has suffered a sudden injury. Doudou’s grandma is a Daoist practitioner who can mediate with ghostly beings, assist their voyages to reincarnation, and exorcise evil spirits. Unwittingly, out of curiosity, Doudou tears off a Daoist Talisman which is used to seal a jar containing an evil ghost. The ghost escapes and enters the body of Grandma’s cat. It devours all wandering ghosts, souls of abandoned animals, and even spirits of human beings, amassing its own power and shape continuously. Taking advantage of Doudou’s homesickness, the demon attempts to persuade him to “sell” his grandma to a trash collector by collecting three of her tear drops, so that Doudou could purchase a house and live together with his parents in eternal happiness. Though temporarily hoodwinked, Doudou quickly realizes the demon’s evil intentions. He assists Grandma in defeating him and releasing the many devoured ghosts from the demon’s body. Eventually, the ghostly characters, including Grandma’s own friends in the village and deceased animals’ spirits, embark on a path of rebirth in happiness. Doudou too develops a closer emotional bond with his Grandma.

Whereas Hollywood animation cartoons could have influenced Wang Shau-di and Huang Li-ming in their preparation of Grandma and Her Ghosts, neither of them had any experience in animation-making and ultimately had to find their own way to present an indigenous Taiwanese story. Due to budget challenges, Wang had to resort to a Korean company for animation technology support. The Korean company “asked Wang to deliver 250 ‘key frames’ within a week. These key frames are images that show the animators where everything in a scene needs to be at ‘key’ moments. The animators then animate all movements in between.”[12] Indigenous animation industry veterans Pongo Kuo, Fish Wang, and Chen Weisong helped Wang with the composition.[13] The animation’s ground-breaking take on hauntological aesthetics was enthusiastically received by the market and film audiences, but suffered ideologically charged criticism and censorship at the indigenous Taiwan Golden Horse film festival. Although the animation was a hallmark in the history of Taiwan’s indigenous animation production, its content about ghosts and mediators, or the so-called “anomalies, strength, disorder, and spirits” (guai li luan shen) were deemed as counterproductive and harmful for children under twelve, the projected audience for animation. This repressive and largely Confucian moral and didactic discourse in the governmental rationale about Grandma’s Ghosts fails to address the film’s innovative take on animation for adult audiences, nor does it respond to the market’s demand for more indigenous animation works.

The animation film focuses on hauntological subjects, that is, the wandering ghosts or the so-called “lonely souls and wild ghosts” (gu hun ye gui) who have ceased to exist in the human world and have not yet been given the chances of being reincarnated. These drifting souls include both deceased human beings as well as animal species, such as the snake Flat who was crushed by a truck, a helpless beached whale, Grandma’s recently deceased friend, and many nameless ghosts taking temporary residence at her rustic home. They possess the molding mushrooms inside her house or even crumble into her toilet shed. The evil spirits were carefully sealed into jars by Daoist talisman and allocated separately to a small hut. In stark contrast with the modern urban apartment building that Doudou lives in, Grandma’s village, located near the seaport of Keelung, represents a hauntological landscape. To the lonely Doudou, left behind by his travelling parents and unwilling to be considered akin to a wandering ghost, the rural space may first appear to be a “non-place” with no facilities of modern life. Even Grandma herself first appears against the backdrop of a stormy light as a surreal, ghost-like figure. And yet, the animation represents Doudou at the threshold of a new epistemic journey, knowing, perceiving, and interacting with the ghosts in this seemingly alienated terrestrial sphere, not yet understanding his own connection to it.

The haunted village is by no means a romanticized, homogenized space. The deserted site of the boat manufacturing factory, a haunted site of industrial ruins, is taken by the demonic feline as its territory, thereby posing a threat to the weak and peripheral ghosts. Illustrated with a robotic, monstrous, and ever-enlarging body, the possessed cat refuses to be reborn as a human being, but rather seeks boundless power by devouring the souls of the deceased and the living, mechanizing soulless wild animals as weaponized zombies. This automated monstrous predator could represent the destructive forces of modernization, haunting and preying on the human world, breaking the bridging path between life and the ethereal world, thus annihilating the possibilities of transformation and rebirth. Whereas some traditional fantastic narratives portray ghosts as “agents of the past” who seek revenge, redemption, or justice, the animation under discussion represents the ghosts also as haunted subjects who are subject to fear, weakness, inability of communication, and who are often victims of an abuse of power.

Inherent in the story is the Daoist belief of pity and sympathy for others. The power of redemption, for those haunted subjects, ultimately rests with human beings’ moral and ethical decisions. Grandma’s ritualistic praying and practices at the Ghost Festival (Chungyuan Festival, on lunar July 15) offers the wandering ghosts opportunities to achieve redemption and enter their afterlives. The handmade water lanterns function as vehicles for the departed to travel on the river between the human world and the ethereal world. The human characters’ ability to see the ghosts is mobilized by emotive sympathy. Wishing to turn the grandma the exorciser into a haunted one herself, the cat demon asks Doudou to collect three drops of Grandma’s tears and sell her as a loveless, abandoned one. By wetting his own eyes with grandma’s tears, Doudou would be able to see the wandering ghosts himself, just like his grandma. Noticeably, in this dramatized scene, the cat demon conjures an illusion of material comfort (a house for Doudou and his parents) and proposes betraying human trust and emotions for individual gain (selling grandma for the sake of Doudou’s nuclear family). As illustrated in Doudou’s evoked hallucination, materialism is represented as a haunting threat to familial and kinship relationships. Ultimately, Doudou’s sympathy for the devoured ghosts and love for his grandma overcomes his private desire for material goods (toys, gifts, and parents’ doting attentions). Whereas Grandma practices magic to exorcise evil forces and shepherd the weak ghosts through their atrocious journeys to rebirth, Doudou’s eventual triumph against the monster feline is much attributed to his “Five-Thunder Palms” which pierce the monster with authentic human qi and disintegrate his immense form.

In traditional western animations, a ghost is often illustrated as “a semitransparent, filmy, drifting being. It may not have legs or arms; its entire body could resemble cloth with no body underneath.”[14] A ghost is marked by its unique movement across space. “The head might lead the action and pull the drifting body along almost as if moving through water. Effective ghosts might be animated using invertebrates (land or sea) as inspiration.”[15] Among the numerous examples, one recalls Casper in the theatrical cartoon Casper the Friendly Ghost (1945), in which Casper the ghost is depicted as a wandering child seeking to make friends with others, rather than to frighten people like adult ghosts. Casper could “fly, move through solid objects like walls and turn invisible.”[16] The voices of the ghost in animation often reflect the character’s personality. Jack Mercer who voiced the ghosts in television cartoons provided the ghostly voices for Casper the Friendly Ghost. When the ghost was put on trial in “Not Ghoulty” (Paramount Cartoon Studios, 1959), Mercer’s ghost shouted to a jury full of ghosts, “Casper is on trial because he always breaks our ghostly laws! He will not shriek or boo or scare, he wants to make friends everywhere.”[17] The ghostly characters in these animations differ from traditionally haunting or creepy ghost images, but rather use their supernatural powers to good purposes.

Hauntology is “a fundamental refutation of ontology.”[18] Michael Peter Schofield rightly observes that in the hauntology of media, viewers and critics, rather than looking for fixed definitions of forms and practices, should explore “how moving images are haunted by their origin in stills photography; how digital media is haunted by its analogue forbears; and how contemporary animation practices are haunted by earlier techniques, and crucially, our fuzzy memories of them on screen.”[19] The animatic, Alan Cholodenko argues, “is the uncanny reanimation of the dead as living dead, of what after Jacques Derrida we call lifedeath.”[20] Animation is “the hauntological root of all moving images — an illusion of ‘moving forms as shadows, spectres’.”[21] The hauntological strategies and appropriations in film editing and sound production in cel animation bear traces of indexicality, in evoking references to a past or the departed that could be brought back to life through miracles and magic. However, Schofield observes, “animation’s real link to the past, or even the authenticity of the associated memory is not as important as affect when it comes to haunting — that the ghosts must resonate with us somehow, with some prior experience, a feeling of loss rather than any specific meaning.”[22] The materiality of vintage animation bears similarity with the “auratic decay of aging photographs” although that what is indexed on it is rather illusory.[23]

Hauntological aesthetics also could be “an allegory of knowledge.”[24] Hauntological art or art that induces a hauntological reading or aesthetic effects could be considered as “having two stages, or layers.”[25] The first layer presents “something that’s in some way idealized — this is often but not always an image involving the past,” an enchanting image that is often dissociated from its historical context. The second “hauntological layer” complicates, challenges, and exceeds the first layer, “undermining or damaging it in some way and introducing irony into the work, and represents the opinionated viewpoint of the present.”[26] To a certain extent, Grandma and Her Ghosts epitomizes the city child Doudou’s epistemic encounter with the “hauntological layer” beneath the modernization discourse on the first layer, that is, the spectral aura of traditional rustic values, practices, and lifestyle that sets off, ironizes, and disrupts the materialistic promises of happiness in individual lives.

Grandma and Her Ghosts bespeaks animation’s potential of facilitating the affect of paramnesia through hauntological imaginations. Paramnesia, as a much-contested term, has been considered as referring to “disturbance of memory in which real facts and fantasies are confused.”[27] Paramnesia bespeaks a weak or erroneous associative tendency, characterized by losses of emotive memories or misidentifications. Some describe the symptom of paramnesia as pathological “association of the present with the past (déjà vu), or excessive dissociation of the present from the past.”[28] The colossal cat demon in the animation afflicts paramnesia upon Doudou’s character, and through staging false illusions poses a threat to the familial relations between him and Grandma. Ghostly characters, such as Grandma’s deceased neighbor, the Whale, the snake, and the homeless girl Apple, rather than being represented as mere fantastical beings, each has a story and carries emotive bonds with family and friends who are alive. Ironically, human beings themselves often suffer paramnesia and can neither perceive these ghosts nor establish connections with them, except for a few characters, including Grandma, Ah Min, and Doudou. In the animation, one’s ability to see these ghosts represents an ability to establish emotive associations with the past. Losing such abilities could be traumatic (such is the case of Ah Min when he loses the sight of the Whale’s spirit and other ghostly characters as he grows up). The ultimate crisis in the story takes place when the colossal robot-like demon threatens to devour all spirited beings, ghosts, animals, and human beings, and turning all into paramnesiatic beings incapable of achieving any form of emotive associations with reality or each other. The animation could be interpreted as an unwitting allegory of urban inhabitants’ paramnesiatic loss of personal, emotive, and communal associations with Taiwan’s indigenous lifestyles and practices in an alienating postindustrial environment. The animation ends on a more hopeful note, depicting Doudou carrying on the family practice of destroying demon spirits, and returning again to visit and stay at Grandma’s house the next summer.

The animation’s take on hauntological aesthetics and its articulation of anti-consumerism is compellingly displayed in Doudou’s interlinked dreams after agreeing to “sell his grandma” under the evil black cat’s persuasion. Bespeaking Doudou’s anxiety about the spectrality of materialism, both of his dreams constitute the so-called “hauntological layer” of the animation which “problematizes, compromises and obfuscates the first layer” (in this animation Doudou’s materialist illusion), “undermining or damaging it in some way and introducing irony” into the character’s point of view.[29] At the beginning, Doudou dreams of himself as a toy vendor selling a kind of self-invented doll called “grandma toys” to several children of his age. He is pushing a small vendor’s cart which has walking paws like those of a disembodied, lurid animal. The dream bespeaks a nostalgic longing for his urban life, its material comforts, and the plentiful supply of children’s toys. It turns out that the kind of doll that he is selling is none other than a miniature of Grandma herself dressed in a doll’s outfit, with a bizarre sword and a shield as decorations. When chided as being “ugly,” the toy-size Grandma jumps out of the plastic box and, in a rage, strikes Doudou’s forehead with the artificial sword. In an immediately ensuing dream, Doudou finds himself confronting a blazing, impious enormous monster vaguely reminiscent of the body of the trash-collector, who only buys “abandoned things” and demands that Doudou sells him his Grandma. He grabs a round pendant from Doudou’s necklace, from which Grandma jumps out and transforms into an invincible muscular boxer and defeats a mechanical demon in a digital game. The monster, enraged that Doudou has cheated him, grabs Doudou in his gigantic fists, extends tens and thousands of gripping sinister tendrils, and asks Doudou to sell his own useless self to him. The most ominous part of the dream is the monster’s mocking remark that Doudou himself is “an utterly useless thing,” a ghoul-like inept being with no substance and value. This hauntological encounter prompts Doudou to volunteer to help Grandma with her vending business. The specter of consumerism invades Doudou’s dream world and demands that he reflect on his choice and judgement of right and wrong, innocence and guilt. Notably, in both dreams Grandma is a powerful exorciser whose force defeats the demons and wakens the grandson from his illusions.

Elements of the hauntological setting of the village in contrast against the bustling urban space could be found through numerous nostalgic or even obsolete on-screen objects and spatial arrangements. In contrast against the compartmentalized apartment buildings where neighboring families are separated, Grandma’s home is a traditional brick and tile construction with a courtyard, characteristic of early Taiwanese houses. As critics observe, the interior of the house also consists of vintage furniture and traditional spatial divisions. Utensils for daily usage at Grandma’s house, including various kinds of earth pots and basins, are characteristic of traditional rural lifestyle.[30] The animation opens with a scene of four elderly rural women, who are ghosts themselves, making the death robe for the dying neighbor grannie at a table at Grandma’s house, with the grannie herself participating in making her own death gown. The eerie scene, cast in a sheer and dazzling deific light from an opening in the roof, is however reminiscent of the early Taiwanese tradition of women participating in manufacture work at home. Spatial arrangements in the village, including the public phone booth, and telephone at Grandma’s house, as well as Ah Min’s blue-and-white sandals and his bike are all evocative markers of earlier Taiwanese village life and grassroots culture.[31] On top of this nostalgic setting, the characters’ vocations represent traditional life and work style, as illustrated by Grandma’s work as a Daoist shaman and a street vendor, and by the character working as a recycler of abandoned items.[32] At the beginning of the animation, we witness these translucent wandering ghosts emerge from Grandma’s house and disappear into the sky, when the grandma chases them away so that her grandson Doudou would not be scared.

The mysterious moonlit village activates a hauntological imagination of the viewer and recalls a time of yore when the ghoulish and the macabre co-existed with living beings and frequently intruded in everyday life. As Chia-ju Chang insightfully observes, the animation envisions that “the harmony of the eco-community is actualized via the hybridity of human beings and nonhuman animals, and the participation of the invisible realm — a symbolic gesture of positive human and nonhuman animal interconnectedness.”[33] This supernatural vision “is enacted by way of a folk ritual that warrants the continuity of all sentient beings.”[34] In this enchanted world, ghostly characters, whether they are newly deceased human beings or animals, loom and search on their wandering sojourns driven by personal desire. The water lanterns carry the haunted ones to their desired destinations. The recently expired grannie insists on having a photo of her deceased husband on the paperhouse lantern so that she could be reunited with him in the underworld. The whale yearns to ride a water lantern and visit his family. The animation’s rendering of the Daoist ritual of making and releasing the water lanterns into the sea embodies a hauntological imagination as the audience, along with Doudou and Grandma, see off the ghosts on their voyages to rejoin their loved ones. Whereas at the beginning of the story, the sea embodies the agonizing separation of Doudou and his mother from his travelling father, the indigenous practice of releasing the water lanterns gestures toward the possibility of healing and family reunion. Through the description of Doudou’s friend Ah Min, the audience knows that the stranded whale was discovered lying dead at the sea shore, signifying an underlying ecological predicament hovering over the idyllic seaside village. Likewise, Flat the snake was crushed by a cargo truck which rushes through a red light, subtly indicating the loss of social ethics in an age of rapid economic development.

Among the indispensable aspects of the animation film’s hauntological aesthetics are the experiments of sound, voice, and music. In hauntological aesthetics, the ghost embodies the estranged, unheard, unspeakable other. “The ghost’s secret is not a puzzle to be solved; it is the structural openness or address directed towards the living by the voices of the past or the not yet formulated possibilities of the future.”[35] Of all the phantasmagoric characters in the film, the most disconcerting one is the rapt and ominous cat demon with its menacing high-pitched voice (dubbed by Jeffery Hsu), “I will sell your Grandma away!” Whereas in the Japanese animation tradition, voices are often recorded after the animation is done, in the case of Grandma and Her Ghosts, the voices of the characters were recorded based on drafts of sketches of the story only, before the animation process was completed. This practice allowed the animators to prioritize the voice artists’ performances (based on imagination of characters’ mood in every scene) as constituents of the ensuing animating process. Granting the animators access to the dialogues spoken allows them to estimate the frame-by-frame timing of the delivery of the lines. Director Wang reflected on the process of voice performance, commenting that the voice actors for Doudou and the snake Flat actually performed the actions in the scenes in the process of dubbing. Technological practices in sound recording and editing unquestionably could bestow the animation’s spectral and imagined rustic backdrop a form of aural existence or even a kind of sonic materiality. The spectral apparition of the animation’s title following the opening spooky scene tosses in the Mandarin characters along with Taiwanese phonetic symbols in an eerie music. The prevalent usage of Taiwanese Hokkien by Grandma in her dialogue with ghostly characters and others around her emphasizes an ecologically affable indigenous linguistic context in a traditional agrarian society which precedes and overtakes the Mandarin-speaking urban social space; this indigenous linguistic context of a pre-industrial era constitutes part of a hauntological soundscape that resists being homogenized in the tidal wave of modernization.

Music effects and songs in the animation enrich the eerie hauntological soundscape of the animation. When Doudou is about to leave at the end of his stay, the animation, in the nostalgic song “Flying Baby,” flashes back to Grandma’s earlier memories of Doudou and her recent days of tears and laughter spent with her grandson, and her inevitable separation from him as the song ends, “open my eyes, it is time to say goodbye.” The song on departure and separation, an extradiegetic score (music out of the plot), contributes to the acoustic dimension of the film with an alienating effect as the viewers, along with Grandma in the story, ponder the imminent separation when Grandma and Doudou share a brief moment of happiness on their bike ride. The melodies of the song buttress together Grandma’s recollections of her daughter’s departure after marriage, the joy of seeing Doudou’s infant photo, and her recent times spent with the grandson. The soundscape of the animation haunts the characters in the story as well as the viewers, weaving together specters of the pasts with their present moments. The title of the song “Flying Baby,” besides addressing the disintegration of rural families in a rapidly modernizing society, also foreshadows the inevitable departure of the roving ghostly characters (be it Grandma’s friend, the snake, or the beached whale) on their journey to rebirth. Meandering in and out of the story, the melody could signify joy of seeing and interacting with the apparitions (as when the stranded whale first soars into sky when learning walking with Ah Min and Doudou), or indicate the characters’ sorrows when they bid farewell to the ghosts (as when the freed spirits eventually depart on the path of reincarnation). Reminiscent of the song’s title, the whale’s translucent and freely flying spirit in the end assures reunion with his human friends, for, as Grandma says, “Animals have good memories.” The hauntological dimension of the story eventually promises a form of narrative closure, that is, a capsule of memories in the future days of yore.

Whereas the film has been hailed as a hallmark of indigenous Taiwanese animation, the animation commits to ample experimental innovations in animation techniques. Notably, as several scenes in the animation display, juxtaposed with indigenous cultural elements are frequent evocations of postmodern sci-fi tropes. An iconic site of industrial ruins, the abandoned boat factory which the cat demon occupies, is illustrated as postmodern hauntological architecture, its remnants silhouetted against the dark skyline indicating the bankruptcy of utopian, modernist idealism. Rather than evoking or renewing alternatives of hope, a hauntological architecture “makes a point of deconstructing the old, defunct and ‘untrue’ rather than merely reviving it.”[36] In Grandma’s words, the forsaken factory is presented as “a place with the strongest force of yin,” an abject locale that bespeaks the expense and failed promises of modernization. As hauntological architecture, it is an uncanny construction that “shows the past as it exists and is perceived from inside the present.”[37] Against this postmodern setting of industrial ruins, the feline-shaped demon gains its full form as a colossal, metalized, and ever amassing monster who, denied the possibility of reincarnation because of evil doings in his previous life, avidly seeks to attain absolute freedom as a penultimate fiend against all spirited existences, a non-dead apparition with no memory, emotionality, or desire for self-redemption and resurrection. Confessing that “I never spit out things I swallow,” the insatiable and terrifying monster is none other than an embodiment of the materialistic giant in Doudou’s previous dream. The robot-like zombie cats, whose souls were devoured alive by the demon, are weaponized as automated deployments in violent attacks of Grandma, Ah Min, and Doudou who are attempting to save the devoured ghosts and souls. In the final confrontation between Doudou and the demon, after Doudou defeats the fiend with his Five-Thunder Palms, the demon disintegrates in blinding beams of light. The camera swiftly shifts to a distanced view of the deserted boat factory which first casts out speedy neon beams of pink, red, yellow, and blue, then explodes in a massive mushroom-shaped cloud of debris accompanied by a giant ethereal ring of light. Gothic and rapidly superimposed neon lights of yellow, pink, and red were used earlier in the violent scene when the black cat devours the green-colored ghostly spirits in the jars in Grandma’s storage room. The explosion scene intensifies the hauntological visual impact staging the eventual annihilation of the phantom fiend along with the vile territory that he resides in. The exploded boat factory, a site of industrial ruins, represents not so much a repressed past, but rather a self-destructive specter of materialism and what John Riley calls “failed futures.”[38] The dystopian image of the explosion indicates environmental disasters and damage inflicted upon the haunted indigenous ecological system despite the triumphant discourses of modernization and rapid economic expansion.

To conclude, hauntology, John A. Riley observes, “with its focus on spectral traces and uncanny discontinuities, can fix our attention on these moments and help us to determine how they are relevant to our ongoing sociopolitical moment.”[39] Grandma and Her Ghosts offers a reflexive gaze at the out-of-joint social and ethical values rooted in traditional agrarian communities and their cultures as sources of empowerment, but also ironizes the techno-futuristic discourses of modernization and industrial revolution. And yet, the film’s courageous search for re-territorializing Taiwanese animation in the global animation industry is part of an arduous and prolonged journey. In a 2018 interview, animator Mai Ren-jie, who contributed to the characterization of Grandma as a Daoist priestess and to the animation story boards, mentioned his thwarted wish that he could have been listed as an animation director of Grandma and Her Ghosts, side by side with the filmmaker Wang Shau-di, to prove that Taiwan’s professional animation industry could produce a successful indigenous animation work rather than relying on non-specialist filmmakers. This request was denied by Rice Film International Co., Ltd because of Mai’s lack of a college-level education.[40] In December 2020, twenty-three years after the release of Grandma and Her Ghosts, Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute launched a project to seek funding for preservation and digital restoration of this classic animation. The recent decade has witnessed a new wave of Taiwanese animation, including On Happiness Road (Golden Horse best animation feature, 2017), City of Lost Things (2020), and Secret Weapon (Golden Horse best animation short film 2019), among others. The return of Grandma and Her Ghosts in a digital restoration could be all the more exhilarating and momentous for critics, viewers, and fans alike in re-envisioning Taiwan’s animation industry, its histories, and the changing ecologies of indigenous animation production in the future decades. 

[1] Silvio, 26-27.

[2] Silvio, 11.

[3] Silvio, 168.

[4] Silvio, 168.

[5] Herhuth, 2018.

[6] Eisenstein, 21.

[7] Fisher, 2012.

[8] Derrida,161.

[9] Hägglund, 82.

[10] Fisher, 19

[11] Fisher, 19.

[12] Teng et. al, 11.

[13] Teng et. al, 13.

[14] Beiman, 186.

[15] Beiman, 186.

[16] Cawley &Korkis, 1990.

[17] Grandinetti, 2007.

[18] Hägglund, 82.

[19] Schofield, 25.

[20] Cholodenko, 10.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Schofield, 35.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Harper, 2009.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid. 

[27] Sno, 339.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Harper, 2009.

[30] Yu, 65; Yeh and Wang, 242-243.

[31] Yu, 66;  Yeh and Wang, 242-243.

[32] Yu, 67-68; Yeh and Wang, 242-243.

[33] Chang, 266.

[34] Chang, 266.

[35] Davis, 378-379.

[36] Harper, 2009.

[37] Harper, 2009.

[38] Riley, 19.

[39] Riley, 18.

[40] Mai, 2018.


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Cawley, John, and Jim Korkis, edited. “Casper.” In Cawley and Korkis, Encyclopedia of Cartoon Superstars. Ephraim, WI: Pioneer Books, 1990. URL: http://www.cataroo.com/cst_CASPER.html

Chang, Chia-Ju. “Putting Back the Animals: Woman-Animal Meme in Contemporary Taiwanese Ecofeminist Imagination.” In Sheldon H. Lu and Jiayan Mi edited. Chinese Ecocinema: In the Age of Environmental Challenge. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2009. 255-269.

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City of Lost Things. Directed by Yee Chih-yen, written by Yee Chih-yen. 1 Production Film, Gamania Digital Entertainment Company, Taichung Film Development Foundation, 2020.

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Eisenstein, Sergei. Eisenstein on Disney. Calcutta: Seagull Books, 1986.

Fisher, Mark. “What is Hauntology?” Film Quarterly 66.1 (2012): 16-24.

Grandinetti, Fred. Jack Mercer, the Voice of Popeye. Albany, GA: Bearmanor Media, 2007.

Grandma and Her Ghosts. Directed by Wang Shau-di, written by Huang Li-ming, performed by Jeffery Hsu, Wen Ying. Rice Film International Co., Ltd, 1998.

Hägglund, Martin. Radical Atheism: Derrida and the Time of Life. Stanford University Press, 2008.

Harper, Adam. “Hauntology: The Past Inside the Present.” Rouge’s Foam: Excessive Aesthetics. October 27, 2009. Accessed January 29, 2021. URL: http://rougesfoam.blogspot.com/2009/10/hauntology-past-inside-present.html

Herhuth, Eric. “The Ontology, An-Ontology, and Hauntology of Animation.” Animationstudies 2.0. December 31, 2018. Accessed January 28, 2021. URL: https://blog.animationstudies.org/?p=2818

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On Happiness Road. Directed by Sung Hsin-yin, written by Sung Hsin-yin, performed by Gwei Lun-mei, Te-sheng Wei, Bor Jeng Chen. Ablaze Image, 2017.

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Li Guo (associate professor) teaches Chinese language, literature, culture, and Asian literatures at the Utah State University. Her interests in scholarship include late imperial and modern Chinese women’s narratives, folk literature, film, and comparative literature. Guo’s research displays an interdisciplinary approach, bridging women and gender studies, narrative theory, vernacular literatures and cultures, bringing an innovative perspective to traditional, text-based analysis of tanci fiction. She is the author of Women’s Tanci Fiction in Late Imperial and Early Twentieth-Century China (Purdue University Press, 2015), and Writing Gender in Early Modern Chinese Women’s Tanci Fiction (Purdue University Press, forthcoming 2021). Her articles appeared in Modern Chinese Literature and Culture (MCLC, 2019), Frontiers of Literary Studies in China (FLSC, 2011, 2014), Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature (2014), CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture (2013), Film International (2012), and a forthcoming essay in Prism: Theory and Modern Chinese Literature (2021). She has co-edited special issues for MCLC (2019), Journal of Chinese Cinemas (2017), FLSC (2014, 2017), and CLCWeb (2013).  

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