Spirited Away (synopsis - graphical - Page 1)
This page contains a detailed synopsis of the plot of Spirited Away.
We meet Chihiro as she moodily slouches in the back of the car, surrounded by junk food wrappers and the shopping. She is travelling with her parents to her new home and school, and as if her life wasn't in ruins already, the farewell flowers from her friends are wilting.
Things are starting to go wrong for Chihiro's father as well, when he sees the road ahead becoming a dirt track leading into the dim woods. While Chihiro is momentarily distracted by a clump of broken-down shrines by the side of a tree, her father's confidence in his 4-wheel-drive Audi to carry him through hell or high water leads them to a building. While her father decides that a little exploration is in order, Chihiro's anxiety makes her want to run back. But faced with being left alone at the car with an eerie grinning carved bollard, she clings tightly to her mother as they enter the tunnel into the building.
They come to an empty waiting room, but hear a train in the distance. When they exit the waiting room, they are greeted by the sight of a green field sparsely populated by some more of the grinning carvings that greeted them at the tunnel entrance, amid a few old buildings. This bucolic scene makes Chihiro's mum long for a picnic. The father recognises this area as a theme park, abandoned during the bursting of Japan's bubble economy. Further evidence is the half-constructed river, whose rocky bed they cross.
The smell of cooking further interests the family, and they wander the seemingly empty main street looking for the source of the smell. Although all the shops appear to be restaurants, the father tracks down one with steaming cookers and heaped platters. With no-one about, the parents load up their plates, despite Chihiro's worry that the owners might be angry. After all, her father reassures her, his credit cards and cash ought to placate them. Chihiro sighs again as her concerns are ignored by her absorbed parents, and she wanders off into the park.
As she comes to a bridge, she is confronted by an ornate building, and looks down from the bridge to see a train rushing along. When she looks up again, a boy with piercing green eyes has suddenly appeared. He urgently warns her to leave, as she is not allowed there, and to get back across the river before it gets dark. Meanwhile, he says he will hold "them" off while she escapes. As he blows a mysterious spell, and Chihiro resentfully heads back to the little town, the lights come on in the streets, revealing dark, ghostly figures in the shops.
Returning to her parents, Chihiro is horrified to instead find two huge pigs engorging themselves at the table as a mysterious hand beats them back. In a panic, she rushes back through the now ghost-filled streets towards the riverbed. In the darkness, she rushes headlong into a now-filled river, with the train station now merely distant lights on the far bank. Trying to persuade herself that it must be a dream, and wishing that it would disappear, Chihiro's terror is compounded by the apparent fact the she herself is starting to disappear! As she peers through her fading hands, a ferry docks nearby, and all manner of strange figures disembark.
Fleeing in panic, she hides by the side of a building. The mysterious boy she encountered earlier emerges from the town, and confides that he is a friend. He tries to make her eat something "of this world", lest she totally vanish. Chihiro tries to push him away, but realises the truth of his words as her hands pass straight through him. Hardly reassured by the boy's insistence that she won't be turned into a pig, Chihiro nevertheless makes a valiant effort to down the proffered pill. She finds she can now feel the boy's hand, but the appearance of a bird with the face of an old woman makes the boy wary, and he tells Chihiro that they are looking for her. Set to flee, she finds she cannot stand. The boy casts a spell on her legs, and they make a mad dash along narrow lanes, through a building which stores all manner of food, including live pigs in pens.