On Hayao Miyazaki's 'Spirited Away' and the Anxieties of Growing Up

'Spirited Away' is a manifestation of fears and anxieties as seen through the lens of its young lead female character, Chihiro.

The Big Picture

  • Spirited Away is a coming-of-age film that explores the fears and anxieties of its young protagonist, Chihiro.
  • The movie focuses on Chihiro's journey to save her parents and how it represents her transition into adulthood.
  • Through symbolism and fantasy elements, the film tackles themes of identity, selflessness, and the fear of the unknown.

Hayao Miyazaki 's mystifying animated film Spirited Away made its debut over 20 years ago. Written by Miyazaki and inspired by the 10-year-old daughter of a close friend , Spirited Away follows Chihiro, voiced in the original Japanese by Rumi Hiiragi ( Netto Koshien ) and in English by Daveigh Chase ( Lilo & Stitch ), down the Japanese Shinto folklore spirit realm known as Kami. To save her parents from the powerful witch Yubaba, voiced by Mari Natsuki ( Nobuta o Produce ) and Suzanne Pleshette ( The Birds ), Chihiro will face more than any story's typical trials along the way: She will face herself.

Spirited Away Poster

Spirited Away

During her family's move to the suburbs, a sullen 10-year-old girl wanders into a world ruled by gods, witches and spirits, a world where humans are changed into beasts.

What Does the Symbolism in 'Spirited Away' Mean?

Spirited Away is a manifestation of fears and anxieties as seen through the lens of its young lead female characte r, Chihiro. How Chihiro chooses to react to the ever-changing circumstances around her, even the most horrifying ones, defines this film's central moral . It’s the terrifying fear any child could have, perhaps their biggest fear of all: being separated from her parents. However, it’s conquering that fear and finding her parents that spur Chihiro's journey into adulthood.

Disregarding Chihiro's warnings of eating food not meant for them, the powerful witch Yubaba punishes her parents by turning them into pigs . Chihiro must venture into the bathhouse and overcome the reality of this new child/adult role reversal to save them . She is not so much tested as she is provided the space to resolve her anxieties about moving to a strange new town. Mostly, it’s concerns of the unknown that prompt Chihiro’s journey and metamorphosis — personified by the aberration of finding herself trapped in a spiritual realm that could eventually keep her there forever.

'Spirited Away' Artfully Tackles a Child's Transition to Adulthood.

When Chihiro first works within the bathhouse under Yubaba to free her parents, she is overwhelmed with doubt . In some of the first few scenes, we see Chihiro trail after her parents, clutching her mother's arm with a firm grip in terror. In the end, it’s Chihiro who leads her parents out of the bathhouse, across the bridge, and back to the human world. The in-between, the journey there, makes Chihiro brave enough to cross that metaphorical bridge from childhood to adulthood .

With the help of Haku, voiced by Miyu Irino and Jason Marsden , Chihiro realizes that growing up is not about your age but about how you love, understand, and show compassion to others . Chihiro’s love for Haku is what saves them. She defies Yubaba, risking her own life, by returning the magical seal she stole from Yubaba's twin sister Zeniba, voiced by the same actress who voices Yubaba. Spirited Away anchors adulthood in Chihiro’s acts of selflessness. In doing so, she overpowers those same anxieties that once rendered her powerless to Yubaba.

Despite being an animated film centered around the practical issues of a young girl’s moral ethics and fears, Spirited Away isn’t afraid to use horror and fantasy elements to expand these issues. Likely, the most terrifying manifestation of these anxieties is the spirit of No-Face , voiced in Japanese by Akio Nakamura and English by Bob Bergen . No-Face is a multifaceted entity representing so much of Chihiro’s fears of abandonment, loneliness, and identity. It is, in its vacant form, and need of friendship, that No-Face mirrors Chihiro’s crisis. No-Face begins a rampage that consumes both food and people with the promise of unlimited gold as a symbolic parallel to Chihiro’s own need to feed her loneliness .

'Spirited Away's Audience Embraces Chihiro

While Chihiro rejects the boundless gold No-Face offers her, she expels the fear of being alone on a deeper level, of being unknown to herself and others. By the time the film ends, Chihiro not only saves her parents but gains a sense of selfhood and belief that wasn't there otherwise . Yubaba, herself a double as a twin, uses the threat of identity to control Chihiro and everyone who works at the bathhouse. As her last act of resistance and love, Chihiro gives Haku back his identity. Recapturing her and Haku’s identity from Yubaba becomes a symbol of autonomy and maturity that crystallizes Chihiro’s turn into adulthood, a release from both Yubaba and Chihiro’s fears.

What drives Spirited Away is not just the fantastical nature of the narrative but also wanting Chihiro to triumph despite her circumstances. Her resilience is the true driving force behind the film that has withstood the test of time. People go back to this film because it takes them back to their childhoods, where the anxieties of being unloved, abandoned, judged, and criticized were always present. Chihiro is not that different from the child everyone once was. As the weight of Chihiro’s ever-changing world festers her anxieties, audiences are invited to that feeling through the nature of their own world . They feel comforted in Chihiro’s triumphant final moments, as she crosses the bridge and never looks back.

Spirited Away is currently streaming on Max in the U.S.

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Spirited Away Ending Explained: On Earth As It Is In Ghibli

Still from Spirited Away

Like any other movie, the first impression of Hayao Miyazaki's "Spirited Away" comes from its title, which, in this case, is the simplified English version of the original Japanese title Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi . "Sen" and "Chihiro" refer to the two given names of the film's young protagonist — emphasis on "given," since her parents and boss hand them to her with her fate from moment to moment.

The movie becomes a bathhouse crucible for forging Chihiro's character: instilling the value of hard work and the perils of greed and forgetting oneself in the struggle to make ends meet or achieve financial success. "Sen," in fact, is the Japanese word for "thousand," with the lowest denomination of bills in Japanese currency being the 1,000-yen note.

At the same time, work is a means to an end; its broader purpose serves to help Chihiro grow up and acquire the skills and life experience necessary to make her own way in the world. That it's a kami or "spirit" world is incidental. Strip away all the colorful creatures, and "Spirited Away" and its bathhouse (inspired by a real onsen on Shikoku) looks very much like a microcosm of the real world.

The title's other key word, kamikakushi , links Chihiro's story to legends in Japanese folklore where a person might disappear or die, thereby being "spirited away," if their actions or attitude put them in disfavor with the gods. The spoiled child Chihiro signs a contract with the sorceress Yubaba and enters indentured servitude in the bathhouse to learn a life lesson.

Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi might be a mouthful if you don't speak Japanese, but it gives a fuller picture of what "Spirited Away" and its ending are all about. Spoilers follow.

Alone with No-Face

Miyazaki has said that, for him, what "constitutes the end of ['Spirited Away'] is the scene in which Chihiro takes the train all by herself." Technically, she's not alone, as she's sitting next to No-Face, the uninvited bathhouse customer who became a monster, eating everything and everyone in his path.

At one point in "Spirited Away," No-Face is described as "the richest man in the whole wide world." He takes more bath tokens than he needs, and the bathhouse workers clamor for his gold, while Yubaba observes of them, "Your greed attracted quite a guest."

No-Face represents the insatiable hunger of capitalism, a concept introduced early in the film when Chihiro and her parents first arrive in the spirit realm on the other side of a mysterious, temple-like gate. "It's an abandoned theme park," her father declares of the world inside the gate. "They built lots of them back in the nineties. But then they went bust when the economy tanked."

This is a reference to the economic bubble bursting in Japan in 1992, less than a decade before Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli made "Spirited Away." In the first of its 12-part "Defining the Hesei Era" series, The Japan Times summed up the bubble era with a single word: excess. It was a time when consumerism ran rampant and people, as Miyazaki put it , "turned into pigs."

"Spirited Away" literalizes this transformation with Chihiro's parents, as her father follows his nose to an unattended restaurant and immediately begins filling his plate and gorging himself on food. "Don't worry, your father's here," he tells Chihiro. "I've got credit cards and cash." As if that will solve everything. For her part, Chihiro rejects No-Face and his offers of gold, telling him, "You can't give me what I want."

Free the dragon

Also on the train with Chihiro and No-Face (who is only tagging along and has regurgitated everything he's eaten by now) is the mouse form of Bo, an overgrown "butterball" of a baby who was previously afraid that contact with the outside world would make him sick. Before Yubaba's twin sister, Zenibaba, turned Bo into a mouse, he only wanted Chihiro to stay in his room and play with him under comfy cushions.

In the same way that Chihiro clung to her mother's arm, not wanting to be left alone outside the tunnel at the beginning of "Spirited Away," Bo now clings to Chihiro. He can be seen as her hyper-infantilized foil as she becomes more mature and self-sufficient, determined to deal with important worldly affairs like saving her "dragon boyfriend" Haku.

This is what sends Chihiro and company on the train to Swamp Bottom in the third act of "Spirited Away." She's come a long way from when we first met her, lounging in the backseat of her parents' car, completely at the mercy of her father's driving. Now, she's the one leading the mission to return a hanko stamp that Haku stole from Zeniba while he was under Yubaba's control.

Haku shows up in his dragon form and gives Chihiro a ride back to the bathhouse.  On the way, she recalls a forgotten childhood incident her mother told her about: "Once when I was little, I fell in a river. Now it's built over. It flows underground."

This harkens back to what Zenibaba said about how "everything that happens stays inside of you even if you can't remember it." The river's name, Chihiro realizes, was Kohaku; it is Haku's real name and holds the power to free him from Yubaba's service.

'Wait, what do I do...?'

By the end of "Spirited Away," even Bo has learned to stand on his own two feet, much to Yubaba's surprise. Chihiro, meanwhile, has come of age, or perhaps just looked within to find the old soul she always possessed.

She was initially afraid to be abandoned by her parents, and in their absence, she soon latched onto Haku and relied on him to be her guide. He helped keep her from fading away when she turned intangible and was in danger of becoming a ghost. He hid her in the hydrangeas outside the bathhouse and sent her down to the lowest levels, where she met her first job reference, the six-armed Kamaji, a self-described "slave to the boilers."

Kamaji has a legion of susuwatari , or soot sprites, serving him. They carry coal for the furnace over their heads, and when Chihiro picks up a smooshed piece, she's left stuck holding it. "Wait, what do I do with this?" she asks.

It's a moment that evokes the uncertainty of being thrust into any new job or unfamiliar set of surroundings, left to sink or swim without knowing how it all works. Chihiro does have help; there's also her senpai Lin, who calls her a klutz and schools her in the ways of sir and ma'am, please and thank you. But at a certain point, Chihiro has to fend for herself and learn responsibility through grunt work, like preparing the bath for a stink spirit, which turns out to be a polluted river guardian.

Many of us go through a similar journey to adulthood (minus the stink spirit) as we strike out on our own, start paying bills independently, and maybe come to appreciate more what our parents went through to provide for us.

'It will be hard work'

At the 2001 European premiere of "Spirited Away," Miyazaki spoke of resisting logic in his creative process, instead digging "deep into the well of [his] subconscious" to conjure an imaginative animated world. This involved storyboarding before the script was finalized and then letting the plot and characters develop on their own, leading him to a conclusion that was not pre-planned, though certain elements of it — like the featureless seascape outside the train, which keeps the focus on Chihiro's first interior ride "alone" — fell into place perfectly, as if the intent was there all along.

Like the tenacious Miyazaki , Chihiro learns to trust her intuition, which allows her to recognize that none of the pigs are her parents when Yubaba presents her with a lineup of them as a final test. The ending of "Spirited Away" and indeed the whole cinematic experience of it engages the viewer on a similar level, allowing them to retroactively derive meaning from parts of this strange, phantasmagorical narrative, the way Miyazaki himself did.

This is not a movie of one idea, but many, such that it can support different interpretations or just be enjoyed as a fantasy steeped in Japanese folklore. As alluded, "Spirited Away" also touches on environmental concerns, but there's enough in it to support the argument that this is a movie about finding or rediscovering and retaining one's identity amid distractions and duties — which could apply to school just as much as work.

Neither of those things are the be-all, end-all of existence, but they both give purpose. "It will be hard work," Haku warns Chihiro, "but you'll be able to stay here," and he could just as easily be preparing a child for their time on earth as opposed to the spirit realm.


Deep Analysis: Spirited Away

Matthew Razak

I’m of the opinion that there hasn’t been an animated film as good as Spirited Away . It’s hard to find many non-animated films as good as it. It is nearly impossible to find a single person who dislikes it and those that do still respect it as a piece of art. However, I do know plenty of people who simply dismiss it as a children’s film; a really good one, but still something less than. That’s just wrong.

There’s so much to Spirited Away that it’s tough to tackle it from one angle. So I won’t. The first part of this piece will discuss how the film practically redefines what we should expect from animation (traditional or digital). The second part will dig into the film’s themes and ideas to see how Spirited Away not only entrances us with its visuals, but also with its content.

There will also be a third part. It will consist of me typing in caps and demanding Disney release the movie on Blu-ray in the U.S.

Much of what I’m about to say about Spirited Away ’s animation stands true for many of Studio Ghibli’s films. There’s a reason that the studio’s movies are a cut above almost everything else out there and those reasons are epitomized in Spirited Away . As of now, this is the studios best film and thus can easily be used to exemplify what Ghibli is all about with its animation.

What are they all about? Bringing animation to life. The one thing that is most impressive about Spirited Away is how alive almost every frame of animation is. Even the hand drawn backgrounds, which are devoid of actual movement, sparkle with life. This “life” is clearly present in large scenes like our introduction to the bath house where what seems like hundreds of different and creative spirits are congregating. Every aspect of a big scene like this throbs with motion, creating an animated film that feels more alive than most non-animated ones. We’re thrown into a massive world of ideas, but the attention to detail on every subject we see is stunning.

It’s actually this detailed view of the world that separates Spirited Away’s animation from all others. Large scenes, like the introduction to the bath house, play out in animated films all the time, but the smaller scenes that are routinely present in Spirited Away do not. Take the Susuwatari (tiny, living dust balls who man the bath house’s furnace). While they play a role in the film, many of the scenes are almost completely irrelevant to the actual plot. Instead of attempting to move the story along as fast as possible Miyazaki pushes instead to establish a world by paying attention to (admittedly adorable) minutia. Most animated films veer away from extra movement in a scene as it means extra animation work, but Spirited Away not only puts extra animation into pivotal scenes, but also adds entire scenes that are not “needed.” In this way Spirited Away doesn’t just tell a story, it creates a world.

It’s an amazing world to look at, too. Miyazaki understood this and it’s so blatantly clear from the film’s direction how much the fine folks at Ghibli love what they do and the art of animation. This is apparent throughout the film, but once again it’s the less obvious scene that make the point. Take Chihiro’s family’s first steps into what they think is an old amusement park. The family walked into what looks like a small train station or waiting room. Instead of a quick establishing shot to the outside of the building to show where they are, the camera slowly pans across the beautifully painted background as if it is savoring every brush stroke. It then cuts to a shot of light streaming through one of the room’s windows. It’s not a special window and it doesn’t have any real purpose, but it might be one of the most important shots for establishing tone in the film. This devoted focus on presenting the art behind the film is not only a testament to Ghibli’s love of the medium, but creates a deeper world for the viewer to get lost in. If you’re invested in what sunlight looks like streaming through a window, how invested are you going to be in your characters animation?

The answer is obviously very, very invested. There isn’t a group of animators working who more perfectly capture human emotion on characters’ faces than the team behind Spirited Away . I’m not talking perfect reproduction here. That doesn’t capture emotion nearly as well as this film’s animation. No, it is in fact the ability to bend the rules that makes Spirited Away’s characters seem so much more alive than some motion-captured bit of CGI. From the exaggerated expressions and wrinkles on Yubaba’s over sized head to Chihiro’s steadily maturing face, Spirited Away depicts more emotion in a single frame than you can get out of any other film. Watch Yubaba fly into a rage and how the attention to detail on her face’s wrinkles and eyes creates an image that you could understand no matter what language it was in.

Beyond becoming fully immersed in the world, what is there to understand? Surprisingly, a lot. Even more surprising, for a film released in 2001, a lot of relevant issues crop up today. Looking at Spirited Away at its most basic level we see an adventure about a girl. Peeling back that level the film opens up to two other interpretations. The first is pretty easy to notice: growing up. Taking a cue from Alice in Wonderland , Spirited Away turns the awkward move from childhood to adulthood into a fantasy metaphor. Anyone with even a cursory viewing of the film can easily see Chihiro’s growth from a scared girl crying out to her parents to a mature child growing into herself. She falls in love, learns about loss, and through her interactions with the spirits in the bath house discovers that the world isn’t so black and white. Played against the foil of Yababa this growing up metaphor becomes even stronger. Yababa steals Chihiro’s name effectively killing her child self and is the mother who won’t let her child grow up in contrast to Chihiro, who is forced to.

That metaphor is pretty obvious though as it’s part of the plot as well. What stood out for me upon my re-watching of the film this time around is how much it speaks to societies flaws, the burned economy and the constant pull between the past and the present. I’m sure these things have been noted before, but it’s incredible how much more appropriate they seem today after our current financial crisis. In 2001, Japan’s economy was already crumbling so many of the economic themes of the film relate back to that originally, but are now all the more appropriate post Great Recession. The bath house in general can easily be interpreted as the pre-recession economy as it explodes in wealth and luxury. No Face, a creature who usurps the identity and actions of those around it, sees the overwhelming consumption of the bath house (and to a lesser extent Chihiro’s parents) and duplicates it. In the process of his non-stop consumption he destroys the very house that is feeding him and yet no one thinks to stop him until it is too late. Sound like any pre-2008 country you know?

On a side note, and this is obviously just by chance, it’s interesting that the magic dumpling that Chihiro uses to cure No Face is given to her by the cleaned up spirit of a polluted river. If we continue down the path of No Face being a broken and destructive economy then the solution to fixing the economy would be strides towards a more environmentally friendly infrastructure. As anyone who has followed President Obama’s attempts to repair the US economy knows, that is actually one of the major aspects of his plan. You read it here first: Obama’s economic recovery plan entirely based on Spirited Away

This interpretation of the film puts Chihiro squarely in the role of the “next generation.” Much like a college student graduating into a depressed economy where they’ve been promised a job, she comes kicking and fearful into the bath house unsure of what or where she is supposed to go. However, she eventually recognizes the issues with the culture of the place she is in and realizes that personal sacrifice and growth are the only way to change what is happening around her. Her maturation as a person is what the film believes society needs to do to move beyond where we are. While the film has a clear and obvious fascination with (if not love for) Japanese past, it’s Chihiro, a modern child, who must act to move the world forward.

Obviously, since Spirited Away was released in 2001 none of these current metaphors were actually intentional. However, it speaks volumes about the film — not to mention the human condition — that all these themes and metaphors are even more relevant today than they were in 2001 (at least outside of Japan).

I’ve spoken a lot about metaphors, the economy, growing up and other issues here. Maybe too much (seriously, the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street were in a previous draft). Really though, those are side things to what make Spirited Away so great. It’s the passion and beauty that shine through every aspect of the film that truly make it a classic. It’s a rare film that comes along that you can mute and still enjoy just as much as you would with the sound on, but Spirited Away is one of them.

… But don’t actually mute it. The score is too amazing.


Matthew Razak

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The meaning of studio ghibli's 'spirited away', the best animated film of all time.

Hannah Ewens

(Spirited Away still via YouTube)

The Untold Truth Of Spirited Away

Chihiro thinking

Hayao Miyazaki's "Spirited Away" has had an indelible effect on popular culture worldwide. Following its release in 2001, the film went on to win Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards, making it the first non-English language movie to do so. It was the highest-grossing film in Japan for nearly 20 years and one of the first films to get audiences worldwide to take animation seriously as an art form. Distributed by Disney in the United States, the film also became a hit with American children and adults alike.

The film's visual language and storytelling style is like nothing else we'd seen before (apart from Miyazaki's other films, of course), and a scene-by-scene breakdown of the film's many symbolic narrative elements could fill an entire book. If you've clicked on this article, we're going to assume you're already a fan of the film yourself, so there's no need to break down the story for you. Instead, we thought it might be fun to have a look at all the hard work that went into making the movie. Think you know everything there is about Miyazaki's masterpiece? Well, think again. Keep reading to discover the untold truth of "Spirited Away."

Miyazaki made Spirited Away for a very specific audience

While "Spirited Away" is beloved by viewers of all ages, Hayao Miyazaki had a very specific audience in mind when he was developing the film. In a 2001 interview with Animage , Miyakazi discussed the intended viewership of his most famous films. "We have made '[My Neighbor] Totoro,' which was for small children, 'Laputa,' in which a boy sets out on a journey, and 'Kiki's Delivery Service,' in which a teenager has to live with herself," he explained. He went on to say that they hadn't yet made a movie for 10-year-old girls, which was his intention in bringing "Spirited Away" to life.

Miyazaki explained that he had five family friends who he would spend the summer with every year that were around protagonist Chihiro's age in the film, and he wanted to make a movie that they could enjoy. "I felt this country only offered such things as crushes and romance to 10-year-old girls," he explained, adding, "and looking at my young friends, I felt this was not what they held dear in their hearts, not what they wanted. And so I wondered if I could make a movie in which they could be heroines."

Though he's certainly aware adults enjoy his films, he maintains the viewers he has in mind for most of his films are children. "Simply put, I think that a film which is made specifically for children and made with a lot of devotion, can also please adults. The opposite is not always true," he told Midnight Eye .

There was no script

It's often been said that Hayao Miyazaki makes films without writing a script, and he confirmed that this is the case in an interview with Midnight Eye . He explained that he often doesn't have the time to write an entire script before starting work on his films, saying, "So the story develops when I start drawing storyboards." He went on to explain that the schedule is so tight they usually begin production while the storyboards are still in development.

Instead of having an exact idea of where the film will go, the story naturally develops as they begin work. Miyazaki explained the process like this: "It's not me who makes the film. The film makes itself, and I have no choice but to follow." In the case of "Spirited Away," the film did indeed have a mind of its own. "There are 1,415 different shots in 'Spirited Away.' When starting the project, I had envisioned about 1,200, but the film told me no, it had to be more than 1,200," he explained. Miyazaki admitted that this strategy can be taxing for him and his animators but that anyone who works with him eventually learns to accept his demanding approach.

The characters' names all have meaning

There are a number of cultural and linguistic elements in "Spirited Away" that non-Japanese audiences likely won't pick up on. One of the most obvious aspects of the film that might go over non-Japanese speakers' heads is the meaning of the characters' names.

Obviously, every character in the film has a Japanese name, and most of these translate to a word or phrase that relates to the characters' role or profession. According to Vice , Chihiro translates to "a thousand" and "asking questions," as well as "searching or seeking." This clearly reflects Chihiro's naturally inquisitive nature. But when Yubaba makes her sign a contract, she takes a character from her original name to give her a new one, "Sen," which simply translates to "a thousand." In this way, Yubaba takes away an important part of Chihiro's identity, an act made even crueler by the fact that Chihiro gradually forgets her real name.

The other characters' names have fairly obvious translations. Yubaba translates to "bathhouse" and "old woman," essentially making her a bathhouse granny. Boh means "little boy" or "son," while Kamaji — the mustachioed man with six arms — translates to "old broiler man." The name of Yubaba's twin sister, Zeniba, means "money witch," which connects to her fury at Haku for stealing her golden seal (though we later learn she's actually a very nice lady).

Why Chihiro's parents turn into pigs

Speaking with Midnight Eye , Hayao Miyazaki was asked why both "Spirited Away" and "Porco Rosso" include characters who are turned into pigs. "That's because they're much easier to draw than camels or giraffes," Miyazaki responded, likely in jest. While there might be some truth to that answer, he then gave a more detailed explanation. "The behavior of pigs is very similar to human behavior. I really like pigs at heart, for their strengths as well as their weaknesses," he said, adding, "They're close to us."

The symbolism of pigs goes even deeper than just their similarity to humans. Several years ago, Studio Ghibli's Twitter account responded to a number of questions from fans about their most famous films, including "Spirited Away." One user asked Studio Ghibli why Chihiro's parents turned into pigs near the start of the film, and they received a detailed explanation.

As reported by Rocket24 , the Twitter account explained Miyazaki said that during the 1980s, some people became pigs during the country's bubble economy, resulting in a crash in 1991. According to the explanation, this fantastical pig transformation doesn't just happen in the fantasy world — humans can transform into pigs "in body and soul" in the real world too. Clearly, there are several levels to the symbolism of pigs here, and it's up to the viewer to decide how they want to interpret the film's animalistic implications.

The inspiration for the river spirit sequence

Hayao Miyazaki is well-known for the way most of his films illustrate a concern for the environment, and "Spirited Away" is no exception. One of the most memorable (and grossest) scenes in the film occurs when a river spirit visits the bathhouse. Every being in the bathhouse can smell the river spirit as soon as it walks in because it's so putrid, and poor Chihiro is given the job of giving the world's muddiest client a bath. As she hoses down the spirit, she finds it's filled with trash and pollution, including an entire bicycle.

This scene might seem like one of the most fantastical moments in the film, but it was actually inspired by Miyazaki's own experiences with environmental cleanup. Miyazaki told Midnight Eye that he was once involved in cleaning a river near where he lives in the countryside. He described the river as disgusting because people had been throwing trash into it for so many years. One of the most unexpected discoveries was a fully intact bicycle sticking out of the water. "So they thought it would be easy to pull out, but it was terribly difficult because it had become so heavy from all the dirt it had collected over the years," he explained.

The difficulty Miyazaki and his neighbors had removing the bicycle directly mirrors Chihiro's struggle to pull the bicycle from the river spirit, as does the smell of the river itself. In this case, real life was a better source of inspiration than any mythology.

The mystery of what Chihiro's parents were eating

When employees at Studio Ghibli took to Twitter to do an informal Q&A with the fans of their films, a lot of interesting secrets were revealed. One response answered a question that had been a long-standing mystery among "Spirited Away" fans. If you've seen a few Miyazaki or Studio Ghibli projects , you're probably aware that food is hugely important to these movies. Fans are constantly drooling over the food depicted in the films or making certain dishes themselves. But there's one meal that fans have been perplexed by. When Chihiro's parents first visit the ghost town and start chowing down at a restaurant, there's a beige dish on her father's right side that fans have long wondered about.

Someone asked Studio Ghibli about the dish on Twitter, and surprisingly, they actually had an answer. "It was written on the storyboard that the soft, flabby food the dad eats is the stomach of a coelacanth," Studio Ghibli reported on Twitter (as translated by Sora News 24 ). What is a coelacanth, you might ask? Well, it's a large, frankly terrifying-looking fish that dates back to over 400 million years ago. We're not sure what possessed Miyazaki to include such a bizarre (and difficult to identify) dish in this scene, but it's yet another example of how the master animator is never one to skimp on the details.

The recording sessions for No-Face were hilarious

Hayao Miyazaki films are famous for not having true villains (apart from larger concepts like war and environmental destruction), and "Spirited Away" is another example of this. While No-Face might appear villainous at certain points, it becomes clear he just wants to connect with others but isn't sure how to do so. Essentially, No-Face represents all facets of human nature, whether they emerge in a negative or a positive capacity.

Despite the fact that he's not really a villain, No-Face can be pretty scary at times, especially to young children . But the experience of recording No-Face's "dialogue" was far from scary — in fact, it was the exact opposite. In celebration of the film's 20th anniversary, Studio Ghibli decided to answer some questions from fans about the making of "Spirited Away." One anecdote the studio provided was that the recording sessions for No-Face — who was voiced by Akio Nakamura in the Japanese version — were downright hilarious, with everyone constantly laughing ( via CrunchyRoll ).

The folks at Ghibli went on to describe the situation further, revealing the direction Nakamura was given were things like, "'Please give me an even sadder 'ah'," followed by "'An even sadder 'ah.'" Fans of the film will certainly be able to conjure up Two-Face's distinct noises after hearing this anecdote, and it's indeed hilarious to imagine Nakamura trying to make his grunts even sadder with each take.

None of the workers at the bathhouse are human

After Chihiro's parents are turned into pigs and she's left alone in this strange town after dark, she learns that it's quite literally a ghost town, and most of the residents are of the non-human variety. After Haku leads her to the bathhouse, she's left in the capable hands of Lin (known as Rin in Japanese), one of the employees. It may seem like Lin and her female co-workers are the only humans working at the bathhouse, but that might not actually be the case.

As per Studio Ghibli's Q&A with fans on Twitter ( via Time Out ), the idea behind the bathhouse employees is that all the male employees are frogs while all the women are actually slugs. The studio suggested the idea behind this notion may be that the bosses at Studio Ghibli tend to all look the same to new hires until they get to know them better. They proposed that the reason Chihiro sees Lin as human is because she is one of Chihiro's bosses, and her mind needs a way to distinguish her from the other employees there.

The English voice of Chihiro might sound familiar to you

One of the most compelling parts of watching animated films is being able to recognize the voices of the actors portraying your favorite characters. You can hear the voices of many popular actors in the English dubs of Studio Ghibli films. For example, "Princess Mononoke" features  Gillian Anderson and Claire Danes, and "The Secret World of Arrietty" stars  Tom Holland, Saoirse Ronan, and Olivia Colman in the British dub.

"Spirited Away" might not feature a ton of famous names in its English-language dub, but the voice of Chihiro might sound familiar to you if you listen closely. The actor who voiced the character in the English version is none other than Daveigh Chase, who's most famous for voicing Lilo from Disney's "Lilo and Stitch." She also played Samara in "The Ring."

She was around Chihiro's age at the time she recorded the part, and Kirk Wise, the director of the English translation, said in a behind-the-scenes featurette , "Daveigh is a wonderful, natural, actress." John Lasseter, formerly the chief creative officer at Pixar, also sung her praises , saying, "There's so much heart and personality that Daveigh brings to the character."

How the American voice actors recorded their lines

As is the case with most film dubs, the English-speaking voice actors who worked on "Spirited Away" used a process called ADR, which stands for automatic dialogue replacement. In a behind-the-scenes featurette for the film, director Kirk Wise described how each actor was shown the parts of the film they were voicing while in the recording studio.

Jason Marsden, who voiced Haku, explained that the most difficult part of the process for him was having to match the timing of the animation. "If I were to do it, maybe I would have used this line and paused a while or embellished a certain way, but I can't, I don't have time to do that because the mouth is still moving," he explained. There was room for interpretation, however, as Suzanne Pleshette, who voiced both Yubaba and Zeniba, realized she had made the opposite choice from her Japanese counterpart in voicing the sisters. She explained that she made Zeniba's voice deeper and Yubaba's voice higher, while the Japanese voice actor, Mari Natsuki, did the opposite.

While you might not recognize many of the names of the American voice actors, you may recognize some of the voices. Susan Egan , who voiced Lin (or Rin) in the film, also voiced Megara in Disney's "Hercules," and she described how useful it was to watch the film itself while recording. Meanwhile, Lauren Holly (who you might know from "NCIS") , found that the most helpful trick was to munch on an apple while recording the scene where Chihiro's mom chows down in the ghost town.

Miyazaki and his animators had a late-night dinner tradition

Considering that there were 1,415 hand-drawn frames made for the film, it's no surprise that animators working at Studio Ghibli didn't have much time to relax while they were working on a project. But despite their intense work schedule, one behind-the-scenes video from the making of the film shows us a sweet tradition the animators had. The animators had a routine of sorts where they would take turns cooking dinner for the team each night, sitting down (very briefly) to eat at around 11 PM every evening.

The footage shows that one evening, an animator made an enormous plate of spaghetti for everyone to enjoy. A few days later, it was Miyazaki's turn, and he made a dish called Poor Man's Salt-Flavored Ramen, as it read on the menu in the office. Miyazaki managed to fit 10 packets of instant ramen in the pot — a quick and easy dinner for a hungry and overworked group of animators. The team was happy to get a chance to take a break, slurping up ramen from mugs and complimenting their boss' cooking skills.

The dragon's movements were based on several different animals

Animation is an incredibly difficult and time-consuming art form, and animators working for Hayao Miyazaki have a harder job than most. He's incredibly specific about every detail in his films, as evidenced by a  behind-the-scenes video illustrating the making of one scene involving Haku in his dragon form. Miyazaki knew exactly how he wanted the dragon to move, and he explained these ideas to his animators using real-life animals as examples.

First, he explained that when the dragon was thrashing around, he wanted him to stick to the wall like a lizard. But when the dragon falls, he wanted him to fall like a snake, which is to say he wanted him to hold his shape while falling but hit the ground with a loud thud. (Miyazaki was disappointed that none of his employees had ever seen a snake falling out of a tree.) During the sequence where Chihiro is trying to capture Haku, Miyazaki wanted his animators to think of an eel struggling to get away.

For the sequence in which Chihiro attempts to open Haku's mouth with her hands, Miyazaki wanted his animators to imagine a dog being forced to take a pill. When he found out none of his animators had dogs — another disappointment — he had them take a trip to the vet. While there, they watched as the vet tried to force open the mouth of a golden retriever, and they recorded the dog's movements to review later. Though it took a lot of effort to get there, Miyazaki was eventually satisfied with the final product.

The American Version of Spirited Away Makes a MAJOR Change to the Ending

While Spirited Away fans celebrate its 20th anniversary, some may not know the big change Disney made to the ending of its version.

Studio Ghibli fans worldwide have been celebrating the 20th anniversary of Hayao Miyazaki's masterpiece, and Academy Award-winning feature,  Spirited Away .  For most North American fans,  Spirited Away  was the movie that introduced them to the world of Ghibli because Walt Disney Pictures released it on home video in 2003. Then-Pixar head John Lasseter, a huge fan and friend of Miyazaki for years, persuaded Disney to pick up the North American distribution rights.

Lasseter also helped with the film's English dub and made some changes  to the North American release. Most of them were minor, such as the addition of background chatter. However, the biggest change Disney made to its version happens at the very end of the film, one that even some longtime fans may not be aware of it.

RELATED: Here Are Studio Ghibli's Most Popular Films by Country

As Chihiro exits the spirit world and reunites with her parents at the end of the American edition of  Spirited Away , her father Axio tells her, "A new school and a new home, it is a bit scary . . ." She replies with "I think I can handle it." with some confidence in her tone. This brings the movie full circle as it began with her being upset that her family was moving and will be attending a new school where she has to make new friends. But after going through the emotional and physical rollercoaster that was the events of the film, she comes out stronger and better prepared for what lies ahead in the real world.

Spirited Away Chihiro By Tunnel

This last line nicely wraps up Chihiro's epic adventure, in which she overcame plenty of obstacles to make reunite with her parents. However, it was actually added into the English dubbed version rather than being carried over from Miyazaki's original version. Miyazaki himself confirmed  that as she returns to her parents' car, Chihiro doesn't recall the events that occurred in the spirit world.

He also confirmed that the movie wasn't like  The Wizard of Oz , in which Dorothy's adventure turned out to be a dream the entire time. In  Spirited Away , a few hints were drawn into the scene indicating that time had passed, such as more grass growing at the tunnel entrance, dust and leaves on the car, and Chihiro's headband given to her by the witch spirit Zeniba noticeably glittering.

RELATED: Studio Ghibli Museum Saved By Crowdfunding

Miyazaki also pointed out that while Chihiro may not remember what happened right away, those memories could come back to her  in the future. When watching either the American or Japanese version of the film, Chihiro not remembering her history with spirits is established around the climax. When being taken back to the bathhouse by Haku Chihiro (with the nickname of Sen) she realizes that Haku was the spirit of the Kohaku river and that he rescued her when she fell into it as a child. Discovering this also freed Haku from Zeniba's witch twin Yubaba's spell. If this memory of being washed safely ashore by Haku can come back to her, then her experiences at the bathhouse surely could eventually.

spirited away explained

While some Miyazaki purists may not like that Disney added that last line for the English dub, it at least provides the film closure for American audiences. If they are given the impression that Chihiro didn't recall what just happened then the ending, arguably, may have not been received as well as it was with Japanese audiences.

Although Miyazaki has come  out of retirement  (again) to work on another feature film, a sequel to Spirited Away has not been announced and is unlikely, meaning that Chihiro's future life after her time in the spirit world will remain officially unknown. Regardless, it seems she either recalled her odyssey immediately or has to wait to remember; likely, the wisdom of her experience will come back to her when it's needed.

KEEP READING: Hayao Miyazaki's Future Boy Conan Gets a 4K Remastered US Release

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Spirited Away

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The story is about the adventures of a young ten-year-old girl named Chihiro as she wanders into the world of the gods and spirits. She is forced to work at a bathhouse following her parents being turned into pigs by the evil witch Yubaba .

The film was made to please the ten-year-old daughter of Hayao Miyazaki's personal friend, director Seiji Okuda . Okuda's daughter even became the model for the film's protagonist, Chihiro. During the film's planning phase, Miyazaki gathered the daughters of Ghibli's staff in a mountain hut in Shinano Province to hold a training seminar. His experience led him to wanting to make a film for them, since he had never made a movie for girls at the age of 10.

The film earned a massive ¥31,680 billion in Japan, a record only beaten by Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – The Movie: Mugen Train in 2020. [1] It received multiple international awards, including the Golden Bear Award at the 52nd Berlin International Film Festival and the second Oscar ever awarded for Best Animated Feature, the first anime film to win an Academy Award, and the only winner of that award to win among five nominees. Due to his efforts in promoting the film in North America, John Lasseter , one of the founding fathers of Pixar , became the executive producer of the English dub.

It won first place in the Studio Ghibli general poll held in 2016, and was re-screened in five movie theaters around Japan for seven days from September 10 to 16, 2016. It was adapted as a stage play by John Caird , starring Kanna Hashimoto and Mone Kamishiraishi , and debuted in February 2022 in Tokyo, Japan and premiered in April 2023 in the United States. [2]

The film is available for streaming on Max, and purchasable on most digital storefronts.

  • 1.1 One Summer's Day
  • 1.2 Nightfall
  • 1.3 The Contract
  • 1.4 Life at the Bathhouse
  • 1.5 Sen's Courage
  • 1.6 The Return
  • 2 Characters
  • 3 Director's Message
  • 4.2 Child Labor
  • 4.3 A World of No-Faces
  • 4.4 Haku the Pretty Boy
  • 4.5 Yubaba and Zeniba
  • 4.6 Power of Words
  • 4.7 Other Motifs
  • 5.1.1 Inspired by Japan
  • 5.1.2 Hostess Bars
  • 5.2.2 Delay
  • 5.2.3 Announcement
  • 5.3 Dubbing
  • 6 Sound Mixing
  • 7.1 Home Media
  • 7.2 Television
  • 8 Version Differences
  • 9 Reception
  • 10 Awards and Achievements
  • 11 Soundtracks
  • 12.1 Additional Voices
  • 12.2 Uncredited
  • 14.1 Home Video
  • 14.2 Publishing
  • 15 References
  • 16 External Links
  • 17 Navigation

One Summer's Day [ ]

"What's this old building? It looks like an entrance." "Honey, get back in the car we're going to be late. Chihiro!" "Oh for God's sake... This Building's not old, it's fake. This stone is made of plaster. The wind's pulling us in. " "What is it?" "Come on, Let's go in, I want to see what's on the other side." "I'm not going! It's gives me the creeps!" "Don't be such a scaredy cat, Chihiro. Let's just take a look." —Chihiro's parents venture into the tunnel

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Chihiro unsure about following her parents.

Chihiro Ogino , a disaffected child, is annoyed about having to move to a new town. She is traveling with her parents in their 1996 Audi A4 Quattro to their new home. While driving to their new house, Chihiro's father attempts to follow a shortcut; they subsequently lose their way and come across a mysterious red gate and a tunnel which exits to a clock tower and leads to what appears to be an abandoned theme park , lined with seemingly empty restaurants. Finding a restaurant fully-stocked with unattended food, both parents eat the food they find there and, as a result, transform into pigs.

Nightfall [ ]

"It's just a dream. Wake up, wake up. Wake up! Please wake up. It's just a dream, a stupid dream. Go away, disappear. Disappear. I'm fading away! This has to be a dream." "Don't be afraid. I'm a friend." "No, no, no!" —Chihiro's starts to disappear

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Chihiro starts to fade away as nightfall begins.

Chihiro's distress at losing her parents is compounded by the discoveries that the world around her has changed and that her body seems to be disappearing. A mysterious boy named Haku appears, comforts Chihiro, and gives her a red berry to eat, which makes her solid again. He smuggles her into a large bathhouse owned and operated by the evil witch Yubaba , where thousands of spirits come to refresh themselves. Haku tells Chihiro that the only way she can remain in the spirit-world long enough to rescue her parents is by gaining employment in Yubaba's bathhouse. When Chihiro asks Haku how he seems to know her so well, Haku replies that he has known Chihiro since she was very small.

The Contract [ ]

"Why on earth should I hire you? Anyone can see you're a lazy, spoiled, stupid crybaby. What job would I possibly have for someone like you? You're wasting your time. I've got all the bums I need. Or maybe I'll give you the nastiest job I've got... and work you night and day... until you breathe your very last breath!" —Yubaba considers hiring Chihiro

Spirited Away (019)

Haku helps Chihiro survive the night at the bathhouse.

At first, she tries to get work with Kamajī , who works at the boiler room , but is rejected. Kamajī instead hands Chihiro off to the worker, Lin , to take her to Yubaba. In Yubaba's penthouse suite , Chihiro repeatedly asks for a job, overriding the monstrous witch's refusals. Yubaba ultimately consents, on condition that Chihiro give up her name. Yubaba literally takes possession of Chihiro's real name (荻野 千尋 , Ogino Chihiro) by grasping the kanji characters from Chihiro's signed contract, leaving Chihiro with one part of one character of her original two-character name, in isolation pronounced "Sen" (千). Taking a person's name gives Yubaba power to keep its owner in her service permanently; it is revealed that Haku is also in Yubaba's service, and remains so because she has taken part of his full name.

Life at the Bathhouse [ ]

"It's a Stink Spirit - Yes, and a large one, too." "It's headed straight for the bridge! Please turn back. Please go!" "The baths are closed for the night. Please withdraw, please!" "Stinky!" "That's odd. Stink Spirits feel different." "Well, now that it's here, better go greet it! All we can do is get rid of it fast." —The Bathhouse staff encounter the Stink Spirit

Spirited Away (068)

Chihiro helps free a river spirit from his sludgy form.

While at work, Sen gives admittance to a wraithlike spirit called No-Face , who returns the favor by helping her obtain water needed to bathe a "stink sigil " whom no one else will help. After bathing, the stink spirit is revealed to be a powerful River Spirit who rewards Sen with a strong emetic dumpling.

Subsequently, Sen sees Haku in the form of a white dragon, and later on helps save him from attacking Shikigami . Searching for the injured Haku, Sen encounters Yubaba's big infant son, Boh at her apartment . Sen finds Haku, who was attacked by Zeniba , Yubaba's twin sister, because Haku had stolen her sigil. When Boh distracts Zeniba, she transforms Boh into a mouse, and Yu-Bird into a hummingbird. Zeniba tells Sen that Haku has stolen a magic gold seal from her, and warns Sen that it carries a deadly curse. Haku then rips up the remaining Shikigami, causing Zeniba to disappear. After Haku dives to the boiler room with Sen and Boh on his back, she feeds him part of the dumpling. Doing this, Sen causes Haku to spit out the stolen sigil, which he had swallowed. He also chokes up a black slug which Sen squishes, yet Haku remains unconscious. Hoping to lift Zeniba's curse and save Haku from a coma, Sen decides to set out to return the sigil to Zeniba.

Spirited Away (096)

No-Face develops an obsession for Chihiro, even propositioning her with gold.

Meanwhile, No-Face has become intoxicated with the greedy atmosphere of the bathhouse and swells into a huge monster, giving illusory gold to the bathhouse workers in exchange for food. When the workers do not comply with his demands, he eats several of them; this causes a panic and the entire bathhouse is thrown into pandemonium. Sen manages to solve the problem by feeding No-Face the remaining emetic, making him regurgitate several million tons of black poison and the bathhouse workers, then leads him out of the bathhouse. No-Face reverts to his former size and demure personality, and along with Sen and Boh, takes the sea railway and travel by train to Zeniba's faraway cottage at Swamp Bottom . At Zeniba's home, Sen gives the sigil back to Zeniba, apologizing for having squished the black slug. An amused Zeniba reveals that the slug had been one of Yubaba's means of controlling Haku, and that the curse put on the seal has already been broken by Sen's friendship.

Sen's Courage [ ]

"Who are you?" "Yubaba's older twin sister. Now hand over the dragon." "What are you going to do? He needs help." "That dragon's a thief. He works for my sister. He stole a valuable seal from my house." "Haku would never do that. He's too kind. All dragons are kind." "Kind and stupid... and eager to learn my sister's magical ways. This boy will do anything that greedy woman wants. Now step aside." —Chihiro meets Zeniba

Chihiro with Haku

Chihiro learning Haku's "real" name.

In the bathhouse, Yubaba discovers Boh's absence and is enraged. Haku, now revived and restored to his human form, offers Boh's safe return in exchange for Sen and her parents to be freed and restored to normal. Yubaba accepts, but promises to set Sen one final task. Along with Boh and Yu-Bird, Haku and Sen fly back to the bathhouse, leaving No-Face to live with Zeniba as her assistant. En route to the bathhouse, Chihiro remembers a previously suggested meeting with Haku: some time ago, she had fallen into a river and was rescued by the river's spirit. She then realizes that the spirit of this river, called Kohaku River, and her friend Haku are one and the same, and thus revealing Haku's real name, Nigihayami Kohakunushi , which literally translates to "God of the Swift Amber River." At this realization, Haku's dragon form is molted away, and he is completely freed from Yubaba's control.

The Return [ ]

"Go back the way you came. But don't look back until you're out of the tunnel." "But what about you?" "I'll tell Yubaba I'm quitting my apprenticeship. I'm fine now. I have my name back. Now I can go home too." "Will we meet again somewhere?" "I'm sure of it." "Promise?" "Promise." "Now go, and don't look back." —Haku says farewell to Chihiro

Chihiro 047

The bathhouse staff cheers as Chihiro breaks her contract from Yubaba .

Yubaba and a large crowd have gathered to witness Chihiro's final task: to pick out her cursed parents from a group of pigs. Chihiro correctly states that none of the pigs displayed by Yubaba are her parents, and thus wins back both her parents' humanity and her own freedom from the bathhouse. Afterward, Haku takes Chihiro to rejoin her restored parents. He bids her farewell and promises that he will come see her again. As Chihiro and her parents return to their world, her parents lose all memory of their visit to the spirit world. The family then gets back in their car and resume their journey to their new home. Miyazaki himself has stated that Chihiro also forgets her adventure in the spirit world, but it is hard to tell in the dub version whether or not she did because of extra lines of dialogue added at the end. These extra lines are from Chihiro's dad and herself; her dad worries about her having to live somewhere else and go to a different school, but Chihiro replies that she thinks she can handle it. In the sub version, she just silently thinks about her adventure.

Characters [ ]

Director's message [ ].

"This film is akin to an adventure story, but without the agitation of weapons or superpowers. And even if I speak of adventures, the subject is not the confrontation between good and evil, but rather the story of a little girl who, thrown into a world where brave people and characters mingle dishonest, will discipline themselves, learn friendship and dedication, and will use all resources to survive. She gets out of the situation, she dodges, and returns for a time to her daily life. At the same time, the world is not destroyed, and this is not due to the extermination of evil, but to the fact that Chihiro possesses this life force. Today the world has become ambiguous. The main subject of this film is to portray in a clear way this world which seems to be consumed, and this borrowing, despite this ambiguity, the form of a fantasy. In a world where they are guarded, protected, kept at a distance, children allow their frail arms and legs to hypertrophy. Chihiro's slender arms and legs, the angry expression on her face, typical of someone who doesn't easily have fun, reflects that. But in truth, when she finds herself confronted with a situation of crisis, where relations are blocked, one realizes that her strength of adaptation and her perseverance rebound, and that she commits her life to deploying a faculty of judgment. and a capacity to act decisively. Under the circumstances faced by Chihiro, most men would panic or refuse to believe it, but these men would end up being devoured. We can say that in fact, Chihiro's talent is to find the strength not to be devoured. In no way did she become the heroine because she would be a pretty little girl with an exceptional heart. On this point, it is one of the merits of this film, and it is also why I intended it for the little girls of ten years. Speech is a force. In the world where Chihiro got lost, the act of uttering a word constitutes an act of decisive weight. At the baths run by Yubâba, if Chihiro pronounces the words: "I don't want," "I want to go home," the witch immediately throws her outside; all that remains is to wander with nowhere to go and disappear, or be turned into a hen and lay eggs until eaten. Conversely, when Chihiro says: "I will work here," witch she is, Yubâba cannot ignore it. Today, the word has an unlimited lightness, you can say anything, it is received like a bubble and only restores a reflection of reality. Yet the fact that speaking is a force is still true today. A word is only vain, without force, because it is emptied of its meaning. The act of stealing the name is not that of transforming it into a nickname, it is an approach which aims to totally dominate his opponent. Sen is scared to find that she has forgotten her own name, Chihiro. In addition, every time she goes to visit her parents at the pigsty, she gradually becomes indifferent to the fate of these changed into pigs. In the world of Yubâba, one must continually live in fear of being devoured. In this difficult environment, Chihiro comes alive. Usually frowning, his face will radiate a charming expression for the finale of the film. However, the nature of the world is in no way modified. This film possesses or appeals to a persuasive force according to which the word represents an own will, an energy. There, the fact of having realized a fantasy taking place in Japan has a meaning. Even though this is a fairy tale, I didn't want to do a western fairy tale, with many loopholes. This film may seem to be in imitation of a different world, but rather I wanted to think about a direct line with the tales of the past like Suzume no Oyado (The house of the hawk) or Nezumi no Goten (The Palace of Mice). The fact of giving the world where Yubâba lives a Western side suggests something that we have already seen somewhere without being able to distinguish between the dream and the real, and at the same time, it is a melting pot. many images from traditional Japanese ideas. The whole range of folklore - stories, traditions, events, ideas, from religious rites to magic - as abundant and unique as it is, is simply ignored. Kachi-kachi Yama (The mountain that cracks) or Momotarô have certainly lost their persuasive force. However, I also have to say that just to load a cute world, like there is in folklore, with traditional elements, would really be limited imagination. Children, surrounded by high-tech, superficial products, are increasingly losing their roots. We have a very abundant tradition, a tradition that we have the duty to pass on to them. I think you have to introduce traditional ideas into a modern narrative, like you embed a piece in a vivid mosaic. The world of cinema will thus have a new persuasive force. At the same time, I realize once again that we Japanese are islanders. In an age without borders, men who do not own places will be looked down upon. A place is a past, it's a story. I think that the men who have no history and the people who have forgotten their past will disappear like mayflies, or will be turned into hens to lay eggs while waiting to be eaten. I think I made this film with the real wish that it would reach an audience of ten-year-old girls." —Hayao Miyazaki on the film's official website

Work Motif [ ]

Train Flights

While the film featured a climactic flying scene with Haku and Chihiro , Miyazaki was more enamored by the train scenes, but feared adding too many would recall Kenji Miyazawa's Night on the Galactic Railroad .

Upon completion of the film, Hayao Miyazaki held a press conference at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. He was asked that towards the end of the film, audiences finally saw a flying scene, with Chihiro and Haku flying again. Miyazaki responded, "I never thought about whether we should include scenes of Haku or Chihiro flying or not. But on my own, I did think about having Chihiro ride on a train. And since I spent so much time telling people we should do this, I was really happy when she finally did get on board. We were collecting sounds of train audible through the shadows of trees, or shots of the trains running, but from my experience that usually just results in train scenes and nothing more. So in that sense I thought it really was wonderful to have Chihiro actually ride the train, even better than flying through the air."

"I actually wanted to include a few more train scenes, but we were ultimately unable to do because of the structure of the film. Since I had spent a lot of time talking about the train idea, it got to the point where those around me were asking if there wasn't some way we could include the other scenes. I planned to tell them that, if we could include them, this could wind up being like Kenji Miyazawa's Night on the Galactic Railroad. Unfortunately we couldn't include the scenes. It's the sort of things that happens in making films, and it can't be helped.

Child Labor [ ]

Child Labor

Miyazaki recalled seeing an NHK documentary of child labor in Peru, and said that it is still ever present in other parts of the world, and was also part of Japanese history.

When asked why the film centered around Chihiro having to work, Miyazaki explained, "I got the idea from a documentary I saw on the NHK TV channel, about child labor in Peru. I thought that, if I were to make a film for the sake of all the children on earth, it would have to be something that any child could understand, no matter what sort of life they were living. I really didn't want to make a film that only Japanese kids would understand. And besides, the idea that children don't have to work is really very new. My grandfather, for example, went off to work as an apprentice at the age of eight, and as a result he never learned how to read. That's the way things were in Japan until recently. The only reason kids don't have to work today is because Japan experienced a period of high economic growth after the war. In reality, most children in the world still have to work. I'm not saying that's good or bad, just that we need to remember it. In truth, people are social animals, so it's not good for us to live without some sort of connection to society. We have to work.

A World of No-Faces [ ]

For Miyazaki, No-Face represented people's unknowable intent.

When asked what is No-Face's purpose, Miyazaki responded, "There are No-Faces all around us. Because there's only a paper-thin difference between evil spirits and gods. And on top of that, this film is set in Aburaya, a bathhouse. So once you open the doors, all sorts of things come in." When asked to explain if Miyazaki were referring to the youth of today, he explained, "I didn't make the film with that in mind. No-Face is just a name and a mask, and other than that we don't really know what he's thinking or what he wants to do. We just named him No-Face because his expression almost never changes; that's all. But I do think there are people like him everywhere, people who want to glom on to someone but have no sense of self.

Haku the Pretty Boy [ ]

When describing why he made Haku a bishōnen or 'pretty boy character', Miyazaki responded that he originally had no intention to, "But if you've got a girl, you've got a boy; if there's a boy, there's a girl. That's what makes our world. And since our heroine's a tad ugly, I thought without a fair and handsome boy, it would be too boring." When asked to elaborate on whether it was intentional in depicting Chihiro as ugly, "No, but I really don't think she's your typical beautiful girl. I didn't draw her thinking that at all. I wanted to depict a girl who would make viewers worry about what she would become in the future. And while I was drawing her, I thought that she would probably become cool. Because they can change so suddenly. Take people's faces; I think that people create the faces they wear. So I didn't want to draw Chihiro with your stand cute-girl face. And I was right in making that decision."

Yubaba and Zeniba [ ]

Spirited Away Sketch 5

Character designer Masashi Ando initially wanted Yubaba's twin to be an older, taller sister.

Miyazaki described Yubaba as the "everyman" type, and were "symbols of modern working people". As for his decision in creating the twin sister Zeniba , "Ultimately , when we were getting down to the wire in the latter half of the production, Masashi Ando , the animation director, begged me not to add new characters. So I created a twin for Yubaba. Of course, in retrospect, it could have been taller, older sister and not just a twin. But either way, it's still really like two faces of the same person. When we're at work like Yubaba, yelling and making a mess and getting people to work, but when we go home we try to be good citizens. This schism is the painful part of being human." Some people who live a calm life like Zeniba at home may treat their subordinates as strict bosses like Zeniba while facing stress at work.

"Taking Yubaba as a single character, we spent ten times more time connected to her, observing her, and thinking about how to depict her, than we did actually drawing storyboards for her-so much so that I don't even remember how far we developed her in the storyboards." [3]

Miyazaki further elaborated on Zeniba's true nature, "We skipped all explanations (on the fact) that Yubaba and Zeniba are really the same person. I'm that way too. I'm completely a different person when I'm at Ghibli, when I'm at home, and when I'm out and about in the community. In fact, I live in amost schizoid fashion. I was worried about how children would accept this aspect of the movie, but they seem to have accepted it with no problem at all, so I've been greatly relieved." [4]

Power of Words [ ]

Some suggest that the film is an allegory on the progression from childhood to maturity, and the risk of losing one's nature in the process. The theme of a character being lost inside a (fictional/different) world if they forget their real name is a common folk theme. True names having magic power are a staple of folks tales such as Rumplestilskin or Earthsea . Similarly, Chihiro and Haku stay under Yubaba's control forever if they forget their real names and consequently their real identities.

Spirited Away (038)

The contract between Yubaba and Chihiro represented an old tradition in Japan where you had no right to refuse someone who really wanted to work.

When Miyazaki was interviewed by journalist Tetsuya Chikushi on January 11, 2002, Chikushi noted shocking it was when Chihiro was told "if you say 'No!', you'll be turned into a chicken and have to go on laying eggs until you're eaten,", stating how that was cosmic retribution.

Miyazaki explained, "Recently my friends and I use the word asamashii [despicable or disgraceful] a lot. It's a word that's fallen out of favor these days, but it seems perfectly suited to describe the current Japan. It originally refereed to things that should have been more embarrassing and shameful of all."

Chikishi responded, "There's a problem with language in Spirited Away, isn't there? Some of the key words for the young heroine are simple, such as when she declares repeatedly, "I'll keep working here". I watching this, thinking that you were trying to tell us how much power words have."

Hayao Rumi

Hayao Miyazaki and Rumi Hiiragi , the actress who played Chihiro Ogino , photographed at the Edo Tokyo Open Air Park on March 26, 2001.

Miyazaki then said, "Actually, we thought about having Yubaba use an actual labor contract of some sort there, but since no one would get it even if we included an explanation, we just left it with her saying, "we're using a boring old oath." But there is a labor agreement in effect in her world because she has to give work to those who want it. Because that's the kind of society Japan originally was; people had to give work to those who wanted it. To want to work is to want to live. To live in a specific place. We skipped all the explanations. The same with the fact that Yubaba and Zeniba are really the same person. I'm that way too. I'm completely a different person when I'm at Ghibli, when I'm at home, and when I'm out and about in the community. In fact, I live in most schizoid fashion. I was worried children would accept this aspect of the movie, but they seem to have accepted it with no problem at all, so I've been greatly relieved." [5]

Other Motifs [ ]

The main character is a very modern Japanese ten-year-old who's being forced to grow up and adapt when faced with more traditional Japanese culture and manners. Miyazaki himself has said that there is an element of nostalgia for an older Japan in this film and several of his others.

Miyazaki also included a theme advocating the prevention of greed: those swallowed by No-Face were attempting to receive the gold he made. Similarly, in a monomyth format, Yubaba's rich accommodations and interest in gold dominate the "road of trials" portions of the film, while Zeniba's rustic home and grandmotherly demeanor arguably mark Chihiro's gain of the "boon" in her quest. Also, Chihiro's parents' grotesque transformation after consuming too much food not meant for them is another representation of human greed, and may also be a reference to The Odyssey .

Environmental awareness is a theme explored by Roger Ebert. The most obvious examples of this are the river spirit's dramatic and beautiful transformation once he has been freed from the material dumped in him by humans, and Haku's discovery that the reason he cannot go home is that the River Kohaku, whose spirit he was, had been filled in by apartment buildings. This environmental awareness is present in several of Miyazaki's works, such as Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Princess Mononoke .

Behind the Scenes [ ]

Development [ ].

"I think certain motifs appear over and over in our deep psyches. Even Krabat isn't something that the author suddenly thought up, because it's based on folktale that's been handed down from the Middle Ages. So when making Spirited Away, there were many things I wanted to include but couldn't. When working on it, I frankly felt like I was lifting the lid on areas of my brain that I wasn't supposed to expose. But creating fantasy is all about lifting the lid of your brain, flaunting things that you don't normally expose. IT's about treating the world we discover there as though it's a reality, to the point where the real world itself sometimes seems to lack reality. AT some point, this other world takes on a greater reality than that of our own ordinary lives. In just talking about this subject now, we lose a type of reality, because all the focus is on the other world" —Hayao Miyazaki [6]


Seiji Okuda (center) and his then 10-year-old daughter helped give Miyazaki a starting point to work on the film.

Following the grueling production of Princess Mononoke Miyazaki considered retiring once again to focus on his personal projects, such as opening the Ghibli Museum . He did not think he would be able to embark once again on such a long and tiring experience. However, the vacuum left by the death in 1998 of his designated successor Yoshifumi Kondō pushes him to roll up his sleeves once again. His stance changed upon meeting the daughter of his friend Seiji Okuda , on whom the main protagonist of Spirited Away is based. Chihiro's father, Akio Ogino , was based on the real-life father of the girl Chihiro is based on. Miyazaki said Okuda is similar to Akio in that he had a habit of getting lost while driving and ate too quickly. Chihiro's mother, Yuko Ogino , is based on a friend of Miyazaki's; an idiosyncratic hand-gesture of Miyazaki's friend is copied when Yūko is eating in Spirited Away . Chihiro's best friend's name is Rumi (the one who gave her the flowers in the opening), which is the name of Chihiro's voice actor.

Spirited Books

Marvelous Village Veiled in Mist by Sachiko Kashiwaba proved to be a major inspiration for Miyazaki.

As with his other film projects, the initial idea germinated several years before becoming the film we know. Prior to the production of Princess Mononoke , Miyazaki had considered adapting the children's book, Kiri no Mukô no Fushigi na Machi (霧のむこうのふしぎな町), also known as Rin and the Chimney Painter or Marvelous Village Veiled in Mist , a 1975 novel by Sachiko Kashiwaba about a young student forced to repaint the chimney of a bathhouse left behind. A member of the Studio Ghibli team loved this book when he was about ten, and read it many times.

Like Japan's most famous children's writer, Kenji Miyazawa (another source of inspiration for Miyazaki), Kashiwaba is from Iwate. The story goes that during the summer holidays six year old Rina is sent on her own to stay in the village in the countryside where her father had stayed as a child. Where Rina gets off the train, the village people are only half convinced that her destination, the valley of mist, exists, but following their uncertain directions, she sets off, and helped by her umbrella, which gets blown away so that she has to chase after it, she finds herself in a strange one street village.

The house where she will be staying belongs to a tiny old lady, who seems perpetually angry and delights in putting people on the wrong foot.

"What are you dawdling for? If there's one thing I hate, it's dawdlers," the voice she had heard earlier sounded angry. Rina inched fearfully into the room. By the window there was a big flowery sofa, and on that sofa, like a black fleck, a little old woman was sitting. The old woman did not look at Rina. As if she knew who it was without looking, she went on eating her biscuit and drinking tea. Rina, not knowing what to do, stared at the old woman who was ignoring her. Finally, the old woman broke the silence, "Six years old and you still don't know how to greet a person." "Uesugi Rina," Rina said, bowing, "Thank you for your kindness in having me." "Who said anything about kindness? Anyone who stays in her house must work while they're there," she tells Rina. [7]

Miyazaki Suzuki

Miyazaki likened the bathhouse to how Studio Ghibli is run, and made comparisons to its producer Toshio Suzuki .

So Rina helps in the house or is sent to the different shops that make up the village. But this is no punishment, as they are all fascinating places run by different magicians. As she works Rina becomes more self confident and finds her true character. Miyazaki didn't understand why he found this story so interesting and, intrigued, he wrote a project proposal around it, but it was also rejected.

Another source of inspiration for Spirited Away was, by its director's own admission, Studio Ghibli itself. Thus the intense activity that reigns in the bathhouses evokes that of the studio. The character of Yubaba , who governs the establishment, would correspond to the producer Toshio Suzuki , while the very overwhelmed Kamajī with multiple arms would be like Miyazaki. Chihiro , she has to work hard if she does not want to disappear, which is equivalent to being sent back to the studio.

Inspired by Japan [ ]

"As we say in Japan, 'The customer is always god.' That's just a bit of a pun, but I think it's true." —Hayao Miyazaki

Rokumeikan Spirited

Yubaba's opulent apartment floor was inspired by places like Romkumeikan (Top) and Meguro Gajoen (Bottom).

In an interview on the film's Roman Album dated September 10, 2001, Miyazaki refers to the strange world Chihiro wanders into as Japan itself. "Until recently, the dormitories for female workers of textile companies or wards in long-term care facilities all looked like the employee rooms in the bathhouse where Chihiro lives. That's what Japan was like until just a while ago. I felt a real sense of nostalgia when depicting them. We've forgotten what the buildings, streets, and lifestyles were just like a little while back." Meanwhile, regarding Yubaba's Western-style home, "That's supposed to be something like Romkumeikan or Meguro Gajoen . I think that for us Japanese, what seems really deluxe is to have something that is a mishmash of a traditional-style palace, a grand Western-style (or quasi-Western style) mansion, and something like the Palace of the Dragon King, and then to live in it, Western style. The Aburaya bathhouse, I should say, is really like one of today's leisure land theme parks, but it's something that could have also existed in the Muromachi and Edo periods. So we're ultimately depicting is the real Japan."

Yokai Spirited

Unlike the designs of gods seen in ancient scroll paintings like Hyakki yagyozu , Spirited Away's gods are more modest in design.

As for the depiction of the spirits, Miyazaki mentions how Japanese gods are quite modest in design. "Tenjin has been turned into a god for those who pray for success in their school exams, and I'm sure it's tough for him because he doesn't even understand English. [laughs]" Other traditional Japanese gods have been lumped in with Buddhism and made into wooden idols of worship, but that wasn't what they originally were. What Miyazaki is trying to say is that Japanese spirits "originally never had a form. And if people give them form without being careful, they start looking like yokai . But even that's vague since all the yokai in the famous scroll painting Hyakki yagyozu were all given forms after the fact. So in principle, I didn't want to depict my Japanese spirits to be based on any existing images. But one exception is the masks at Kasuga Taisha shrine. When I saw photos of them, they were too fascinating not to use as reference. When I gave form to the spirits, I didn't want them to look like deities. So if you ask my why I depicted the spirits the way I did in the film, it's because I think Japanese gods are probably quite exhausted. So it made sense to me that they would want to come to a bathhouse and stay two nights and three days. Sort of like the Shimotsuki festival.

Hostess Bars [ ]

Finally, another starting point for Spirited Away is an anecdote told by Suzuki to Miyazaki. The latter spoke of hostess bars, where the latter are often shy, forced to learn to communicate with men. They pay to be able to express themselves as well. This image has remained etched in Miyazaki's mind and exploited it in his film: Chihiro is forced to learn to express himself when she is serving in the baths, while No-Face fails to express himself. and uses violence and money to be able to do so. All these elements combined led to the creation of the final proposal of the film.

Production [ ]

Spirited Edo Museum

Many of the film's locations were inspired by the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum.

Production of the film began at the end of 1999 and ended in June 2001. As usual, Hayao Miyazaki realized that the film would last more than three hours, if he had made it according to his original proposal. Much of the original script was cut to expedite the film's length. Due to relatively tight production deadlines (one and a half years instead of three for Princess Mononoke ), Spirited Away is the studio's first film not to have been entirely made in Japan. The development of part of the scenes was therefore entrusted to the Korean studio DR Digital, which had already worked on animated films as prestigious as Metropolis or Jin-Roh .


【FOCUS新聞】TVBS專訪宮崎駿 72歲不老頑童

A 2013 interview with Hayao Miyazaki and TVBS, a Taiwanese news agency. Here he denies that the backgrounds in Spirited Away were inspired by the shops at Jiufen in Taiwan.

Hayao Miyazaki sought authenticity in the representation of the bathhouse, admitting to having been inspired by the buildings at the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum , which was near the studio where he liked to walk. Its park indeed offers a reconstruction of the Japanese capital, between the 17th and the beginning of the 20th century. For Miyazaki, to represent this place is to plunge the Japanese viewer into a certain nostalgia. Ghibli staff conducted location scouting at this park on March 17, 2000. The public bathhouse Kodakara-yu was Miyazaki's favorite exhibit, and many of its details were used as reference when designing the bathhouse in the film. The main building at Dōgo Onsen in Matsuyama was also referenced, following a past Ghibli company trip. The interiors of Meguro Gajoen and the ceilings of Nijō Castle was used as reference. Kamajī's workplace was based on the Takei Sansho-do (stationery store) at the Edo-Tokyo Museum. Meanwhile, the film's bathhouse's girl's dormitories was based on the Japanese garment factories from the 1950s. The National Sanatorium Tama Zenshōen's multi-tenant room also served as inspiration.

It has been claimed that Miyazaki was inspired by the shopkeepers at Jiufen, a town near Taipei in Taiwan. However, when Miyazaki was asked about this by Taiwanese media, he denied it.

Spirited Away BG

Art director Yôji Takeshige (left), Noboru Yoshida and Kazuo Oga took inspiration from several real-life locations. Yoshida painted the fusuma painting of a giant demon seen here.

Art director Yoji Takeshige and assistant art director is Noboru Yoshida helped to refine Miyazaki's original e-konte and image boards. Takeshige ran the drawing department, and helped guide many of the new hires at the studio as production began to ramp up. Normally, background art production is done in three stages. A rough drawing of the background is laid out, and an art board is drawn over it to serve as a guideline before actual background painting begins. The head of this process specifies the color and texture in detail. For Spirited Away , Takeshige did not create the art setting as Miyazaki already created the background via his e-konte (storyboard). Art director and background artist Kazuo Oga , who previously worked on My Neighbor Totoro , worked on the opening backgrounds before Chihiro's family enters the theme park, and the natural landscapes towards the end of the film. Noboru Yoshida was in charge of the fusuma painting of a giant demon in the bathhouse.

Spirited Studio

The grueling work at Studio Ghibli, and the storyboards for the film. Many employees reported working to exhaustion.

Likewise, for the character design of the characters, the director was inspired by those close to him. Chihiro is the faithful representation of the little girl who motivated him in making the film. Chihiro's father is the faithful portrait of the little girl's father, particularly in his voracious attitude. The mother of the heroine is the carbon copy of a regular Miyazaki collaborator within the studio. This was clearly his attempt at anchoring this fantastical work to contemporary Japan.

With regards to the animation of certain scenes, Miyazaki showed great concern for realism. He explained in detail the movement of Haku, in the form of a dragon, falling to the ground, akin to a lizard or a green snake wriggling on a wall and suddenly collapsing. He encouraged the animators to go to an eel restaurant to observe their movement. Likewise, when Miyazaki directs a scene where Chihiro gives Haku a dumpling to eat, he explains to the young designers that he wants a mouth similar to that of a dog. In order to respect the director's instructions, the animators went to a veterinarian to observe the behavior of a dog, its teeth, the way in which it is necessary to maintain its mouth. These few examples perfectly evoke Miyazaki's desire to achieve a certain realism of the staging, in a however fantastic setting.

For the first time, Miyazaki wouldn't be able to check and correct the work of the other animators himself because of a major problem with his eyesight. To help him, he therefore called on Masashi Ando , who has been working in the studio since its inception. He assisted the director, sometimes to the point of exhaustion, to maintain his exacting standards.

Dog Spirited

Miyazaki demonstrating to his staff how to depict scenes. One involved feeding Haku like a dog, so the staff visited a veterinarian.

100 shots out of the 1,400 that make up the film were produced by the 3D-CG section, directed by Mitsunori Kataama . These are scenes that proved far too complex to animate by hand, often including rapid movements of the 3D camera (such as the stone statue seen in the woods or the Chihiro race between the hedges of flowers) and the animation of the 'complex elements like water.

Several techniques were used. According to Kataama, “We added depth to the original 2D images by projecting the hand-drawn backgrounds onto 3D models. Then, we used Softimage 3D to calculate the light reflections and the lighting components that we then added to the sets. We have also implemented an original 2D texture shading process, making it possible to obtain the appropriate projection of the image of the scenery from different angles. Finally, we have developed a plug-in that makes it easier to change the field of view on a given plane."

Another significant challenge taken up by the 3D team at Studio Ghibli is the creation for the sea of ​​a realistic and ever-changing surface. This required internal development of another 2D texture shading process, and the use of several shading and lighting tools to simulate reflections and refractions on the water surface.

Yasuyoshi Miya

Yasuyoshi Tokuma was an eccentric figure, who was close with Toshio Suzuki and owned Studio Ghibli until they became independent a few years after his passing.

On September 20, 2000, chairman of Tokuma Shoten and Studio Ghibli president Yasuyoshi Tokuma passed away. [8] A farewell ceremony was held at Grand Prince Hotel Takanawa on October 16th of that year.. Miyazaki presided over the association. According to Seiji Kano, in Miyazaki's speech, he mentioned that all the attendees in mourning looked like frogs, implying a relationship with the frog men in Spirited Away . [9] Tokuma died without having seen the final cut of the film, but he was posthumously credited as "Executive Producer".

At the same time, Spirited Away's production was facing serious delays. Several new animation directors were hired, although Toshio Suzuki was worried the film would not meet its deadline. New animators were given at least "one cut per person in a week" to complete. Only half of the animation cuts were made in-house at Ghibli, while the rest was outsourced. Veteran animator Kenichi Konishi was asked to find any available animator he could hire for support the production.

It soon became clear that outsourcing video and coloring to other domestic studios and talent would not be enough. Therefore, for the first time since the founding of Studio Ghibli, Suzuki decided to outsource to an overseas studios. Four people were sent from Ghibli to South Korea to oversee the operation. [10] Korea's DR DIGITAL was placed in charge of video and coloring, while JM Animation Co. was in charge of coloring. Their work was produced at a high standard, which satisfied the Suzuki et al.

Announcement [ ]

Ando Masahi Pic

Due to Miyazaki's deteriorating eyesight, Masashi Ando stepped in to help check all the key drawings.

The announcement in December 1999 of Miyazaki's new film created a stir. The emotional charge of waiting for the new baby is further reinforced by the little information that the production deigns to let filter out, if we except the title, Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (literally The strange disappearance of Sen and Chihiro), and a 40-minute documentary broadcast on May 4, 2000, on the NHK channel.

But things became clearer at the beginning of 2001. At the beginning of January, the magazine Animage presented the images of the teaser (short trailer), then screened in Japanese theaters. On January 26, the NTV channel broadcasts it exclusively on television. Soon follow a new trailer, the trailer and finally a clip illustrating the magnificent song of the end credits. But there is more to promoting the film than advertisements on television. Tôhô , the film's distributor in Japan, is carrying out a Disney-worthy marketing campaign and, with such media hype, observers expect a tidal wave.

Dubbing [ ]


Spirited Away Sound & Music 1of3.mov

Scenes from the NHK documentary of the cast dubbing at Studio 2 of Studio Ghibli.

For the dubbing, Hayao Miyazaki chose confirmed actors to embody the voice of his characters. The young actress Rumi Hiiragi , aged 13, known in Japan for a morning drama on the NHK channel, was hired while Miyu Irino was given the role of Haku . Their interpretation is marked by accuracy and moderation. Bunta Sugawara , with a 45-year acting career, lends his voice to Kamajī and Mari Natsuki , truly transcends her slim figure and her soft voice to embody an earthy and directive Yubaba . The most surprising thing is to discover that the enormous baby Boh is played by Ryûnosuke Kamiki , a little boy of 4 or 5 years old, considered a little genius in Japan.

Regarding the recording of these voices, Miyazaki has chosen this time, and for the first time, not to separate the recording room from the one where the sound engineer and the director are usually located. Miyazaki, but also Toshio Suzuki, are therefore in the same room as the actors. The goal of this novelty is to be able above all to be able to better direct the voice actors and to be able to better explain the intonations that Miyazaki are looking for a particular character. Miyazaki will even go so far as to mimic the dance and sing the ritornello of the manager of the baths to the actor Takehiko Ono.

Sound Mixing [ ]



TV special of Spirited Away that aired before the film's release, featuring Rumi Hiiragi , the voice actress for Chihiro and Takashi Naitô, voice actor of Chihiro's father exploring the Edo-Tokyo Museum.

This is a first for studio Ghibli, Spirited Away benefits from the digital DLP format. Like Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace , the film is directly recorded on hard disk, without going through the reel stage. It also benefits from the EX 6.1 sound system, using six channels to give it its full sonic breadth.

The soundtrack is once again extremely polished and contributes beautifully to the viewer's immersion in the strange world of Aburaya. Sound engineer Shûji Inoue travels to Kusatsu to record the noise produced by the water from its famous hot springs. He will thus store up a multitude of sounds: brooms rubbing the floors of public baths, crockery colliding in a kitchen or in a reception room, the engine of Chihiro's father's car. Tôru Noguchi, who has been dealing with cartoon sound effects for 20 years, recreates other sounds in the studio, like those of the multitude of footsteps of the characters in the film. All of these sounds make Spirited Away very realistic, and once again,despite the fantastic context of the story.

Release [ ]

Golden Bear Miyazaki

On February 17, 2002, Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away won the Golden Bear Award, the highest award at the 52nd Berlin International Film Festival. This is the first time in the world that an animated cartoon has won the award. Miyazaki flew to Germany for the ceremony, accompanied by Toshio Suzuki and Steve Alpert .

Spirited Away was released in Japan in July 2001, drawing an audience of around 23 million and revenues of ¥30 billion (approx. US$250 million), to become the highest-grossing film in Japanese history (surpassing the film Princess Mononoke for highest-grossing animated motion pictures). It was the first movie to have earned $200 million at the worldwide box office before opening in the United States. By 2002, a sixth of the Japanese population had seen it.

The film was dubbed into English by Walt Disney Pictures, under the supervision of Pixar's John Lasseter. It was subsequently released in the United States on September 20, 2002, and had made slightly over $10 million by September 2003.

Home Media [ ]

The film was released in North America by Disney's Buena Vista Distribution arm on DVD format on April 15, 2003, where the attention brought by the Oscar win made the title a strong seller. Spirited Away is often marketed, sold and associated with other Miyazaki movies such as Castle in the Sky , Kiki's Delivery Service , and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind .

The North American English-dubbed version was released on DVD in the UK on March 29, 2004. In 2005 it was re released by Optimum Releasing with a more accurate subtitle track and additional bonus features.

Miya Golden

After Miyazaki returned to Japan, he was greeted by the press. A conference was held where he said a few words regarding his experience.

The back of the Region 1 DVD from Disney and the Region 4 DVD from Madman states that the aspect ratio is the original ratio of 2.00:1. This is incorrect; the ratio is actually 1.85:1 but has been windowboxed to 2.00:1 to compensate for the overscan on most television sets. There is much dispute over the validity of this practice, as many displays are capable of showing the entire picture, and as a result the DVD picture has a noticeable border around it.

All Asian releases of the DVD (including Japan and Hong Kong) have a noticeably accentuated amount of red in their picture transfer. This is another case of compensating for home theatre displays, this time supposedly for LCD television which, it was claimed, had a diminished red color in its display. Releases in other DVD regions such as the US, Europe and Australia use a picture transfer where this "red tint" has been significantly reduced.

Television [ ]

Spirited Sen

Spirited Away received a stage adaptation, Spirited Away: Live on Stage , which premiered at the Tokyo’s Imperial Theater in February 28, 2022. Subsequent performances were held in Osaka, Fukuoka, Sapporo and Nagoya. The stage adaptation starred Kanna Hashimoto and Mone Kamishiraishi. It was written and directed by John Caird, an honorary associate director of the Royal Shakespeare Company and a big fan of Miyazaki’s work.

The U.S. television premiere of this film was on Turner Classic Movies in early 2006, closely followed by its premiere on Cartoon Network's "Fridays" on February 3, 2006. On March 18, Cartoon Network's Toonami began a "Month of Miyazaki" that featured four movies directed by Hayao Miyazaki, with Spirited Away being the first of four. Cartoon Network showed the movie three times more: once on Christmas 2006, for Toonami's "New Year's Eve Eve" on December 30, and on March 31, 2007. It was also shown again on Turner Classic Movies on June 3, 2007.

The first European television showing of the film (both the subtitled Japanese and dubbed English versions) was in the UK on December 29, 2004, on Sky Cinema 1, and it has since been repeated several times. The first UK terrestrial showing of this film (dubbed into English) was on BBC2 on December 30, 2006. The Japanese subtitled version was first shown on BBC4 on the 26th January 2008.

The Canadian television premiere of the film was on CBC Television on September 30, 2007. In order to fit the film into a two-hour time slot with commercials, extensive time cuts were made during this airing.

Australian television audiences premiered Spirited Away on March 24, on its SBS channel. The movie had been heavily marketed previously, and was featured in the Australian TV Guide; no edits were made during viewing.

Version Differences [ ]

Some changes were made to the film by John Lasseter and the other writers of the English dub.

Changes include:

  • The insertion of a significant portion of background chatter.
  • Adjusting the translated dialogue to match the visible mouth movements of the characters.
  • The addition of dialogue explaining or emphasizing certain on-screen elements: for example, when Chihiro reaches a massive, red, steaming building, she comments, "It's a bathhouse." These insertions are mostly used to explain certain aspects of Japanese culture that are foreign in America and many other English-speaking countries.
  • In the English dub, in order to escape from Boh, Chihiro convinces him that the bloodstain on her hands is, in fact, germs. In the original script, she simply tells the truth and refers to it as blood.
  • One example: In the English dub, upon hearing Haku's request to return 'Sen' and her parents to the human world in exchange for Boh, Yubaba says that she will still give 'Sen' one final test. In the original film, she threatens to tear Haku to pieces unless Boh is returned, with the possibility that an extensive argument occurred offscreen before reaching the agreement.
  • Another example: In the English dub, after Zeniba asks Chihiro what the gold seal is upon returning it to her, Chihiro answers "yes, it's the gold seal you were looking for". In the original film, Chihiro doesn't know, but she acknowledges that it is very valuable to Zeniba.
  • New lyrics were improvised by John Ratzenberger for the English version of a song sung by Aogaeru, as well as his exclamation, "Now that's an esophagus!"
  • During the cleansing of the Stink Spirit in the Japanese Version, Lin arrives on the scene and simply states that Kamajī is sending his best herbal water to the bath. In the English dub, Lin asks if Chihiro is all right and promises to not let her get hurt.

Miyazaki himself has stated that Chihiro, at the end of the film, does not remember what happened to her in the spirit world, but that her adventures were also not a dream. To show the audience that something did happen, he gave several hints, such as dust and leaves on the car. Chihiro's hairband, given to her by Zeniba, glittering by the sunlight was also one of the hints. The English dub adds a line "I think I can handle it," indicating that Chihiro has come away from her adventure as a better person.

Reception [ ]

Based on 146 reviews at Rotten Tomatoes, it ranks as the fifth-best animation film, having a 97% rating on the site. Source Reviewer Grade / Score Notes AnimeOnDVD Chris Beveridge Content: C Audio: A- Video: A+ Packaging: N/A Menus: B Extras: A+ DVD/Anime Movie Review THEM Anime Reviews Carlos Ross and Jacob Churosh 5 out of 5 Anime Review

Awards and Achievements [ ]

  • Best Animated Feature Film; 75th Annual Academy Awards [11]
  • Winner of Best Film; 2002 Japanese Academy Awards [12]
  • Golden Bear (tied); 2002 Berlin International Film Festival [13]
  • Best Animated Feature; 2002 New York Film Critics Circle Awards
  • Special Commendation for Achievement in Animation; 2002 Boston Society of Film Critics Awards
  • Best Animated Feature; 2002 Los Angeles Film Critics Awards
  • Outstanding Achievement in an Animated Feature Production; 2002 Annie Awards
  • Best Directing in an Animated Feature Production; 2002 Annie Awards
  • Best Writing in an Animated Feature Production; 2002 Annie Awards
  • Best Music in an Animated Feature Production; 2002 Annie Awards
  • Best Animated Feature; 2002 Critics' Choice Awards
  • Best Animated Feature; 2002 New York Film Critics Online Award
  • Best Animated Feature; 2002 Florida Film Critics Circle
  • Best Animated Feature; 2002 National Board of Review
  • Best Original Score in the Category of Comedy or Musical; 78th Annual Glaubber Awards
  • Motion Picture, Animated or Mixed Media; 7th Annual Golden Satellite Awards
  • Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature; 45th San Francisco International Film Festival
  • Special Mention from the Jury; 2002 Sitges Film Festival
  • Best Asian Film; 2002 Hong Kong Film Awards
  • Best Animated Film; 29th Annual Saturn Awards
  • Best Film (tied); Cinekid 2002 International Children's Film Festival
  • Best Animated Feature; Online Film Critic Society
  • Best Animated Feature; Dallas-Fort Worth Critics
  • Best Animated Film; Phoenix Film Critics Society
  • Silver Scream Award; 19th Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival
  • Best Family/Animation Trailer; Fourth Annual Golden Trailer Awards
  • Brilliant Dreams Award 2003; Bulgari
  • Award Winner, Film; 2003 Christopher Awards
  • Award Winner, Most Spiritually Literate Films of 2002 (You); Spirituality & Health Awards
  • Best Movie for Grownups who Refuse to Grow Up, Best Movies for Grownups Awards; AARP The Magazine

Soundtracks [ ]

The closing song, Always with Me (いつも何度でも , Itsumo Nandodemo , literally, Always, No Matter How Many Times) was written and performed by Yumi Kimura , a composer and lyre-player from Osaka. The lyrics were written by Kimura's friend Wakako Kaku. The song was intended to be used for a different Miyazaki film which was never released, Rin the Chimney Painter (煙突描きのリン , Entotsu-kaki no Rin ).

The other 20 tracks on the original soundtrack were composed by Joe Hisaishi . His The River of That Day (あの日の川 , Ano hi no Kawa ) received the 56th Mainichi Film Competition Award for Best Music, the Tokyo International Anime Fair 2001 Best Music Award in the Theater Movie category, and the 16th Japan Gold Disk Award for Animation Album of the Year. Later, Hisaishi added lyrics to "Ano hi no Kawa" and named the new version The Name of Life (いのちの名前 , Inochi no Namae ) which was performed by Hirahara Ayaka.

Beside the original soundtrack, there is also an Image Album, which contains 10 tracks.

Additional Voices [ ]

  • Original: Akio Nakamura ( Kashira ), Shigeru Wakita, Shirô Saitô , Michiko Yamamoto, Keiko Tsukamoto , Shinji Tokumaru , Kaori Yamagata , Yayoi Kazuki , Masahiro Asano , Kazutaka Hayashida, Ikuko Yamamoto, Mina Meguro, Tetsurô Ishibashi, Katsutomo Shîbara, Shinobu Katabuchi , Noriko Kitou , Naoto Kaji , Yoshitaka Sukegawa, Aki Tachikawa , Noriko Yamada , Katsuhisa Matsuo, Masayuki Kizu, Yôko Ôno , Sachie Azuma, Shigeyuki Satô, Mayumi Sako , Sonoko Soeda, Akiko Tomihira , Minako Masuda, Orika Ono, Rina Yamada, Miwa Takachi , Hiromi Takeuchi, Makiko Oku
  • English: Mickie McGowan (Bath House Woman), Sherry Lynn , Mona Marshall , Candi Milo , Colleen O'Shaughnessey , Jennifer Darling , Phil Proctor (Frog-like Chef)

Uncredited [ ]

  • Dee Bradley Baker (Additional Voices)

Credits [ ]

Related products [ ], home video [ ].

  • Spirited Away VHS - Buena Vista Home Entertainment (July 19, 2002)
  • Spirited Away DVD Buena Vista Home Entertainment (July 19, 2002)
  • DVD (Director Hayao Miyazaki's Works) -Walt Disney Studios Japan Released on July 2, 2014
  • Spirited Away Blu-ray Disc --Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment (July 16, 2014)
  • Blu-ray Disc (Director Hayao Miyazaki) --Walt Disney Studios Japan Released on July 2, 2014

Publishing [ ]

  • Chihiro and the Mysterious Town Chihiro and Chihiro's God Hidden <Thorough Strategy Guide> (July 20, 2001) ISBN 4-04-853383-5
  • 40 eyes to read "Spirited Away" by Kine Shun Mook (August 15, 2001) ISBN 4-87-376574-9
  • Eureka Poetry and Criticism August 2001 Special Issue General Feature Hayao Miyazaki The World of "Spirited Away" Fantasy Power (August 25, 2001) ISBN 4-79-170078-3
  • Spirited Away (Tokuma Anime Picture Book) (August 31, 2001)
  • Spirited Away-Film Comic (1) (September 1, 2001) ISBN 4-19-770082-2
  • Spirited Away-Film Comic (2) (September 10, 2001) ISBN 4-19-770083-0
  • Spirited Away-Film Comic (3) (September 30, 2001) ISBN 4-19-770084-9
  • Spirited Away-Film Comic (4) (September 30, 2001) ISBN 4-19-770085-7
  • Spirited Away-Film Comic (5) (September 30, 2001) ISBN 4-19-770086-5
  • THE ART OF Spirited Away-Spirited Away (September 10, 2001) ISBN 4-19-810006-3
  • Spirited Away (Roman Album) (September 10, 2001)
  • Spirited Away (This Is Animation) (September 20, 2001) ISBN 4-09-101558-1
  • Spirited Away (Studio Ghibli Storyboard Complete Works 13) (October 31, 2001) ISBN 4-19-861439-3
  • The Mystery of "Spirited Away" (January 20, 2002) ISBN 4-8379-6122-3
  • Exhibiting Animation-Ghibli Museum, Ghibli Museum "Spirited Away" (Ghibli THE ART Series) (September 1, 2002) ISBN 4-19-810007-1
  • Words and Mysteries of "Spirited Away" (March 3, 2003) ISBN 4-336-04519-4
  • Thousand and Chihiro Mythology (June 23, 2009) ISBN 4-7879-6138-1
  • "Spirited Away " (July 27, 2009) ISBN 4-393-20320-8
  • Read "Spirited Away", 'a psychology learned from anime' (October 2015) ISBN 978-4-86565-035-8
  • Spirited Away Ghibli Textbook <12> Bungeishunju <Bungei Ghibli Bunko>, Studio Ghibli Edition (March 2016) ISBN 4-16-812011-2
  • Spirited Away Cinema Comic <12> Bungeishunju <Bungei Ghibli Bunko>, Studio Ghibli Edition (February 2019) ISBN 4-16-812110-0
  • Spirited Away Image Album Tokuma Japan Communications (April 4, 2001) TKCA-72100
  • Spirited Away Sound Track Tokuma Japan Communications (July 18, 2001) TKCA-72165
  • Studio Ghibli Hayao Miyazaki & Joe Hisaishi Soundtrack BOX [Box set, Limited Edition] (CD) Tokuma Japan Communications (July 16, 2014)

References [ ]

  • ↑ "Demon Slayer Overtakes 'Spirited Away' to Become Japan's Biggest Box Office Hit Ever", The Hollywood Reporter
  • ↑ "Studio Ghibli’s ‘Spirited Away’ is being turned into a stage play", NME
  • ↑ "The World of Spirited Away, and the Power of Fantasy", Seidosha, (Interview at Imperial Hotel, Tokyo, dated July 10, 2001)
  • ↑ Interview on Shukan Kinyobi, January 11, 2002
  • ↑ "A Conversation with Tetsuya Chikushi", Shukan Kinyobi / Weekly Friday (January 11, 2002)
  • ↑ "Turning Point [1997-2008]", p. 226
  • ↑ "The Mysterious Town Beyond the Mist", My Japanese Bookshelf
  • ↑ "Anime giant Yasuyoshi Tokuma died Wednesday", AintItCool
  • ↑ ["Hayao Miyazaki Zensho" Film Art Co., Ltd., Seiji Kano (2006)]
  • ↑ "Spirited Away of Ghibli Textbooks", Studio Ghibli, Bungei Shunju (2016)
  • ↑ 75th Academy Awards
  • ↑ IMDB Event
  • ↑ Berlin International Film Festival ]

External Links [ ]

Official Sites

Ghibli Logo



  • Spirited Away on Wikipedia

Navigation [ ]

  • 3 Susuwatari

Screen Rant

What no-face represents in spirited away.

No-Face is a significant part of Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away, and his character traits help to explain the higher themes of the animated movie.

  • No-Face in Spirited Away represents loneliness and abandonment, reflecting the isolation Chihiro feels in the spirit world.
  • No-Face's transformation into a destructive monster highlights the consequences of seeking attention and validation in the wrong way.
  • No-Face's mysterious and alluring presence, combined with its unique design inspired by traditional Japanese theater, has made it an iconic character in pop culture.

Chihiro meets many characters throughout the course of Spirited Away , and each one helps build on the themes of the movie, including the No-Face Spirited Away character, who represents very important aspects of Hayao Miyazaki’s 2001 animated feature. In Spirited Away, Chihiro is transported to the spirit world, specifically a bathhouse for spirits. There she meets a number of employees and guests, including a strange entity she refers to as No-Face. This creature is a tall, vaguely humanoid-shaped, nearly transparent black blob. The only identifying characteristic of No-Face is his expressionless, smiling white mask, which covers his actual, much larger mouth.

The No-Face Spirited Away character only speaks by making an “ ah-ing ” noise. That is until he begins consuming employees of the bathhouse whole and using their voices, before coughing them back up unharmed. This spirit is a significant creature in Spirited Away , and his presence is a piece of why the movie was received with such high critical acclaim. Spirited Away won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, and it appears on many lists of the best animated films of all time . Despite its designation as a children’s film, Spirited Away has themes that resonate with people of all ages, and No-Face represents some of its more mature ideas.

Spirited Away ending montage.

Spirited Away Ending, Explained

No-face represents loneliness & abandonment.

Chihiro and No face on the train in Spirited Away

When Chihiro goes into the spirit world in Spirited Away , she is truly lost and alone. The film sees her grow into a more capable, confident, and self-realized young woman and one of the best female characters in a Studio Ghibli movie . Before she grows, her isolation as a human in the spirit world is almost total. Only Haku and Kamaji show her anything resembling kindness, and even then, there is still initially a distance between them. The No-Face Spirited Away character is that loneliness and abandonment Chihiro feels made manifest. When Spirited Away first introduces the character, he is outside the bathhouse, unsure if he's able to come inside.

No one pays No-Face any attention in Spirited Away until Chihiro invites him into the bathhouse. For once, someone shows No-Face love and connection, but having been devoid of it for so long, he is unable to cope when he is granted it. Once No-Face is in the bathhouse, he receives the wrong kind of attention, and he ends up transforming into a destructive monster, making Spirited Away feel like a horror movie for a few minutes. It’s only when No-Face is removed from the bathhouse and Chihiro does not abandon him that he returns to normal, realizing that he does not need to spend gold to impress Chihiro.

No-Face Further Emphasizes Spirited Away's Themes

No-Face and Chihiro sitting at a table with Zeniba having tea and snacks in Spirited Away.

The No-Face Spirited Away character is a representation of what being abandoned and lonely can do to someone. One of the major themes of Spirited Away is the idea that loneliness can be a black hole that traps everything. No-Face is quite literally a black hole, in his color, his shape, and his ability to consume everything. When No-Face finds his purpose at Zeniba’s house and is appreciated for who he is rather than the gold he gives, he finally finds a home. This mirrors when Chihiro realizes she isn’t alone with Haku, Boh, and other employees of the bathhouse and has the confidence to find her way home.

What Makes No Face So Iconic In Pop Culture

Lin yelling at No-face from her boat in Spirited Away

Though the No-Face Spirited Away character doesn't appear much in the film, No-Face has become one of the most iconic animated characters and holds a huge position in pop culture. However, it's exactly the lack of No-Face screen time that makes the character so fascinating. The lack of screen time along with the mystery sounding the character is what makes it so alluring. Without researching the character, it isn't clear whether No-Face is a human, a spirit, or something completely different. The simple but creative look of No-Face, as well as its resemblance to the traditional Japanese stage drama Noh, also make the Spirited Away character a pop culture staple.


  • by Shawn S. Lealos, Zachary Moser
  • ScreenRant.com

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  • How <i>Spirited Away</i> Changed Animation Forever

How Spirited Away Changed Animation Forever

T wenty years ago, on July 20, 2001, a film that would become one of the most celebrated animated movies of all time hit theaters in Japan. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki and produced by Studio Ghibli, Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, titled Spirited Away in English, would leave an indelible mark on animation in the 21st century. The movie arrived at a time when animation was widely perceived as a genre solely for children, and when cultural differences often became barriers to the global distribution of animated works. Spirited Away shattered preconceived notions about the art form and also proved that, as a film created in Japanese with elements of Japanese folklore central to its core, it could resonate deeply with audiences around the world.

The story follows an ordinary 10-year-old girl, Chihiro, as she arrives at a deserted theme park that turns out to be a realm of gods and spirits. After an overeating incident leads her parents to turn into literal pigs, Chihiro must work in a bathhouse that serves otherworldly customers in order to survive and find a way to return home.

Imaginative and inspired, Spirited Away immerses the viewer in a fantastical world that at once astounds and alarms. Many of the deities are based on figures in Japanese folklore, and part of the Japanese title itself, kamikakushi , refers to the concept of disappearance from being taken away by gods. The story is also a tale of resilience and persistence, as Chihiro gradually draws on her inner strength to endure this land where humans are designed to perish.

In a 2001 interview with Animage, Miyazaki said he had an intended audience in mind for the film. “We have made [My Neighbor] Totoro , which was for small children, Laputa , in which a boy sets out on a journey, and Kiki’s Delivery Service , in which a teenager has to live with herself. We have not made a film for 10-year-old girls, who are in the first stage of their adolescence,” he said, as translated by Ryoko Toyama . “I wondered if I could make a movie in which they could be heroines.”

spirited away explained

Spirited Away would go on to resonate far beyond its target demographic. Immediately upon release, the film broke the opening weekend record in Japan by earning $13.1 million over three days . It beat previous numbers set by another one of Miyazaki’s films, 1997’s Princess Mononoke . Spirited Away went on to become Japan’s highest-grossing film of all-time, and held the record for 19 years, surpassing $300 million at the local box office last year after the movie was re-released. (It was eclipsed soon after by Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train in December.) .

In the years following Spirited Away ’s premiere, the film traveled widely as it was screened at international film festivals and released theatrically around the world. In 2020, it became available to even more audiences when it entered Netflix’s catalog in dozens of countries and joined HBO Max ’s catalog in the U.S. when the platform launched with a Studio Ghibli collection. Two decades later, the story of Chihiro continues to reach new audiences, including through new formats: a stage adaptation of Spirited Away directed by John Caird ( Les Misérables ) and produced by the Japanese entertainment company Toho, which originally distributed the Miyazaki film in Japan, is set to premiere in 2022 .

For its 20th anniversary, TIME looks back at Spirited Away ’s historic path from Japanese blockbuster to Oscar winner, its U.S. release by Disney following a complicated history between Miyazaki and foreign distributors, and the film’s lasting impact on Japanese animation and beyond.

The significance of Spirited Away ’s box office records and awards

Spirited Away raked in $234 million , overtaking Titanic to become Japan’s highest-grossing film. Its commercial success helped make animation “a very significant, legitimate film genre in Japan,” says Dr. Shiro Yoshioka, a lecturer in Japanese Studies at Newcastle University’s School of Modern Languages and author of the chapter “Heart of Japaneseness: History and Nostalgia in Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away” in Japanese Visual Culture . He explains that its popularity had a compounding effect on that of another Studio Ghibli release from four years earlier. “ Princess Mononoke was already successful and put animation on the map in Japan,” he says of the 1997 film that was Japan’s box office leader before being unseated by Titanic . “Until then, animation or anime was more like a niche genre,” Yoshioka explains

Dr. Rayna Denison, who wrote the chapter “The Global Markets for Anime: Miyazaki Hayao’s Spirited Away” in Japanese Cinema: Texts and Contexts and is a senior lecturer at the University of East Anglia, says that while Studio Ghibli films had been growing in Japan’s box office since Kiki’s Delivery Service was released in 1989, Spirited Away was able to reach blockbuster status—surpassing records previously set by movies like E.T. and Jurassic Park . “It’s a major shift in the local market proving that films from Japan could be the equivalent of, in blockbuster terms, big Hollywood movies,” Denison says.

spirited away explained

International critical acclaim soon followed the film’s domestic commercial success. At the 2002 Berlin International Film Festival, Spirited Away was a co-recipient of the Golden Bear, the first animated feature to win the highest prize in the festival’s history. In 2003, Spirited Away was awarded Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards, becoming the first—and to this day, only—non-English-language movie to win the award.

“The fact that a non-Western, Japanese animated film would win major awards from two major Western sources was a very big shot in the arm to the Japanese animation industry,” says Dr. Susan Napier, author of Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art and a professor at Tufts University. There was also special significance to Spirited Away taking the Oscar win during only the second year after the Best Animated Feature category was created. ( Shrek was the first movie to win the category.) “For so long, cartoons have been seen in the West—America in particular—as kind of childish, vulgar, things that you didn’t take seriously,” Napier explains. When Spirited Away took home the Academy Award, Napier says, “people were starting to say, wow, what’s all this about animation that it’s getting its own category, that it’s considered a real art form.”

According to Yoshioka, the Oscar win was hugely important for Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli and Japanese animation more broadly. “It made Japanese animation a more global film genre rather than very niche,” he explains, noting that animation was no longer perceived to be content strictly for otaku, a term often used to describe passionate fans of Japanese culture who heavily consume entertainment like anime and manga.

Disney’s partnership with Studio Ghibli and the complicated history behind it

A major component of Spirited Away ’s global popularity was the partnership between Tokuma Shoten, then the parent company of Studio Ghibli, and Disney. Forged in 1996, the agreement gave Disney the home video rights to a handful of Studio Ghibli films in addition to the theatrical rights for distributing Princess Mononoke outside of Japan. Disney would later acquire the home video and theatrical rights to Spirited Away in North America.

But this partnership had a rocky history. Miyazaki was wary of foreign distribution for his films after the director’s 1984 movie Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind was infamously edited by Manson International for its U.S. release. A full 22 minutes were cut from the original film, and it was promoted as Warriors of the Wind with posters featuring male characters who do not appear in the movie .

“The distributors edited the film in such a way that it’s become almost like a kind of children’s adventure story, there’s no nuance,” says Yoshioka, noting that the movie, which follows the heroine Nausicaä in a post-apocalyptic world, has a layered plot. “The assumption behind the editing was that American audiences wouldn’t understand the storyline, because in the States and in many Western countries, the assumption was that animation was for children.”

The heavy editing of Nausicaä was part of the reason why, when the U.S. release for Princess Mononoke was in the works, Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki sent Harvey Weinstein—who led Miramax, which was handling the film’s American distribution— a samurai sword with the note, “no cuts.” The movie hit U.S. theaters in its uncut form in 1999, but did not perform strongly at the box office—grossing $2.3 million for the initial release. Napier says it’s hard to pinpoint why the film didn’t quite catch on. “Maybe at that point people weren’t quite ready for it. It was another kind of dark film, it had an ambiguous ending,” she says. “It also doesn’t have a conventional good-versus-evil kind of plot which American audiences tend to expect.”

By the time of Spirited Away ’s limited release in the States in 2002, Napier says that Disney was more familiar with Miyazaki as a brand. Another major difference from Princess Mononoke was that Pixar’s John Lasseter, who had long been a fan of the Japanese director, was at the helm of Spirited Away ’s distribution and English adaptation efforts. “That kind of industrial support from people in America that were, at the time, very well respected in the animation world was really important to raising Miyazaki’s profile, raising the profile of Studio Ghibli,” Denison says. Lasseter and Disney boosted Spirited Away ’s visibility in America by heavily campaigning for the film to be considered for the Academy Awards, including with a full-page advertisement in Variety . “They were very, very careful to push the film to the foreground to keep it in everybody’s minds,” she says. “And I think, in no small part, that’s one of the reasons it succeeded and won the Best Animated Feature.”

spirited away explained

Drawing in $10 million , the film did not see huge success in U.S. theaters. But Yoshioka says that, in contrast to Princess Mononoke, it was the first Studio Ghibli movie to reach a broader American audience. It also attracted significant viewership beyond the U.S, grossing around $6 million in France , for instance, and more than $11 millio in South Korea.

How Spirited Away influenced animation

Spirited Away is not just the only non-English-language animated film to have won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature, it’s also the only hand-drawn animated film to receive the honor. Nearly all of the other winners are computer-animated works. “ Spirited Away comes at a time when there’s a big changeover happening in Japanese animation, and more and more people are using computers rather than traditional two-dimensional, cel-based animation,” Denison says, referring to the technique in which every frame is drawn by hand. The film incorporated computer animation, but sparingly.

“As a viewer, it’s very subtle and nicely done. It still looks like 2-D, more traditional film animation,” says Dr. Mari Nakamura, a lecturer of modern Japanese studies and international relations at Leiden University. “This is very characteristic of Japanese animation in general—how to have a good balance between 2-D and 3-D.” And while many studios have left behind two-dimensional animation over the decades, the style has remained core to Studio Ghibli’s style. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly last May, Studio Ghibli’s Suzuki talked about the hand-drawing process for Miyazaki’s upcoming film, How Do You Live? “We have 60 animators, but we are only able to come up with one minute of animation in a month,” he said. “That means 12 months a year, you get 12 minutes worth of movie.” It’s a painstaking process, but one that has undeniably shaped the singular animation aesthetic of Miyazaki films.

There is, indeed, plenty to think about in Spirited Away for audiences of all ages. Napier says that in addition to the aesthetic impact of the film, there has also been a psychological one. “This willingness to see children in a dark and scary world, the possibilities of children having to confront dark and scary things on their own,” Napier says, “A number of anime were already dealing with it before Spirited Away , but I think after that it becomes even more of an important motif in Japanese animation.”

She draws similarities between Spirited Away and Makoto Shinkai’s 2016 film Your Name— Japan’s fifth highest-grossing movie of all time —which tells the story of two high school students, one boy and one girl, mysteriously swapping bodies. “Both stories, although they’re very different, really are about young people confronting very strange, destabilized worlds,” Napier says. Like Chihiro, whose name is taken away by the sorceress Yubaba and becomes “Sen” as she begins work in the bathhouse, the characters Taki and Mitsuha in Your Name lose their identities through the body switches. Napier hypothesizes that these themes relating to uncertainty are connected to a dominant feeling in the 21st century of children being more on their own and feeling at a loss. “I think one reason why these films are so popular is that they do recognize and acknowledge that the world can be scary, and that we don’t always know what’s going to happen to us,” Napier adds.

Outside of Japan, Miyazaki has inspired filmmakers from Wes Anderson to Guillermo del Toro . In the case of the latter, Napier says that there are clear similarities between Spirited Away and del Toro’s 2006 live-action fantasy Pan’s Labyrinth . That movie’s main character, 10-year-old Ofelia, is taken to the countryside to a new home like Chihiro was. Napier describes a scene in Pan’s Labyrinth ’s opening sequence, in which Ofelia gets out of the car and enters the forest, as a direct homage to Spirited Away . “She sees a kind of stone image that is so overtly similar to an early scene in Spirited Away when Chihiro confronts a stone image,” Napier explains.

And while not specific to Spirited Away , Pixar’s Lasseter —who directed films including Toy Story , Cars and A Bug’s Life and in 2018 left the company after allegations of sexual misconduct —has long spoken of his admiration for Miyazaki’s works. In Toy Story 3 , the character of Totoro even makes a cameo as a plushie. Napier points to a later Pixar film that she thinks “really clearly shows influences from Spirited Away ”: the 2015 movie Inside Out. “ It’s about a young girl who is, as with Spirited Away, leaving her old home for a new one,” Napier says. “She’s being confronted by a variety of challenges and emotions.” Napier adds that it’s another example of a female protagonist carrying the film, something that has only become slightly more prevalent in the last decade after Pixar’s history of centering male protagonists.

Spirited Away embaced as a classic, 20 years later

As Denison puts it, “This is a film made by a master animator at the height of his powers and it is one where the quality of the animation really does set it apart from everything else around it. Nobody else was making films that looked like this or that were as inventive as this was at this time.”

To Yoshioka, one reason why Spirited Away continues to be adored two decades after its release is its ambiguous nature. “It’s not entirely clear when watching for the first time what the story is about,” he says, adding that earlier Miyazaki films often had clearer themes. Spirited Away can be interpreted in numerous ways by the viewer. “This sort of elastic or enigmatic feature is key for the film to be loved as a classic,” he says. In this way, even 20 years on, Spirited Away is a movie that can be watched and rewatched, pondered in solitude or mulled over in company, the film’s meticulously crafted and intricately designed visuals washing over you with each new viewing.

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The Mythology Behind Spirited Away

Many of the characters in Spirited Away are based on Japanese mythology. Understanding their origins gives this classic movie an even deeper meaning.

The following contains spoilers for Spirited Away.

Spirited Away is one of Studio Ghibli 's most famous and beloved movies, both in Japan and abroad. The story and characters have captivated the hearts of so many people over the years, and its popularity has not died down no matter how many new movies Studio Ghibli has made. But did you know that many of the characters and themes in the movie are actually based on characters from Japanese mythology and folklore?

Understanding their inspirations and origins can help bring a whole new level of understanding to Spirited Away 's already heartwarming and charming story. While in Japan, most people would be able to instantly make the connections between these characters and their cultural counterparts, others who are less familiar with Japanese folklore may miss the deeper meanings behind them. Nearly all the characters at the bathhouse that Chihiro becomes trapped in have some basis in Japanese mythos, and we will look at a few of the most famous ones.

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Chihiro's Journey


The very premise of Spirited Away , the story of a young girl who is taken in by gods and works for them in their bathhouse, is based on the traditional Japanese belief of "kamikakushi." This idea believes that sometimes spirits take away children, and throughout history has been used as a comfort for parents who lose their children. Believing that they were taken by the gods is better than accepting a far darker reality of where their child has gone.

Another small detail important to Chihiro's journey is that she both enters and leaves the spiritual realm through a tunnel. According to Japanese superstition, traveling through tunnels can lead people into another world . The tunnel serves as the gateway between the human world and that of the spirits, and when Chihiro finally exits through it once again she is able to go back to her regular life.

Yubaba (Spirited Away)

One of the most memorable characters in Spirited Away is Yubaba, the old lady who runs the bathhouse and entraps Chihiro and her parents. Yubaba is depicted as a huge old woman with magic powers, who cares greatly for her giant baby and will do anything to protect him. She is also shown as cold and unforgiving to everyone else, and threatens to eat Chihiro's parents, whom she has turned into pigs, if Chihiro is not able to choose them from a group of other pigs.

Yubaba is based on the legend of a Japanese mountain witch known as "yamauba." According to the legend, yamauba are old women who do indeed turn humans into animals with the intent to eat them, which is exactly what Yubaba does to Chihiro's parents. On the flip side, yamauba are also nurturing mothers who have children many times a year and care very deeply for their families. This trait is shown in how much Yubaba cares for her baby, and how she does everything she can to care for him despite her attitude towards others.

Chihiro and Haku in Spirited Away.

One of the most popular characters in Spirited Away around the word is Haku, the boy who helps Chihiro at the start of the movie - and whom she eventually helps in return. While Haku can take the form of a human boy, his true form is revealed to be a flying dragon . What's more, near the end of the film Chihiro realises he is actually the embodiment of the Nigihayami Kohakunushi, the "god of the swift amber river" (simply called the Kohaku River in the English dub).

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Nigihayami Kohaukunushi is likely a reference to the old Japanese tale of Nigiyahahi, a man who betrayed his brother-in-law and took the side of the emperor. Haku is also set up to betray everyone at the beginning of the movie, hoping to learn Yubaba's magic for himself at the cost of his friends, especially the trust of Kamaji. He is also a known thief, stealing from Yubaba's sister. However, this is where the mythos and the movie part ways, because Haku's path is changed by Chihiro's positive influence.

kamaji from spirited away

Kamaji is the many-limbed man who works the boiler room at the bathhouse, and who helps both Chihiro and Haku when they are in trouble. He is based on a spider-like yokai, a Japanese spirit, called "tsuchigumo."

This term has also been used throughout Japanese traditional literature to refer to people who are lesser, defy Imperial authority , and are often depicted as living in pits. In Spirited Away, Yubaba can be seen as the Imperial authority, living at the top of the bathhouse while Kamaji works hard in the basement. He does not openly fight against her, but he does defy her by helping Chihiro and Haku.

Other Yokai

Spirited Away

In the background of the bathhouse, there are a lot of other spirits you can see. Many are based on designs inspired by many yokai traditions, though most have been changed a bit according to Hayao Miyazaki's creative vision. One of the most memorable ones, known as the Radish Spirit in the English dub , has a very different name in Japanese - Oshirisama.

While Oshirisama is the name of a god of agriculture in the Shinto belief, the character is likely based on a very different set of traditional Japanese dolls. They look nothing like radishes, however, and are instead connected to the story Tamaya-Gozen, and look like a horse and a woman. The Radish Spirit is just one example of how the original folklore has been changed for the story, but the roots are still there.

There is a lot that we can learn from watching Studio Ghibli films, and Spirited Away specifically teaches us a bit more about Japanese traditional stories and myths. Understanding the superstitions and beliefs behind some of these concepts and characters can add a whole new level of understanding to the film. And knowing how Miyazaki also diverted from and reimagined the traditional story to create his own is significant, too! The next time you watch Spirited Away , keep your eyes open for how many yokai you can see, and what details in the story now make a little more sense since you know their origin.

MORE: The Best Ghibli Songs, Ranked

Sources: FilmSchoolRejects , CMU.edu , Anime Herald , Syfy

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Spirited Away (2001) | The Definitive Explanation

Spirited Away (2001) | The Definitive Explanation

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Welcome to our Colossus Movie Guide for Spirited Away . This guide contains everything you need to understand the film. Dive into our detailed library of content, covering key aspects of the movie. We encourage your comments to help us create the best possible guide. Thank you!

What is Spirited Away about?

Spirited Away is a profound tale of metamorphosis, of change both frightening and liberating. As a coming-of-age movie, it captures the essence of the universal transformative journey, not as a mere physical relocation but as a voyage of personal evolution.

The film centers around young Chihiro, a modern-day Alice in her own labyrinthine Wonderland, as she grapples with her own transition from child to adolescent. The spirit world that traps her is a metaphorical maze of her nascent adulthood, filled with symbols that echo realities she has yet to fully comprehend. This is essentially the meaning of the analytical storytelling term defamiliarization: make the incredibly familiar incredibly unfamiliar. By doing so, you can highlight the aspects of situations that heighten our awareness and emotions.

While fear, loneliness, and bewildering chaos pervade her sphere, Spirited Away balances these anxieties with an exploration of resilience, identity, and compassion. The film emphasizes the value of resourcefulness and courage in the face of adversity. Chihiro, initially a symbol of youthful naiveté, gradually matures into an embodiment of moral strength and determination, providing a model for navigating the complex transition of growing up.

Concurrently, the film underscores the concept of identity, portrayed through Chihiro’s name change to Sen, which becomes part of an ongoing struggle for self-recognition and preservation in a world that persistently seeks to erase personal identities. While traversing this otherworldly realm, the true battle lies in holding onto oneself.

Movie Guide table of contents

  • Why is the movie called Spirited Away?

The themes and meaning of Spirited Away

The ending of spirited away explained, important motifs in spirited away.

  • Questions & answers about Spirited Away
  • Chihiro Ogino/Sen – Rumi Hiiragi
  • Haku – Miyu Irino
  • Yubaba – Mari Natsuki
  • Zeniba – Mari Natsuki
  • Lin – Yoomi Tamai
  • Chichiyaku – Tsunehiko Kamijō
  • No-Face – Akio Nakamura
  • Akio Ogino – Takashi Naito
  • Yūko Ogino – Yasuko Sawaguchi
  • Aniyaku – Takehiko Ono
  • Kamaji – Bunta Sugawara
  • Hayao Miyazaki – Writer and director

Why is the movie called Spirited Away ?

A woman and a child walk down a tunnel

Like many titles, Spirited Away has both a literal and symbolic meaning. The literal interpretation is simple: we witness Chihiro, a young girl, being whisked away to an unknown land. Here, she is forced to fend for yourself without the help of her parents. It comes at a time when Chihiro is scared of moving to a new town with her family and having to make new friends. But the movie ups the ante by forcing Chihiro to make that journey in a fantastical world with absurd rules.

Most Studio Ghibli films are fantastic at creating metaphors for coming-of-age experiences. But Spirited Away, a film that fittingly won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and at one time was the highest-grossing film in Japanese history, might be the most spectacular example of defamiliarization—a storytelling technique that focuses on making the unfamiliar feel very familiar. Mysterious, uncontrollable forces have brought Chihiro to an unknown land that resembles a twisted version real world. The rules are similar yet contorted, and the pressures are amplified. As she matures from a sheltered child into a resilient, resourceful individual in this adjacent realm, she’s readying herself for the real world—that’s the frame of this film.

Kamikakushi is a Japanese term that translates literally to “hidden by spirits” or “spirited away.” It’s derived from “kami” which means “god” or “spirit” and “kakushi” which means “hidden.” In the traditional Japanese context, this term refers to the phenomenon of people or things mysteriously disappearing, often attributed to the actions of supernatural entities or spirits.

This term is reflected in the title of Spirited Away —aka Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi , which directly translates to “Sen and Chihiro’s Spiriting Away.” The word “spirit” is where we can begin to peel back the profound layers of this film. Because it isn’t just Chihiro’s physical body that travels away from the human world to this strange abandoned theme park—it’s her inner being, her essence, her very soul.

When you’re young, life passes by at 100 miles an hour. We’re often playing catch-up and trying to keep in step with each passing moment. If we think about the future, we might think about getting old or accruing wealth. We are taught how to best position ourselves to find a job or find love. But absolutely nothing can prepare us for the spiritual journey we all inevitably face.

That can feel as crazy and daunting as what Chihiro undergoes in the film: a spiritual metamorphosis. It’s a similar formula used by other coming-of-age films, but Spirited Away focuses purely on her metaphysical transformation.

Fittingly, Chihiro is given a new name in this world, Sen. She is stripped of her mortal and mundane identity and forced to start from scratch. With reality gone, you could argue that only Chihiro’s “spirit” is left. Thus, she is “spirited away.”

And without all the mortal anxieties that had previously flooded her life, she is forced to solely focus on her spiritual growth. She is given a fresh start from the beginning, a blank slate, and tasked with constructing a person who has the power and determination to not only survive in a scary world, but thrive in it. In order to prosper and blossom in this strange new land, she must reflect on the transient nature of our existence. She must accept the inevitability of change. She must learn to be resilient in facing the ceaseless flux of life.

At the end of the movie when Chihiro leaves the spirit realm and returns to her parents, she has experienced a spiritual awakening. She is calmer, more empathetic, more compassionate, and mentally prepared for the obstacles of life. Her spirit goes away troubled, but comes back peaceful.

An old woman's hand magically grabs someone's signature

Spiritual growth and transformation

As discussed in the title section , Chihiro’s physical body isn’t just whisked away to a strange land—her spirit goes as well. And here, her spirit’s name is Sen. And Chihiro is completely reliant on Sen in order to survive this scary world. She must look to Sen to be strong when she feels weak, to show bravery when she’s scared, to resilient when she believes there’s no way to win. People who cannot overcome their anxieties and deal with the real world will forever feel stagnant or lost. But Chihiro’s persistence and perseverance in the face of impossible odds displays her transformation from scared and apprehensive child to courageous and confident young woman. Sen is her guide on that journey.

Essentially, what we witness is Chihiro’s spiritual growth. While most coming-of-age films focus on the internal growth, they rarely defamiliarize the scenario by literally removing one’s spirit from our mortal realm. In this new world, Chihiro is entirely reliant on her spirit to forge ahead. If her spirit is weak, then she is weak. But as Chihiro’s spirit grows and deepens, her tenacity and willpower break new grounds. As Sen develops, Chihiro watches and learns and understands and evolves. She becomes more emotionally intelligent, her heart warms and strengthens, and her understanding of the world expands.

This is the energy she brings back to the real world when she returns to her parents at the end of the movie. She’s no longer scared about moving to a new town because she is spiritually centered.

Japanese philosophy in Spirited Away

Chihiro’s spiritual growth is deeply intertwined with Japanese folklore and philosophy and spirituality. These topics pervade Spirited Away , often subtly, adding depth and cultural specificity to the narrative that might go unnoticed by those unfamiliar with Japanese traditions. Let’s discuss three important facets that will enhance your understanding of the film: Kami, Mottainai, and On.

The role of Kami

In Spirited Away , the concept of Kami, or spirits, forms the fundamental structure of the narrative, shaping the world Chihiro finds herself in. From the very beginning, when Chihiro’s family stumbles upon what seems to be an abandoned amusement park, we are actually witnessing a realm deeply rooted in the Shinto belief system, where Kami—which ranges from those little spiders to the swamp monster to No-Face—dwell and are revered.

The bathhouse, for example is populated by a variety of these Kami, each representing different elements and aspects of nature. They take on myriad forms, from the mysterious No-Face to the radish spirit and the many other unusual patrons of Yubaba’s bathhouse. These spirits—which at first seem like monsters to Chihiro—symbolize the profound Shinto reverence for all aspects of nature, highlighting the belief that every natural element, object, or concept houses a divine spirit.

Spirited Away presents the concept of Kami not as distant, superior beings, but as entities that exist within the same realm as humans, sharing in their joys and struggles. They display human-like emotions and traits, blurring the lines between the mortal and the divine. This aligns with the Shinto philosophy that views the spiritual and physical worlds as interconnected rather than separate. For instance, take the river spirit Haku, who becomes Chihiro’s ally. His identity as the spirit of the Kohaku River, and his story of saving Chihiro when she fell into the river as a child, underline the protective nature often attributed to Kami in Shinto beliefs.

In Spirited Away , the concept of Kami provides a spiritual framework for the narrative. It plays a critical role in shaping the setting, characters, and the themes, infusing the film with a sense of spirituality and natural reverence intrinsic to Japanese culture.

The principle of Mottainai

The principle of Mottainai, deeply ingrained in Japanese culture, embodies a sense of regret towards waste, valuing the complete utilization of an object or resource. In Spirited Away , this concept emphasizes a sense of respect for resources and a critique of wasteful behaviors.

The theme of Mottainai is most evident in the character of the Stink Spirit, who visits the bathhouse. What initially appears as a disgusting, filthy creature is revealed to be a river spirit, polluted and choked by waste, a vivid symbol of environmental degradation caused by human negligence and overconsumption. When Chihiro helps cleanse the spirit, pulling out tons of human waste and pollution, it is a direct commentary on our wasteful practices. This scene emphasizes the Mottainai principle by showcasing the harmful effects of not valuing and preserving our resources, particularly natural ones.

This theme is also reflected in the transformation of Chihiro’s parents into pigs after gorging themselves on food in the deserted amusement park. Their mindless consumption, without respect or consideration for the resources at hand, manifests the concept of Mottainai by demonstrating the potential consequences of greed and wastefulness.

By incorporating the principle of Mottainai into its narrative, Spirited Away offers a poignant critique of excessive consumption and waste, while promoting a more respectful and sustainable approach to our environment and resources.

The influence of On

The principle of On, a key tenet of Japanese ethics that signifies a sense of moral indebtedness, plays a significant role in the character development and narrative progression of Spirited Away . It is through the lens of On that we can appreciate Chihiro’s actions and motivations throughout the movie.

Chihiro’s journey to rescue her parents is initiated and motivated by the concept of On. Haku, the river spirit, helps Chihiro survive in the spirit world when she first arrives, offering her food from the spirit world to prevent her from disappearing. This act of kindness creates a sense of On in Chihiro. She feels a deep sense of obligation towards Haku and, as the film progresses, her actions reflect her endeavor to repay this debt. She risks her own safety to get the medicinal herb to heal Haku, and later, she helps Haku remember his true name, thus freeing him from the witch Yubaba’s control.

Moreover, Chihiro’s treatment of No-Face also resonates with the concept of On. Even though No-Face is an outsider, feared and eventually despised by the bathhouse inhabitants, Chihiro consistently treats him with kindness. When No-Face spirals into a destructive rampage, it is Chihiro who offers him help, primarily motivated by the kindness No-Face showed her earlier.

The principle of On thus becomes a moral compass in Spirited Away , driving the protagonist to act with kindness and courage. It is a testament to the fact that in a world undergoing constant transformation, the values of gratitude, reciprocity, and responsibility hold steadfast.

A boy and a girl hold hands as they float in the sky

A recap of Spirited Away ’s ending

No-Face is rampantly consuming large quantities of food and begins to devour the workers as well. Up in the penthouse, a hidden shikigami transforms into Zeniba, Yubaba’s twin sister, turning Yubaba’s baby boy, Boh, into a tiny mouse. Chihiro, Haku, and Boh tumble into the boiler room, where Chihiro gives Haku a piece of dumpling that will make No-Face vomit. This leads to Haku throwing up the stolen seal, lifting the lethal curse off him. Determined to return the seal and apologize to Zeniba, Chihiro decides to take Boh along.

She faces a bloated No-Face, who confesses his intense loneliness. Chihiro gives No-Face the remaining dumpling, leading him to follow her out of the bathhouse while slowly expelling all he had consumed. Lin guides Chihiro to the train station to visit Zeniba’s house at Swamp Bottom, and despite Lin’s objections, Chihiro encourages No-Face to tag along. Accompanied by No-Face and Boh, Chihiro travels using tickets provided by Kamaji. Meanwhile, Yubaba orders the execution of Chihiro’s parents, but Haku discloses Boh’s absence.

In exchange for bringing back Boh, Haku proposes a deal for the release of Chihiro and her parents. Yubaba consents, but only if Chihiro can successfully accomplish a last challenge. Chihiro visits Zeniba, who creates a magical hairband for her. Haku, in his dragon form, appears, and together with Chihiro and Boh, he departs for the bathhouse, leaving No-Face in Zeniba’s care. While in flight, Chihiro realizes Haku’s true identity as the spirit of the Kohaku River. Upon arrival, Chihiro successfully completes Yubaba’s challenge by claiming that none of the pigs are her parents, earning her the right to leave. Haku promises to meet her again, but she departs the spirit world with her oblivious parents, who have no memory of events post the initial restaurant visit.

Chihiro’s compassion for No-Face

The relationship between Chihiro and No-Face evolves from initial fear and misunderstanding to a deeper mutual respect and empathy. This evolution reflects the personal growth Chihiro experiences throughout the story.

No-Face initially appears as a silent, mysterious figure who is neither harmful nor particularly helpful. As the narrative progresses, No-Face becomes more dangerous and unpredictable, driven by loneliness, a desire for companionship, and the misguided belief that he can buy affection and attention through consumption and gift-giving. These attributes can be seen as a reflection of unchecked desire, consumerism, and the problems they can create.

Chihiro’s interactions with No-Face are key in her maturation process. While she initially fears him due to his alien nature, she does not reject him outright. Instead, she shows him kindness, giving him the attention he craves. When No-Face’s consumption becomes destructive, it is Chihiro who takes responsibility, feeds him the emetic dumpling, and guides him away from the bathhouse, a place that had amplified his negative behaviors. Her empathy, courage, and decisiveness in handling No-Face indicate her growth from a timid, scared child to a wise, brave young woman.

In terms of Shinto beliefs, No-Face can be viewed through the lens of Kami (a concept we discussed in the themes section ), a term that describes the spirits or phenomena that are worshiped in the religion. Kami can be elements of the landscape, forces of nature, or spirits of the deceased, among others. They are not inherently good or evil but can bring fortune or disaster depending on how they are treated.

No-Face’s character aligns with this concept. He is sensitive to the environment and the behaviors of those around him, taking on the greed and gluttony prevalent in the bathhouse. When treated with kindness and respect by Chihiro, however, he calms down and becomes less destructive. This dynamic mirrors the Shinto belief that maintaining a respectful and balanced relationship with Kami is crucial for harmony.

Thus, No-Face’s role underscores one of the major themes of the film: that actions have consequences, and treating others with kindness and respect—regardless of who they are or how they appear—is a sign of maturity and wisdom. This understanding is a key part of Chihiro’s personal growth and forms an essential lesson in her coming-of-age journey. This is representative of her spiritual growth and why she’s ready for Yubaba’s final test.

Haku’s true identity

Chihiro and Haku’s relationship in Spirited Away is crucial to Chihiro’s transformation and self-discovery, representing her progression from dependence to interdependence, and mirroring her journey towards self-empowerment and maturity. When she remembers Haku’s true identity as the Kohaku River, it’s representative of her spiritual growth and brings resolution to several of the film’s themes.

Initially, Haku appears as Chihiro’s guide, protector, and mentor in the spirit world. He helps her navigate the initially overwhelming world of the bathhouse, instructing her on how to survive, introducing her to her tasks, and providing comfort in a scary, unknown world. This dynamic represents Chihiro’s initial state of dependence and lack of self-confidence.

However, as the story unfolds, Chihiro grows in courage and determination. She begins to take initiative and responsibility for her actions, and this transformation is exemplified in her relationship with Haku. When Haku is cursed and falls into a near-death state, Chihiro becomes his protector, showing initiative and bravery to save him. She takes a perilous journey to Zeniba to return the stolen magical seal, and feeds Haku the medicine that ultimately saves him.

This shift signifies Chihiro’s progression from a dependent child to a young woman capable of making her own decisions and taking care of others. Moreover, her ability to remember Haku’s true name symbolizes her newfound intuition and spiritual growth, showing her ability to see beyond the surface and perceive the deeper truth.

In the film, Haku had forgotten his true name and was under Yubaba’s control because of it. The theme of names and identity is a strong motif in the film, as losing one’s name equates to losing one’s sense of self, and thus, losing freedom. For Haku, being bound to Yubaba symbolizes this loss of personal identity and freedom.

Chihiro, in her process of self-discovery and growth, realizes Haku’s true name. As a child, Chihiro had fallen into the Kohaku River and could have drowned, but the river swept her safely to the shore. By the time she meets Haku in the spirit world, she has forgotten this incident. It’s only when she sees Haku in his dragon form, injured and near-death, that this memory resurfaces. In a moment of intuitive clarity, she remembers not only the incident but also the name of the river: Kohaku. Recognizing this name as Haku’s true name, she is able to break the spell over him.

The significance of this memory is multifold. Firstly, it represents the deep, forgotten connection between Chihiro and Haku. The Kohaku River, which saved Chihiro’s life, and Haku, who guides and protects her in the spirit world, are one and the same. This revelation brings depth to their relationship and shows that their bond was formed long before their encounter in the spirit world.

Secondly, this memory reflects Chihiro’s growth and her increasing spiritual sensitivity. Her ability to recall this memory in a crucial moment signifies her heightened intuition and empathy, the result of her experiences and growth throughout her journey.

Lastly, the revelation of Haku’s true identity through this memory is instrumental in resolving the movie’s central themes of identity, memory, and freedom. By helping Haku remember his true identity, Chihiro asserts the power of selfhood against forces of control and manipulation (as represented by Yubaba), underscoring the importance of remembering one’s roots and the power of names.

Yubaba’s final test

Yubaba’s final test is indicative of Chihiro’s growth throughout the film. At the beginning of the story, Chihiro was a fearful and reliant child who clung to her parents. As she navigates the spirit world, she gains independence, resourcefulness, and intuition. Her assertion that none of the pigs are her parents showcases her confidence and her developed intuitive understanding, qualities that she lacked at the beginning of her journey.

This test also brings resolution to the movie’s key themes. The theme of identity and selfhood is illustrated here as Chihiro displays her newfound wisdom and maturity. Despite Yubaba’s attempt to confuse her, Chihiro stands her ground, asserting her own understanding of her parents’ identity. The theme of love, specifically filial love, is evident in this scene as well. Chihiro’s unwavering determination to save her parents, despite all odds, reflects her deep love and concern for them. Lastly, the theme of freedom and liberation comes into play. By passing Yubaba’s test, Chihiro secures not only her freedom but also the release of her parents. This act symbolizes her triumph over the forces (Yubaba) that seek to control and manipulate others by erasing their identities.

The power of the final shot

With all this context, the very ending of the movie is incredibly satisfying emotionally. When they return to their car, the parents are bewildered that its covered in leaves and branches—a sign that several days (and perhaps weeks) have passed. The parents are consumed by the situation, which seems fairly menial and meaningless given the epic journey Chihiro just experienced. As this simple, everyday problem absorbs them, you can’t help but think about Chihiro’s spiritual growth: she has met strange and fascinating people, she has broadened her emotional intelligence, and she has grown more compassionate and thoughtful. She seems fairly centered in this moment. As her parents discuss the vehicle, she simply stares back at the tunnel where her journey began.

The father calls to Chihiro, “We’re off, Chihiro.” Then the mother, “Chihiro! Hurry up!” There’s something so beautiful about their call, as they have no idea what Chihiro has just gone through. For them, it’s simple: it’s time to go; we need to hurry. But Chihiro is leaving this fantastical land where she learned to remain still, to slow down and appreciate the world around her. It was in this mental state that she gained confidence and strength. She has experienced an intense emotional journey that’s for her and her alone—but that doesn’t mean the world stops. It is time to go. She does need to move on with her life. And you fully believe that in this new town, she’ll be ready to for the next stage of her growth, her maturation, her evolution. She may be leaving this place, but it will forever remain with her. Spiritually.

A little girl and a giant monster face off in a bathhouse

Identity and names

In Spirited Away , names are crucial to the identities of characters. When Yubaba takes away Chihiro’s name, leaving her with the name Sen, it signifies the loss of Chihiro’s identity and freedom. When Haku forgets his name, he becomes Yubaba’s servant, unable to break free. Chihiro’s quest to remember her name and Haku’s is a journey of reclaiming their identities. The restoration of their true names represents personal freedom, self-discovery, and independence. It shows the power of remembering one’s roots and selfhood against forces of manipulation and control.


Environmentalism, though not a direct motif, subtly permeates throughout the film and is closely linked to several of its themes. This motif aligns with director Hayao Miyazaki’s known advocacy for environmental preservation, which is evident in many of his other works.

One of the most significant environmental motifs is the polluted river spirit that comes to the bathhouse. At first, it is so polluted and full of sludge that the bathhouse workers mistake it for a stink spirit. Chihiro, through patience and courage, removes a massive amount of trash from the spirit, revealing its true form: a clean and serene river god. This sequence is a powerful commentary on the impact of pollution on natural resources, illustrating how human disregard for the environment can corrupt and disguise the true beauty of nature. It’s only through conscious effort and respect for the environment that we can restore its purity.

Haku’s identity as the spirit of the Kohaku River, which has been filled in and replaced by apartments, further emphasizes this motif. Haku’s loss of home due to human development reflects real-world issues of environmental destruction for urban expansion.

Greed and gluttony

The film heavily features the theme of greed and gluttony. Chihiro’s parents are transformed into pigs due to their gluttonous consumption of food from the spirit world. No-Face’s rampage in the bathhouse is driven by his desire to consume everything. These instances serve as a commentary on unchecked desire and overconsumption. They highlight the destructive consequences of greed and the importance of self-control and moderation.

Friendship and reciprocity

The bond between Chihiro and Haku, as well as Chihiro’s interactions with other characters like Lin, Kamaji, and No-Face, demonstrate the significance of friendship and mutual assistance. The concept of On—a sense of reciprocal obligation—plays out in these relationships. Chihiro’s willingness to help others even in dire circumstances underscores the importance of kindness, empathy, and reciprocal respect in building and maintaining relationships.

Transformation and growth

Chihiro’s journey from a frightened and dependent child to a resourceful, brave, empathetic young woman is central to the narrative. Her experiences in the spirit world force her to adapt, think on her feet, and act courageously. This motif of transformation is echoed in other characters too: Haku transforms into a dragon; her parents into pigs; No-Face changes with his environment. These transformations signify personal growth, adaptation, and the inherent potential for change within all beings.

Questions & answers about Spirited Away

A little girl and a masked creature sit together on a train

What does No-Face represent?

No-Face is a spirit character who wears a mask and is initially silent. No-Face’s silence and masked identity represent its lack of self and purpose, which it attempts to fill by consuming others and their desires. Its inability to speak suggests its struggle to communicate and connect genuinely, instead mirroring others to gain acceptance. This becomes an important moment of growth for Chihiro, as she recognizes No-Face’s pain and displays empathy by treating it with respect. Chihiro herself felt out of place in this world and needed time to find her voice, so she forms a natural relationship with No-Face.

Why is it significant that Chihiro remembers Haku’s true identity?

The act of Chihiro remembering Haku’s true name and identity as the Kohaku River symbolizes the power of genuine connection and memory in maintaining one’s self in a world that tries to erase it. In the ending section , we discussed that by discovering Haku’s true identity, Chihiro is able to recall a forgotten memory and reconnect with a lost part of her inner self. As a child, she had fallen into the Kohaku River, and the spirit of the river, Haku, saved her. Their reconnection here serves as a metaphor for Chihiro’s kinship with something spiritual that transcends her mortal body.

In the context of Spirited Away , names hold power and are tied to one’s identity and freedom. By remembering Haku’s real name, Chihiro frees him from Yubaba’s control, emphasizing the themes of liberation and the significance of personal identities. Furthermore, this moment showcases Chihiro’s maturity and ability to perceive the truth beneath illusion and deceit.

Why was it so important for Chihiro to get a job in the bathhouse?

Securing a job in the bathhouse was vital for Chihiro’s survival in the spirit world. In the spirit world, everything, including existence, is transactional. Without a job, she would fade away and be incapable of rescuing her parents. Her employment symbolizes her stepping into the responsibilities and complexities of the adult world, underscoring the film’s theme of growth and maturity. Moreover, the job provides her with an opportunity to gain the respect and trust of the bathhouse’s inhabitants, crucial for her journey.

Why is it important for Chihiro to hide that she’s a human?

Chihiro’s human identity is perceived as a threat in the spirit world. Her scent as a human is detectable and alarming to spirits, making her a target of hostility and suspicion. Hiding her human identity protects her from these threats, allowing her to navigate the spirit world safely. Additionally, her effort to conceal her identity reinforces the themes of self-preservation and adaptation in unfamiliar surroundings, mirroring the challenges of transitioning to adulthood.

Why did No-Face go on a rampage in the bathhouse?

No-Face’s rampage in the bathhouse results from its unchecked consumption, symbolizing the dangerous implications of uncontrolled greed and desire. The bathhouse, filled with spirits driven by their own avarice, fuels No-Face’s consumption. Unable to handle these desires, it loses control, resulting in a destructive rampage. This event highlights the theme of materialism and its potential to harm individuals and communities.

Now it’s your turn

Have more unanswered questions about Spirited Away ? Are there themes or motifs we missed? Is there more to explain about the ending? Please post your questions and thoughts in the comments section! We’ll do our best to address every one of them. If we like what you have to say, you could become part of our movie guide!

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Travis is co-founder of Colossus. He writes about the impact of art on his life and the world around us.

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Tv/streaming, collections, great movies, chaz's journal, contributors, chihiro's journey: analyzing "spirited away".

spirited away explained

In July 2012, Roger wrote about viewing “ Spirited Away ” for a third time and how he was then “ struck by a quality between generosity and love. ” It was during that viewing he “ began to focus on the elements in the picture that didn’t need to be there. ” Recently, I was re-reading that essay as I was watching the Blu-ray of "Spirited Away" three times (Japanese, English dub and back to Japanese) back-to-back-to-back. 

Suddenly, I was struck by the visual cues Hayao Miyazaki presents in the beginning of the film that set up the character of Chihiro before she becomes Sen. I called it my A-ha moment.

Chihiro has been characterized as whiny, but I think if you understand her situation and contrast her intuitiveness with her parents' obliviousness, she seems less so. In the real world before she becomes Sen, there is no doubt she is a bit sullen. Not unlike Riley in Pixar's " Inside Out ," she's unhappy with being forced to move away from her friends. Her friends have given her a nice bouquet. If there are five stages of loss and grief (denial/isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance), then Chihiro is at the end of denial, and her comment about how unfortunate it is to get her first bouquet as a farewell gift indicates she is entering anger.

spirited away explained

When her father, Akio, takes the rural street that leads them to what looks like an old unused amusement park, Chihiro picks up cues that her parents do not. She's troubled and a bit frightened by the moss-covered stone statues. Something about them makes her anxious. In this respect, she is not unlike Lucy Pevensie from "The Chronicles of Narnia." Narnia is closed off from children when they reach a certain age in the real world (until death returns Lucy, Edmund, Peter, Digory and Polly). Lucy is the most intuitive of the four Pevensies although she too has a moment of envy that signals she won't be able to return. Chihiro at ten is still more child than adult and thus more intuitive than her parents.

If we consider that Chihiro senses something is wrong, then her pleading with her parents not to enter the tunnel seem less whiny. She becomes Cassandra, a prophet whose warnings go unheeded. Out on the other side, there is a grass meadow and more stone statues. Chihiro's anxiety over the statues isn't the last bit of foreshadowing that Miyazaki provides visually.

In the following scenes, Miyazaki exploits the visual nature of the Japanese language. Japanese is not like English. Instead of an alphabet, it uses two syllabary systems and Chinese characters. The syllabary systems, hiragana and katakana, originated from Chinese characters, but are used to represent syllables. Hiragana is used for post-positionals and parts of words not fully expressed by Chinese characters (such as inflections for verbs and adjectives). Katakana is used for foreign words and onomatopoeia. Chinese characters often symbolize concrete things. Japanese poetry is filled with wordplay and the following scenes are filled with visual cues and words that can have double meanings.

spirited away explained

On the first building we see an incomplete phrase. Alone the character 正 would be read "sho" or "sei" and means right, righteous, justice and genuine, but 正 also suggests 正しい, meaning correct, right, honest and truthful. There's more signs on the shops in the main road. At first casual glance as we go by, it does seem like they are all part of advertising for restaurants, but on closer examination, that proves not to be true.

spirited away explained

When we get to the main street we see the characters 市場 for market (ichiba) and the word 自由 (jiyuu) for freedom. Then there are some disquieting Chinese characters. The mother says that all the places are restaurants. When you see 天 float by you might think 天ぷら (for tempura), but actually the characters are: 天祖 (tensoo) for the ancestral goddess of the sun, Amaterasu. In one frame we see only 天狗 (tengu), with "ten" above and "gu" below.  The character 狗 means dog, but can be used for dog meat (狗肉)which is not commonly eaten in Japan (and could suggest the homophone 苦肉 or "kuniku," which literally means bitter meat meaning a countermeasure that requires personal sacrifice. The character usually used for dog is 犬. Tengu, however, or heavenly dog, a legendary creature or supernatural being (yookai) that can be either harbingers of war or protective spirits of the mountains and forests.

Floating at the corner of one building is 骨 which means bone and it could be a restaurant term as in the creamy broth: 豚骨 (tonkotsu) which is literally pig bone. Yet bone or "hone" is used in idiomatic phrases such as hone-nashi meaning to lack moral backbone.

spirited away explained

Some of the Chinese characters are just a little off, enough to make you think. Most obviously is the one syllabary and one Chinese character that are written backwards when we look above at the arch. The characters are 飢と食と会 which seem to substitute for 飢える (ueru, to starve), 食べる(taberu, to eat)  and 会う(au, to meet). The と signifies "and." It should read eat ( 食べる), drink (飲む) and meet (会う) or something like that, but the last two symbols are backwards on either side. Looking at these, perhaps Chihiro senses something is wrong.

spirited away explained

Further, right before the father Akio turns down a small alleyway, he is framed by the characters for heaven on the left side of the screen and on the right side for devil. Soon after, what he sees is, especially in Japan, a supernaturally large buffet. While he assures Chihiro that he can pay for the feast and we remember he did have that foreign car, a Japanese person might be quickly calculating in their minds the exorbitant cost.

spirited away explained

Chihiro briefly leaves her parents and above her head flashes a sign that reminds us both of family, pigs and death. The character 冢 (tsuka) means hill or mound. Yet this is not the preferred character which would be 塚 (also read tsuka). The small cross represents ground or earth. Without that radical, 冢 is only one stroke different than the word for house 家 (uchi) which is the same one used for the Chinese character combination that means family 家族 (kazoku). The significance here is that pig (豚 or buta) under a roof represents house/home 家. That quick flash of this character gives the suggestion of pig and family. Yet it is also like bone (骨 or hone) associated with death as in grave (冢穴).

This character 冢 (tsuka) seems to foreshadow the transformation of her parents into pigs and her journey to figure out how to save her parents from death. The more she sees of this amusement park, the more frightened she becomes. There's an expensive public bathhouse at the end of the pathway and all the lamps seems to be associated with it, but where are the people? Where are the vacationers, the retired old people and the middle-aged women on retreat? Where are the vendors, pushing you to buy anything and everything because everyone must return home with presents (omiyage) for their neighbors, co-workers and relatives. Anyone who has been on the trail to great temples or been on a hot springs tour will know that for such a grand feast and for such a splendid public bathhouse, these scenes are much too quiet.

Chihiro runs back, perhaps to warn her parents only to find her parents have been transformed into hogs.

The movie is called "Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi" (千と千尋の神隠し). Sen means a thousand, but the pronunciation of the character can change to "chi" as it does in the name Chihiro. The "hiro" in Chihiro means to ask questions. Kamikakushi means spirited away with kami meaning spirit or god and kakushi meaning hidden. So perhaps we can translate the title as "Sen and the Mysterious Disappearance of Chihiro."

"Spirited Away" was released in in July 2001. Most Studio Ghibli movies were released in July, and in Japan, I feel this is especially significant in the case of "Spirited Away" and " When Marnie Was There " because it is the Obon season, a time when Japanese believe the spirits of their ancestors walk the earth and return to their furusato (hometown). That time period (mid-July to August) is, much like New Year's week, a hard time to get things done in Japan due to the various celebrations and the people who leave on vacation. We do learn later in the movie that the character on the first building, 正, is part of a combination 正月 which we translate to mean New Year.

Although Roger didn't read or speak Japanese, he saw the rich detail. This is one of those movies worthy of a frame-by-frame analysis. For the people who read Japanese, some of what I have written above may have been intuitively realized. There are other things I still wonder about such as the prominence of the Japanese syllables of “me” and “yu” throughout. I’ve read one theory that put together into “yume” it means “dream.” I’d enjoy hearing other people’s thoughts, theories and feelings about “Spirited Away.”

Jana Monji

Jana Monji, made in San Diego, California, lost in Japan several times, has written about theater and movies for the LA Weekly , LA Times , and currently, Examiner.com and the Pasadena Weekly . Her short fiction has been published in the Asian American Literary Review .

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Longstanding Spirited Away Fan Theory Debunked By Ghibli Director

  • The popular rumor that No-Face from Spirited Away was based on animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi is a misunderstanding.
  • The truth is that Yonebayashi was drawing a rendition of No-Face that Hayao Miyazaki noticed and remarked it looked like Yonebayashi.
  • Although Yonebayashi did not directly inspire No-Face, he still had a role in the success of Spirited Away and his career in the anime industry.

The anime film Spirited Away is rife with trivia, but as it turns out, one regarding the popular character No-Face happens to stem from a misunderstanding. An oft-repeated "fact" is that the mask-wearing ghost is modeled on Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who worked on the movie's key animation. An interview, however, sheds light on the true relationship between Yonebayashi and the genesis of the popular anime character.

No-Face forms the crux of a major subplot in Spirited Away , serving as an ally or an obstacle to Chihiro at different times throughout the movie. Its memorable scenes and design are unforgettable for anime fans, and the idea of it being modeled on a Ghibli staff member has an element of laughable believability to it. But like all myths, this idea is based on misheard statements.

Ghibli Interview Reveals Origin Of No-Face Theory

Produced by studio ghibli.

The truth of the matter was repeated on Unseen Japan's X account , which links to a Ghibli fan site. There, it reports a Ghibli exhibition that took place at the Edo-Tokyo Open-Air Architectural Museum, which Hiromasa Yonebayashi attended. When a TV interviewer brought up the rumor, the animator and director finally cleared up the situation. What happened was that Yonebayashi was drawing a rendition of No-Face that Hayao Miyazaki noticed and would remark, "It looks like Maro" (Yonebayashi's nickname). So, while a No-Face sketch might have shared a resemblance, No-Face's official concept owes nothing to the Spirited Away key animator.

Yonebayashi went on to assist Ghibli with several more films, and eventually got his shot at directing The Secret World of Arietty in 2010 . In 2014, he left Ghibli to form Studio Ponoc alongside several other Ghibli alum. Nonetheless, the influence is still felt, especially with their latest film, The Imaginary , which shares Ghibli's familiar art style. Still, Yonebayashi returned to provide key animation again for Miyazaki's The Boy and the Heron. With this sort of influence on Ghibli's movies, it is fitting that he remains connected to the studio's mythology, even if it is through a piece of trivia.

Spirited Away has many more interesting pieces of trivia, according to the Ghibli fan site, collected from various interviews and articles. For instance, the Stink Spirit was inspired by Miyazaki's experience cleaning river beds, while the famous train sequence takes cues from the 1927 novel Night on the Galactic Railroad. And while Yonebayashi was not used for No-Face , Chihiro's father does use the likeness of Japan TV's producer, Seiji Okuda. Nonetheless, fans of Spirited Away should recognize the key animator's part in its success, as well as its place as a stepping stone for his rise in the anime industry.

Source: Unseen Japan (X), Studio Ghibli Unofficial Fansite

Spirited Away is available on Max.

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Spirited Away

From Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, Spirited Away tells the story of Chihiro, a ten-year-old girl who discovers a hidden world of spirits while traveling with her family. When her parents fall victim to the machinations of an evil witch, Chihiro is forced into servitude in a magical bathhouse in order to save their lives. Helped by her friend Haku, Chihiro sets about finding a way to save her parents and get her family home.

Longstanding Spirited Away Fan Theory Debunked By Ghibli Director

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With Drive-Away Dolls, Ethan Coen and Tricia Cooke wanted to make a ‘proudly unimportant’ lesbian comedy

The married filmmakers explain why their new comedy, starring Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan as road-tripping lesbians, took decades to make.

Devan Coggan (rhymes with seven slogan) is a staff writer at Entertainment Weekly. Most of her personality is just John Mulaney quotes and Lord of the Rings references.

spirited away explained

Drive-Away Dolls may be a movie about a road trip, but the film itself took a long, meandering journey to the screen.

Film editor Tricia Cooke first came up with the concept in the early-aughts, brainstorming ideas for a lesbian comedy over drinks with a friend. At the time, all she had was a title — Drive-Away Dykes — and she brought the idea to her husband, director Ethan Coen . Together, the pair sketched out ideas for a script, weaving a zany tale of crime, romance, and road-trip shenanigans, but despite their best efforts, they couldn’t get the film made. Now, more than 20 years later, Drive-Away Dolls is finally driving into theaters Feb. 23 — albeit with a slightly sanitized title.

Set in 1999, the film follows two lesbian friends — the uptight Marian ( Geraldine Viswanathan ) and her free-spirited friend Jamie ( Margaret Qualley ) — as they embark on a journey from Philadelphia to Tallahassee. When they borrow a car from a local drive-away service, the two women discover a mysterious briefcase hidden in the trunk, and before long, they’re swept into a convoluted conspiracy of hitmen, severed heads, and missing dildos. ( Beanie Feldstein plays Jamie’s cop ex-girlfriend, and Pedro Pascal, Colman Domingo , and Matt Damon also star in delightfully unhinged supporting roles.)

Cooke and Coen have collaborated for years, and Cooke edited many of the films Ethan has directed with his brother Joel, including The Big Lebowski and O, Brother, Where Art Thou? (Cooke herself identifies as queer, but she and Coen remain married and co-parents to their children.) But Drive-Away Dolls is their first time shepherding a film together from beginning to end, and it’s the first narrative feature film Coen has directed without his brother.  

Here, Cooke and Coen open up about their filmmaking partnership and why they want to see more “profoundly unimportant” lesbian movies.

Wilson Webb / Working Title / Focus Features

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Tricia, I know you came up with the title of this movie years ago in a bar with a friend. How did that grow and turn into this film?

TRICIA COOKE: After coming up with the title, I took it home to Ethan and told him, “[My friend] Mara and I came up with this great title for a film.” Ethan was as enthusiastic, and we both thought, “That would be a really fun movie to write.” I think it took us a couple of years to write it. We would just get together in our library area on the sofa and bat ideas around, talking about characters that we wanted to use. We didn’t really have an end when we started writing.

ETHAN COEN: I mean, that’s not unusual for me, working with Joel. We’re just kind of like: “Okay, here’s the beginning of a movie. What would happen next?” I don’t know if that’s how you’re supposed to do it, but that’s what we do.

COOKE: There was a drive-away company that I went to [in college]. It was in a strip mall. I was going to school in New York, and I’m from California, and I knew how I was going to get across the country, but I didn’t know how I was going to get back. There was a deal with some airline, where if you brought in a hundred dollars’ worth of receipts from some grocery store, you could get a really cheap airline ticket. So, I remember going to this grocery store and standing outside asking people if I could have their receipts, so I could get a cheap ticket to go back. But that’s another movie, I guess.

So, when did you go from “hey, this is a fun script we’ve been working on for a while” to “this movie is actually going to get made”?

COEN: It was kind of in two stages. We wrote the script and tried to get it made with a friend of ours, Allison Anders, directing it. This was 20 years ago, and it just didn’t happen. So, we set it aside. We only picked it up again a couple of years ago. Me and Trish were cutting a documentary together in the middle of COVID lockdown, and we thought, “Okay, that was fun making that documentary. What else can we do?” We went back to that script, and we rewrote it somewhat, and we sent it out there and got it made.

You two have said that you wanted to make a “silly” lesbian movie, especially when there are already so many “serious” or “important” lesbian movies. How did you want to find the right tone? 

COOKE: I think Jamie’s promiscuity kind of helped dictate what the tone would be. I wanted her to be someone who’s very sexual, and there’s no shame in her sexuality or her sexual prowess. We didn’t want that to be gross or creepy or predatory; we wanted it to be light. That kind of helped us establish: We have this woman who is very sexual, and it would make sense that her friend is really uptight and repressed. Then, what situation do we put them in? What would be fun to watch?

COEN: The tone you’re talking about is kind of implicit. It was the starting point. We were like, “Okay, Drive-Away Dykes. Clearly, that’s not an important movie. That’s a proudly unimportant movie.” It’s just a fun movie! That was kind of a given from the very beginning.

COOKE: It was important to me to make a movie that was a lesbian comedy because there aren’t many out there. I think it’s important that there are more queer comedies out there because we want to eat our popcorn and have fun at the movies, too. So, that was very important to me.

Cindy Ord/Getty Images

Tell me about casting Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan as your two romantic leads. What was that casting process like?

COEN: They just came in to audition, and I don’t even know how to describe it. We saw in them what you see in the movie. In each case we went, “Okay, you’re great. What you’re doing really makes the scenes work. That’s it. That’s what we want.” I mean, there’s a lot of anxiety before you meet that person. You meet a lot of really good actors, and they’re not bad. It’s just that they’re something less than totally exciting. I don’t know what that “thing” is, but it was obvious in meeting each of them.

COOKE: With Geraldine, it’s such an uptight character, and she added a real warmth and humor to that, which was really palpable. We were drawn to that warmth. And Margaret is kind of a free spirit and a goofball. When we read with her, you could feel that, like, “Oh, there’s some Jamie energy.” That character is based on a close friend of mine, so it was very hard to find someone to play that character. And when Margaret finally came in, she had some of that energy. That was a relief.

I love Margaret’s heavy Southern accent in the film. What conversations did you have with her about that?

COEN: Well, she’s from North Carolina, so we were looking for something a little different from her natural [accent]. A little less deep South and a little more Texas. So, we told her to listen to Tommy Lee Jones and to Ann Richards. Ann Richards is just unbelievably funny and dry, and she has that whole Texas thing, so [Margaret] did that. And then weirdly, she listened to a lot of Tommy Lee Jones. [ Laughs ] You’ll have trouble seeing Tommy in that performance, but he’s way, way deep in there. As a matter of fact, Tommy was our first choice for the part. We offered it to him, but he was busy.

Oh man, I would have loved to see that version.

COEN: And then the funny thing is that Bill Camp plays Curly, and totally unprompted, he said, “I see my guy as being like Tommy Lee Jones.”

COOKE: He’s everywhere!

COEN: I thought, “Oh my God, he’s everywhere.” If Tommy Lee is doing scenes with Tommy Lee, there’s going to be a space-time rip in the universe, and we’re all going to get sucked in. No, you can’t do that.

I’m curious: You two have worked on so many films together and collaborated for so many years. What felt different about making Drive-Away Dolls together?

COEN: Well, the obvious thing is just making the whole movie together, as opposed to just writing together or cutting together. It’s the process that me and Joel had, where we start at the beginning and go all the way through the end.

COOKE: I was making choices like casting, set decoration, costumes, all of that. That was a new collaboration for us. It works in the same way as when we cut together or write together. We pretty much see eye to eye, but for me, it was fun as a newbie to really think through all the characters, the choices they would make, the costumes they would wear, all of that.

Up next, you’ll be reteaming with Margaret Qualley on another movie, Honey, Don’t. What excites you most about that project?

COEN: It’ll be good working with Margaret again. This is very different. It’s not the same character. It’s a different story, a kind of crime, private detective thing.

COOKE: It’s set in Bakersfield, and it’s inspired somewhat by The Long Goodbye and this movie Fat City. It’s also one of my favorite genres, the detective/film noir genre. And the cast is Margaret, Aubrey Plaza, and Chris Evans, and it seems like it’s going to be really fun to watch them work.

COEN: Pretty soon we’ll start leaping into a thousand boring meetings. [ Laughs ] I say boring meetings, but seriously, every movie has these new problems and puzzles that you have to solve, and it’s stimulating. It’s a new set of stimuli, you know what I mean? It’s a whole new set of problems, and they’re all interesting.

Well, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me!

COEN: Thank you! And this has inspired me: I now have this picture in my head of Tommy Lee Jones watching the movie and looking at Margaret’s performance and saying, as actors do, “I could have done it better.” [ Laughs ] It’s a good thought experiment, isn’t it? God damn.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Related content:

  • Margaret Qualley, Geraldine Viswanathan are lesbians on the run in Ethan Coen's solo directorial debut
  • Ethan Coen attempts to tie America together in  A Play is a Poem
  • Breaking Big: Why you'll fall in love with  Broken Hearts Gallery  star Geraldine Viswanathan

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‘drive-away dolls’ review: margaret qualley, geraldine viswanathan and beanie feldstein in ethan coen’s strained lesbian crime caper.

Colman Domingo, Pedro Pascal and Matt Damon also appear in this nutty comedy set in 1999, written by Coen with his wife Tricia Cooke.

By David Rooney

David Rooney

Chief Film Critic

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Geraldine Viswanathan as Marian, Margaret Qualley as Jamie and Beanie Feldstein as Sukie in DRIVE-AWAY DOLLS.

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In terms of kinship within the Coen brothers oeuvre, the caper seems to be aiming for the exuberant eccentricity and infectious sense of mischief of Raising Arizona . But the knockabout humor just isn’t all that funny; its transgressive spirit too often feels forced. The escalating chaos of the plot — revolving around two women who find themselves unwittingly in possession of a briefcase whose highly sensitive contents could end a prominent Republican political career — plays like strung-together vignettes and twisty turns wrapped up abruptly and too easily.

I was reminded more of laborious Coen comedies like Burn After Reading or The Ladykillers . Much of the film’s outrageousness is the fabricated kind resulting from casting A-list names in disposable roles just to kill them off swiftly.

Invariably in screwball plots like this, the precious cargo ends up in the wrong hands. That’s where free-spirited Southern gal Jamie ( Margaret Qualley ) comes in when her voracious sexual appetite spells the end of her relationship with pugnacious cop Sukie ( Beanie Feldstein ), who’s none too pleased to be stuck with their dog, Alice B. Toklas.

Wishing to put some distance between herself and her humiliated ex’s wrath, Jamie drags her buttoned-up friend Marian ( Geraldine Viswanathan ) on a road trip to — you guessed it — Tallahassee, intending to check out the BBQ joints and lesbian bars on the way. The latter stops include the amusingly named Butter Churn and She Shed; there’s also an interlude with a women’s soccer team who spend their downtime in regimented makeout sessions to Linda Ronstadt.

Once it becomes apparent that Curlie has given the Dodge Aries to the wrong Tallahassee-bound customers, the heat is on for Arliss and Flint to get back the goods, with their scary boss, “The Chief” ( Colman Domingo ), breathing down their necks. Sukie also sets out on the tails of Jamie and Marian once the goons pay her a house call, alerting the cop to the situation.

The contents of the briefcase are suggested in trippy psychedelic interludes featuring an unbilled major-name pop-rock star and gradually tracing an uncomfortable connection to Senator Gary Channel ( Matt Damon ), that if exposed, won’t sit well with his family-values platform. Without giving too much away, if you’re familiar with the main claim to fame of sculptor Cynthia Plaster Caster, you can figure it out, although exactly how the incriminating material can be traced to the senator the script doesn’t bother to explain.

Coen assembles a pro team including DP Ari Wegner, production designer Yong Ok Lee and longtime composer Carter Burwell, so the movie is a spiffy enough package even if its inspirations are more nominal than discernible onscreen. The filmmakers cite Meyer’s Motorpsycho , Doris Wishman’s Bad Girls Go to Hell and the Robert Aldrich noir Kiss Me Deadly , raising the question of why they didn’t just set Drive-Away Dolls in the 1950s or ‘60s instead of in the runup to Y2K, which pays zero narrative dividends.

The real standout, however, is Feldstein, who brings hilarious fire to Sukie’s no-BS, short-fuse temperament and her refusal to be intimidated by anyone. She’s the funniest element of a movie in which the laughs are otherwise strained and spotty.

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  3. Spirited Away Revealed: The Real Mythology & Folklore Explained!

    spirited away explained

  4. Spirited Away Ending Explained: On Earth As It Is In Ghibli

    spirited away explained

  5. The Ending Of Spirited Away Explained

    spirited away explained

  6. The Train Scene Meaning in Spirited Away Explained

    spirited away explained


  1. Spirited Away

  2. 20 Spirited Away Facts You Never Knew

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  6. Spirited Away (2001) Full Movie Review


  1. The Ending Of Spirited Away Explained

    Learn how Chihiro overcomes the dangers and fears of childhood in the Spirit World and returns to her family. Discover the symbolism of the bathhouse, the river, and the name in this classic Studio Ghibli film.

  2. Spirited Away Ending, Explained

    Miyazaki's eighth directed film, Spirited Away is the story of a young girl, Chihiro, who stumbles across the spirit world and must find her way back to her parents. Chihiro's parents are transformed into pigs and Chihiro becomes lost in the Kami spirit world from Japanese folklore.

  3. The Many Monsters, Spirits, And Kami In Studio Ghibli's Spirited Away

    In the world of "Spirited Away," gods, sprites, and other magical beings from Japanese folklore accumulate a great deal of filth and weariness in their travels, and occasionally have to rest...

  4. Spirited Away Themes, Motifs, and Symbols: Growing Up Is Hard

    Learn how Hayao Miyazaki's animated film Spirited Away explores the fears and anxieties of its young protagonist, Chihiro, as she transitions into adulthood. Discover the meanings of the symbolism and fantasy elements, such as the witch Yubaba, the spirit No-Face, and the bathhouse.

  5. Spirited Away: Plot Overview

    A summary of the plot of the animated film Spirited Away by Hayao Miyazaki. Chihiro, a girl who refuses to move to a new town, enters a magical world where she must work in a bathhouse and save her parents from being pigs.

  6. Spirited Away

    Plot Ten-year-old Chihiro Ogino and her parents Akio and Yūko are traveling to their new home. Akio decides to take a shortcut and stops in front of a tunnel leading to what appears to be an abandoned amusement park, which Akio insists on exploring despite his daughter's protests.

  7. Spirited Away Ending Explained: On Earth As It Is In Ghibli

    Learn the meaning behind the title, the characters, and the themes of Hayao Miyazaki's masterpiece "Spirited Away". Discover how Chihiro's journey in the spirit world reflects her growth and transformation as a person and a hero.

  8. Hidden Meaning in Spirited Away (Miyazaki)

    Academy Award®-nominated director Hayao Miyazaki's beloved classic My Neighbor Totoro comes to theaters for it's 30th anniversary on September 30th, October ...

  9. Spirited Away Ending Explained

    Anime 19 Aug 2022 3:35 PM -07:00 UTC Spirited Away Ending Explained Here's the ending of Spirited Away Explained! By Madalena Daleziou Credit: Ghibli One of the reasons why Ghibli films...

  10. Spirited Away: Ending Explained

    In this video, we will take a deep dive into the ending of the critically acclaimed anime film Spirited Away. We will explore the meaning and symbolism of th...

  11. Deep Analysis: Spirited Away • Flixist

    Deep Analysis: Spirited Away By Matthew Razak February 20, 2020 0 I'm of the opinion that there hasn't been an animated film as good as Spirited Away. It's hard to find many non-animated films as good as it. It is nearly impossible to find a single person who dislikes it and those that do still respect it as a piece of art.

  12. The Meaning of Studio Ghibli's 'Spirited Away', the Best ...

    The Meaning of Studio Ghibli's 'Spirited Away', the Best Animated Film of All Time On the 15th anniversary of Miyazaki's cult animation, a look back on its huge global significance. av Hannah...

  13. The Untold Truth Of Spirited Away

    Spirited Away is an animated classic, and there are many fascinating behind-the-scenes details about this beloved film. ... He explained that he often doesn't have the time to write an entire ...

  14. How (& Why) Disney Changed Spirited Away's Ending

    The American Version of Spirited Away Makes a MAJOR Change to the Ending. While Spirited Away fans celebrate its 20th anniversary, some may not know the big change Disney made to the ending of its version. Studio Ghibli fans worldwide have been celebrating the 20th anniversary of Hayao Miyazaki's masterpiece, and Academy Award-winning feature ...

  15. Spirited Away

    Spirited Away (千と千尋の神隠し , Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, literally translated as "Sen and Chihiro's Spiriting Away"), is the 12th animated film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki and produced by Studio Ghibli, and premiered in theaters in Japan on July 20, 2001. The story is about the adventures of a young ten-year-old girl named Chihiro as she wanders into the world of the ...

  16. Spirited Away Revealed: The Real Mythology & Folklore Explained!

    Spirited Away Revealed: The Real Mythology & Folklore Explained! StoryDive 147K subscribers Subscribe Subscribed 128K Share 3.6M views 4 years ago #spiritedaway #studioghibli #miyazaki...

  17. What No-Face Represents In Spirited Away

    The No-Face Spirited Away character is a representation of what being abandoned and lonely can do to someone. One of the major themes of Spirited Away is the idea that loneliness can be a black hole that traps everything. No-Face is quite literally a black hole, in his color, his shape, and his ability to consume everything.

  18. Spirited Away Ending, Explained

    Spirited Away Ending, Explained. Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away is a fantastical tale with an ending that's triumphant and melancholy. Miyazaki's eighth directed film, Spirited Away is a story of a young girl, Chihiro, who stumbles across the spirit world and must find her way back to her parents. Chihiro and her family stop at an ...

  19. Spirited Away Changed Animation Forever. Here's How

    Spirited Away embaced as a classic, 20 years later. As Denison puts it, "This is a film made by a master animator at the height of his powers and it is one where the quality of the animation ...

  20. The Mythology Behind Spirited Away

    The very premise of Spirited Away, the story of a young girl who is taken in by gods and works for them in their bathhouse, is based on the traditional Japanese belief of "kamikakushi." This...

  21. Spirited Away (2001)

    Spirited Away (2001) | The Definitive Explanation - Colossus Unlock the profound themes of Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away. Dive into Chihiro's transformative journey in this iconic anime masterpiece.

  22. Chihiro's Journey: Analyzing "Spirited Away"

    In July 2012, Roger wrote about viewing " Spirited Away " for a third time and how he was then " struck by a quality between generosity and love. " It was during that viewing he " began to focus on the elements in the picture that didn't need to be there.

  23. Did You Catch These Avatar: The Last Airbender Easter Eggs?

    The fifth episode of the season, "Spirited Away," features bar patrons in the Earth Kingdom recounting stories they've heard of the Avatar's exploits, which all come from the original series. ... The Cast & Producers Explain. Water. Earth. Fire. Air. And only the Avatar can master them all. By Ariana Romero. Yesterday 4:00 pm. News.

  24. Longstanding Spirited Away Fan Theory Debunked By Ghibli Director

    Spirited Away has many more interesting pieces of trivia, according to the Ghibli fan site, collected from various interviews and articles. For instance, the Stink Spirit was inspired by Miyazaki ...

  25. Spirited Away Analysis (part 3): Understanding Sen's Trial

    I adore Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away, so here's part three of the world's most indepth analysis on the film. In this video essay, I explore every moment of...

  26. 'Drive-Away Dolls' filmmakers on their lesbian comedy

    Drive-Away Dolls, Ethan Coen and Tricia Cooke wanted to make a 'proudly unimportant' lesbian comedy. The married filmmakers explain why their new comedy, starring Margaret Qualley and ...

  27. 'Drive-Away Dolls' Review: Margaret Qualley in Ethan Coen Crime Caper

    Joey Slotnick and CJ Wilson, who play hapless goons on the trail of a missing briefcase in Drive-Away Dolls, are both veterans of Ethan Coen's New York stage productions. Those plays, whether ...