From GhibliWiki
Jump to: navigation, search
Spirited Away Poster
Spirited Away Poster

Spirited Away (千と千尋の神隠し)is a 2001 written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki and produced by Studio Ghibli. The film follows a sullen ten-year-old girl who is in the process of moving to a new town (presumably in the countryside) with her family, and chronicles her adventures in a world of spirits and monsters.

The film received many awards and critical acclaim. Spirited Away overtook Titanic in the Japanese box office to become the highest-grossing film in Japanese history.[1]


Ten-year-old Chihiro and her parents are moving to a new town, much to Chihiro's displeasure. While driving, they get lost and her father decides to take a 'shortcut' down a mysterious forested pathway. After a short but bumpy drive, the family comes to a stop at what seems to be an abandoned theme park. Curious, the father leads his family through a tunnel and explores the park, finding a deserted town and a stall full of freshly-cooked food. The parents greedily help themselves while Chihiro refuses to eat. As Chihiro's parents are eating, she wanders off and meets a boy named Haku. Haku seems to be familiar with Chihiro and warns her to escape with her parents; she returns to find they have turned into pigs, and that the way back has become a deep river. Spirits appear and go about the park. Haku secretly takes Chihiro to a large bathhouse to avoid alerting the spirits to her presence. Haku then tells her that she must get a job from the witch Yubaba, the owner of the park's bathhouse, until he can help her recover her parents and escape.

With the help of the six-armed boiler room master Kamajii and a bathhouse servant girl named Lin, Chihiro is able to convince Yubaba to give her a job; in exchange, Chihiro is forced to give up her name so that Yubaba may keep her in service for eternity. Yubaba gives her new servant the name "Sen(千)," which is derived from "Chihiro(千尋)" by removing the second character and using the alternate reading of the first. Chihiro eventually learns that Haku is similarly indebted to Yubaba. Chihiro is put to work alongside Lin, helping to bathe and serve the most difficult spirits in the bathhouse. Chihiro is able to successfully bathe a "stink spirit" (later revealed to be a river spirit who had been heavily polluted), who rewards Chihiro for her service with a magic medicine made from special herbs.

Chihiro discovers Haku's true form, a Japanese dragon, and he is later attacked in this form by paper birds controlled by Zeniba, Yubaba's twin sister. Haku had stolen and swallowed Zeniba's sigil under orders from Yubaba, which has a spell on it that gave Haku internal bleeding and lacerations. Chihiro tries to help Haku recover from his injuries using the medicine given to her by the river spirit, which acts as an emetic to the dragon, causing him to vomit, and thus recovering Zeniba's sigil and squashing a peculiar black slug that had been attached to it. Haku remains comatose, so Chihiro decides to travel to Zeniba's home to return the sigil, hoping to break her curse over Haku. Chihiro sets out on a train ride across the spirit world, along with a wraith-like spirit called No-Face, who terrorized the bathhouse and tried to earn the affection of Chihiro, and Boh, Yubaba's gigantic infant son whom Zeniba had transformed into a mouse.

The group arrives at Zeniba's house to find that Zeniba is friendlier than expected, and that the curse on Haku was placed on him by Yubaba, but Chihiro's love and caring has broken the spell. Zeniba makes Chihiro a special hairband to show her that her friends are with her, as well as for protection, and No-Face is offered to stay at Zeniba's home as her assistant. Haku, now recovered, shows up to return Chihiro to the bathhouse, explaining that Yubaba will return Chihiro's parents to normal and allow all three of them to leave in exchange for returning Boh. As they travel on Haku's dragon form, Chihiro realizes that Haku is the same river spirit that saved her as a small child when she fell into the Kohaku River, and the realization helps to break Yubaba's control on Haku completely. At the bathhouse, Yubaba reveals that Chihiro must pass one more task as part of Haku's deal: identify which pigs in the huge herd are her parents. Chihiro passes the test, as she states that none of them are her parents, and Yubaba is forced to let her and her family go. Haku escorts her to the entrance of the spirit world, telling her that her parents are waiting on the other side, but not to look back or else the deal will be broken. Chihiro rejoins her parents, not once looking back. The family returns to their car (now dusty and covered with fallen leaves and branches, looking as though a long time has passed) and continues to their new home. Zeniba's hair band is still in Chihiro's hair, proving her adventure to be true. In the English adapation, the film ends as Chihiro's parents tell her that they understand her worry, to which she replies that she thinks she'll do fine. This is a significant change from the Japanese original, which leaves Chihiro in silent thought as the car drives away.


  • Chihiro Ogino(荻野 千尋|Ogino Chihiro), the ten-year old protagonist of the film. Chihiro is in the process of moving to a new town when her family stumbles upon the entrance to the spirit world. During her adventure she matures from a whiny, self-centered, and pessimistic child to a hard-working, responsible, optimistic young girl who has learned to care for others. She is renamed "Sen" ( sen?, lit. "a thousand") by the proprietor of the bathhouse, Yubaba.
  • Haku/Nigihayami Kohaku Nushi(ハク/ニギハヤミ コハクヌシ|Haku/Nigihayami Kohakunushi), lit. "white river dragon boy"}}, a young boy that is a dragon in the guise of a human who helps Chihiro after her parents have transformed into pigs. Haku works as Yubaba's direct subordinate, often running errands and performing various missions for her. He has the ability to fly in his true form which is a Japanese dragon. Over the course of the movie his relationship with Chihiro becomes stronger, especially after she learns he is a dragon. This bond eventually leads to them falling in love, for it was their love for each other that broke Zeniba's spell on Haku. Haku was originally the spirit of the Kohaku River and knows Chihiro because he once saved her from drowning. When the river was destroyed and filled in with apartments (possibly the one Chihiro's family was moving to) he no longer had a home and went to the spirit world, were he became Yubaba's apprentice. Toward the end of the story Chihiro recalls her memory of falling into the Kohaku (コハク lit. "dragon river"?) river, of which Haku was the spirit; she thus frees him from Yubaba's service by helping him remember his real name and past, which he had forgotten due to the name change and the curse which Yubaba has placed on him. Haku was once a river spirit who had entered the spirit world seeking to learn magic from Yubaba, and as a result became a worker who followed her every command. When Yubaba is nearby, Haku is as sharp-voiced and stern to Chihiro as to anyone else.
  • Yubaba(湯婆婆|Yubaaba|lit. "bath crone"), the main antagonist of the film, and an old witch with an inhumanly large head and nose, who supervises the bathhouse. She reluctantly signs Chihiro into a contract. Yubaba then takes Chihiro's name and renames her "Sen" in order to hold power over her for the duration of the contract. She also does this to her other workers, so she can keep them in service forever. Yubaba has an over-bearing and authoritarian personality, but does show a soft side toward her giant baby, Boh. In contrast to her simple and hospitable sister Zeniba, Yubaba lives in opulent quarters and is only interested in taking care of guests for money.
  • Kamajii(釜爺|lit. "boiler geezer"), an old man with six arms, who operates the boiler room of the bathhouse. These arms can apparently extend indefinitely, so as to allow him access to the upper cabinets from his original position. A number of Susuwatari(ススワタリ) work for him by carrying coal into his furnace. He has a large cabinet where he keeps all the herbs that are used in the baths. After some persuasion, he allows Chihiro to work at the bathhouse and even pretends to be her grandfather to protect her, though this ruse does not stand for long. He later takes an injured Haku into his boiler room and cares for him while Chihiro, given train tickets by Kamajii, journeys to Zeniba's cottage. At first he seems cold and uncaring, but by the end of the film he seems to have grown a soft spot for Chihiro and for anyone whom she calls her friend.
  • No-Face(カオナシ|Kaonashi|lit. "faceless"), an odd spirit who takes an interest in Chihiro. Seeing No-Face standing outside in the rain, Chihiro takes pity on the creature and lets him into the bathhouse to take shelter from the storm. At first, he appears to be a strange, demure, cloaked, masked wraith who seems mute other than his breathing and urging grunts. Seen as polite, calm, and quiet at first, No-Face is a lonely being who seems to sustain itself on the emotions of those he encounters, particularly their emotional reception to his gifts. He is helpful to Chihiro because she helped him, and proceeds to offer her many gifts of gold and bath tokens. After observing the bathhouse staff's reaction to gold and his own attempts to win them over with more gold, he reacts to their greed by becoming a grotesque and gluttonous monster, eating lots of food and some of the staff. After Chihiro feeds him the final piece of the medicine ball given to her by the River Spirit, No-Face regurgitates everything he consumed, including the bathhouse staff members. Once he has emptied himself of these foreign influences and left the bathhouse, No-Face reverts to his former demure self. At the end, he stays with Zeniba as a helper.
  • Lin(リン|Rin), a worker at the bathhouse who becomes Chihiro's caretaker. Although aloof at first, she warms up to Chihiro and grows a strong bond with her. At the end, she is happy for Chihiro when the latter finally goes home. Lin states that she wishes to leave the bathouse for some better life. But there is a possibility she was once human like Chihiro, but doesn't remember.
  • Boh(坊|Bō), Yubaba's son. Although he has the appearance of a young baby, he is twice Yubaba's size. He is also very strong and can be dangerous. Yubaba goes out of her way to give him whatever he wants. When Zeniba turns Boh into a mouse, he becomes good friends with Chihiro and eventually stands up to Yubaba to protect Chihiro.
  • River Spirit(川の神|Kawa no Kami) is a customer of the bathhouse originally thought to be a "stink spirit", who is assigned to Chihiro and Lin. Yubaba suspects that he may be something more than a stink spirit; when Chihiro helps him by pulling out trash that had been dumped into his river out of his side, her suspicions are proved correct. He is in fact a famous and wealthy river god. As a reward for cleaning him, he gives Chihiro a ball of plant material which is a "healing cake" that she later uses to heal an injured Haku through ingestion and to cause No-Face to vomit the people and vast amounts of food he ate during his rampage.
  • Zeniba(銭婆|Zeniiba) is Yubaba's older twin sister and rival. Although identical in appearance, their personalities are almost polar opposites. At first she appears no kinder than Yubaba when she becomes enraged at Haku for stealing her magic sigil and threatens to take it back, regardless of what happens to Haku. Hoping to gain Zeniba's forgiveness, Chihiro journeys to Zeniba's cottage to return it and apologize. It is then that Zeniba reveals her true character as that of a kind, grandmotherly figure. She forgives Haku for stealing her sigil and tells him to look after Chihiro. She then sees everyone off, assuring Chihiro that she will be well.

Themes and archetypes

The major Themes of Spirited Away center on the protagonist Chihiro and her journey through the realm of the bathhouse of the gods. A spoiled child forced into the fantastic world, Chihiro becomes completely separated from everything she has known and must find her way back to reality. The entrance into another world clearly demarcates Chihiro’s status as one in-between. In her transition between child and adult, Chihiro stands outside these societal boundaries, a situation mirrored by the supernatural setting outside reality. The use of the word kamikakushi (literally "hidden by gods") within the Japanese title, and its associated folklore, reinforce this liminal passage: "Kamikakushi is a verdict of ‘social death’ in this world, and coming back to this world from Kamikakushi meant ‘social resurrection.’"[2] Upon gaining employment at the bathhouse, Yubaba’s seizure of Chihiro’s true name, a common theme in folklore, symbolically kills the child Chihiro.[3] Having lost her childhood identity, Chihiro cannot return to reality by the way she came; she can only move forward into adulthood. The following trials and obstacles Chihiro must overcome become the challenges and lessons common in rites-of-passage and the monomyth format. In her attempt to regain her self, her "continuity with her past," Chihiro must forge a new identity.[4]

Beneath the surface Spirited Away contains critical commentary on modern Japanese society concerning generational conflicts, the struggle with dissolving traditional culture and customs within a global society, and environmental pollution.[5] Chihiro, as a representation of the liminal shōjo, "may be seen as a metaphor for the Japanese society which, over the last decade, seems to be increasingly in limbo, drifting uneasily away from the values and ideological framework of the immediate postwar era."[6] Just as Chihiro seeks her past identity, Japan, in its anxiety over the economic downturn occurring during the release of Spirited Away in 2001, sought to reconnect to past values.[7] In interview, Miyazaki has commented on this nostalgic element for an old Japan.[8] Initially, Chihiro travels past the abandoned fairground, a symbol for Japan’s burst "bubble economy", and her parents' credit-card-fuelled gluttony and transformation into pigs, to reach the fantasy world replete with Japanese culture and fable in the amalgam of the bathhouse.

However, the "bathhouse of the spirits has its own ambivalence, and its own darkness…. Miyazaki is not so simple-minded as to locate a perfect vision in the past or the spiritual."[9] Many of the employees are rude and discriminating to Chihiro, and the corruption of avarice has incorporated itself into the "bricolage" of the bathhouse[10] as a place of "excess and greed" as well, as depicted in the initial appearance of the No-Face.[11] In stark contrast to the archetypal approaches to cultural recovery such as recognition, proper identification, spiritual cleansing, and sacrifice," embodied in Chihiro’s journey and transformation, the constant background presence of the ambiguity of the bathhouse reminds the audience that reality is not so simple: "the bathhouse’s simultaneous incorporation of the carnivalesque and the chaotic suggests that the threats to the collectivity are not simply outside ones."[12] The environmental asides concerning the trash deforming the River God and Haku’s plight over the loss of his river to apartment complexes further indicate that the sources of pollution within the bathhouse, a place of ritual purity, come from within the Japanese society.


I created a hero who is an ordinary girl, someone with whom the audience can sympathize. It's not a story in which the characters grow up, but a story in which they draw on something already inside them, brought out by the particular circumstances. I want my young friends to live like that, and I think they, too, have such a wish.
— Hayao Miyazaki[13]

Spirited Away was directed and written by Hayao Miyazaki. Every summer, Miyazaki spent his vacation at a mountain cabin with his family and five young female friends. The idea for Spirited Away came about when he desired to make a film for these friends. Miyazaki had previously done films such as My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service, which were for small children and teenagers, but he had not done a film for ten-year-old girls. For inspiration, he read shōjo manga magazines such as Nakayoshi and Ribon that the girls had left at the cabin. When Miyazaki read the magazines he felt that they only offered things such as crushes and romance. When looking at his young friends, Miyazaki felt this was not what they "held dear in their hearts", so instead he decided to make the film about a girl heroine that they could look up to.[13]

Miyazaki had wanted to make a new film for a long time. He had previously written two project proposals, but they had both been rejected. The first one was based on the Japanese book Kirino Mukouno Fushigina Machi, and the second one was about a teenage heroine. Miyazaki's third proposal, which ended up becoming Spirited Away, was more successful. All three stories revolves around a bathhouse that was based on a bathhouse in Miyazaki's hometown. Miyazaki thought the bathhouse was a mysterious place, and there was a small door next to one of the bathtubs in the bathhouse. Miyazaki was always curious to what was behind it, and he made up several stories about it; one of which was the inspiration for the bathhouse in Spirited Away.[13]

The film went into production in 2000, with a budget of Yen(¥) 1.9 billion (United States dollars 15 million). In his previous film, Princess Mononoke, Miyazaki and his staff had experimented with the process of computer animation. Equipping themselves with more computers and programs like Softimage|3D, the Studio Ghibli staff began to learn the software, but keeping the technology at a level to enhance the story, not "steal the show". All the characters were largely animated by hand, with Miyazaki working alongside his animators to see that they were getting it just right.[14] The biggest difficulty in making the film was to cut its length down. When production started, Miyazaki realized that it would be more than three hours long if he made it according to his plot. He had to cut many scenes from the story, and tried to reduce the "eye-candy" in the film because he wanted it to be simple. Miyazaki did not want to make the hero a pretty girl. At the beginning, he was frustrated that she looked "dull" and thought, "She isn't cute. Isn't there something we can do?". As the film neared the end, however, he was relieved to feel that "she will be a charming woman".[13]

Miyazaki based some of the buildings in the spirit world on the buildings in the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum in Koganei, Tokyo, Japan. He often visited the museum for inspiration while working on the film. Miyazaki had always been interested in the Pseudo-Western style buildings from the Meiji period that were available there. The museum made Miyazaki feel nostalgic, "especially when I stand here alone in the evening, near closing time, and the sun is setting – tears well up in my eyes."[13] Another inspiration was the historic hill towns of Jiufen and Jinguashi, both located in Taiwan, and both which also feature Meiji-period architecture that was built when Taiwan was a Japanese colony.

English adaptation

Walt Disney Pictures dubbed the English adaptation of Spirited Away, under the supervision of Pixar's John Lasseter. Lasseter was a "huge" Miyazaki fan, and he and his staff had often sat down and watched some of Miyazaki's work when they hit story problems. The first viewing of Spirited Away in the United States was in Pixar's screening room. After seeing the film, Lasseter was "ecstatic". Upon hearing his reaction to the film, people at Disney asked Lasseter if he would be interested in trying to bring Spirited Away to an American audience. Lasseter said that he had a busy schedule, but agreed to executive produce the English adaptation.


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 Rin the Chimney Painter (煙突描きのリン Entotsu-kaki no Rin?), a different Miyazaki film which was never released. In the special features of the DVD, Hayao Miyazaki explains how the song in fact inspired him to create Spirited Away.

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 Ayaka Hirahara.
Cite error: <ref> tags exist, but no <references/> tag was found