Lin: What's going on here? Kamaji: Something you wouldn't recognize, it's called love.
Originally, Princess Mononoke was meant to be Hayao Miyazaki's swan song, but much to the delight of the anime world, he returned with a film that managed to top Princess Mononoke's staggering box-office numbers.Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, "Sen and Chihiro's Spiriting-Away"), said to be inspired by a 9-year-old girl Miyazaki met, is a surreal adventure film that defies simple explanation, but can be simplistically described as Japan's version of Alice in Wonderland:Chihiro, a sullen young girl unwillingly moving to a new town, is stranded in the spirit world after her parents stop by what appears to be an abandoned amusement park and eat food that turns them into pigs. At first, her only aid is Haku, a mysterious boy who finds her shelter and a job in a bathhouse that caters to these spirits; eventually, Chihiro makes more friends as she searches for a way to make her parents human again and escape the spirit world before she forgets her real identity. Oh, and that's just the first half-hour — which doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of the odd denizens of the spirit world, ranging from the villainous bathhouse manager Yubaba to arachnid worker Kamajii to the enigmatic, voiceless spirit No Face.Despite its bizarre events, Spirited Away is regarded by many to have succeeded in depicting a world that was strangely realistic and engrossing; it also never loses sight of the self-growth of Chihiro as she matures from a whiny girl to a confident young woman. It should go without saying that the trademark stunning animation of Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli is also showcased in this film. The fact that it won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film (the only traditionally-animated film and the only anime film to do so to date) should be noted as the Oscars tend to favor CG Western Animated productions.Not to be confused with the Australian TV show Spirited. Or the 1974 film Swept Away. Or that film's 2002 remake/Madonna vehicle. Please.
This film provides examples of:
Actor Allusion: "I'll miss you, Chihiro. Your best friend, Rumi." (In the Japanese version, Chihiro was voiced by Rumi Hiiragi.)
Adult Fear: Despite being a young girl. Losing your parents and having to rescue them? Your best friend almost bleeding to death and having to save his life? Chihiro deals with some pretty grown-up situations while maturing as a person.
Yubaba is a crow/raven who are known to be cunning, ominous and foretell death and destruction, such as Yubaba taking the names of her workers and "killing" their past selves so they can't remember who they are and thus are enslaved to her forever (unless they remember their name).
Miyazaki also loves his environmental messages (see Green Aesop below). This movie has an unusually subtle one for him; a "stink spirit" comes to visit the bathhouse, and the bathhouse workers try to turn him away because he is so rank. The "stink spirit" is actually the spirit of a polluted river, and after Chihiro gives him a bath and, with others' help, de-pollutes him, Chihiro is rewarded with the medicine that later helps both Haku and No-Face.
Also, the spirit of the Kohaku River (Haku) was enslaved and forgot his identity after that river was filled in by humans.
Award Bait Song: "Itsumo Nando Demo" (Always With Me) by Youmi Kimura. Interestingly, the song actually helped inspire the film, instead of being written for it.
It's also missing some key elements of an Award Bait Song, most notably the lack of "sparkly" synth.
Baba Yaga: Yubaba shares many similarities with Baba Yaga, particularly the "Vasilisa the Beautiful" version of her, in both name and personality. Said Russian tale features the eponymous Vasilisa being employed by Baba Yaga, who forces her to accomplish impossible tasks, but Vasilisa succeeds thanks to supernatural aid. Sounds familiar?
Bad Black Barf: No-Face starts coughing and drooling black barf (among other things) after being given medicine from Chihiro.
Also, Zeniba turns Boh and Yubaba's servant into a mouse and a fly, respectively. When Chihiro later asks her to change them back, she says that the spell has worn off, and they can change back any time they want. (They don't choose to until later.)
Book Ends: The film begins and ends with Chihiro clutching her mother's arm while they follow her father through a tunnel. Her mother even tells Chihiro to stop clutching at her, that she'll make her fall.
Converse with the Unconscious: Chihiro tells the unconscious Haku that she was leaving for some time (to return the golden seal to Zeniba) and that he had to get better. Later when Haku wakes up, he reveals to Kamaji that he heard Chihiro's voice and followed it until he woke up.
Cool Big Sis: Lin, despite her initially cold reaction to Chihiro.
Dark is Not Necessarily Evil: Quite a few spirits are friendly to Chihiro initially, most notably Haku, but also Lin and Kamaji, and a few others warm up to her and start to like her eventually (the crisis with No Face seems to be the part where a lot of them start to do so) until the end, where almost all of them are trying to support her.
Disproportionate Retribution: Chihiro's parents ate food that had been left out in the open in unattended booths and were fully willing to pay for it if an owner appeared. So naturally they deserved to be turned into pigs, right?
Don't Look Back: Chihiro is instructed not to look back when leaving the Spirit World. She nearly turns when she's almost left, but with the sparkling of Zeniba's magic hairband, resists the temptation.
Emotion Eater: Word of God has stated that the reason No-Face went crazy is that he feeds on the emotions of those around him, and that their Greed corrupted him. Good thing it wasn't permanent... Which adds some Fridge Brilliance when you consider that he follows Chihiro around because she is the only one who was ever nice to him, and thus probably the best tasting.
Enigmatic Minion: Haku is bound to Yubaba's service, but helps Chihiro whenever no one else is around to see.
Establishing Character Moment: After Haku gives Chihiro the berry to stop her from disappearing and to prove that it worked, they gently touch hands. It's a fast blink-and-you-miss moment but Haku's tender expression quickly reveals to the audience that he isn't as cold as he appears to be.
Evil Twin: Played with in the case of Yubaba and Zeniba. Zeniba claims that the two of them are opposites in every way.
Executive Meddling: With a rare positive spin and happy ending. After the lackluster box office showing for Princess Mononoke, Disney executives were hesitant to move forward with more of the Studio Ghibli films they'd bought the rights for. Castle in the Sky had been dubbed and shown up on the film festival circuit, but no proper release date was announced, and it seemed like the other Ghibli films would be lost in Development Hell. The happy ending? John Lasseter, then the head of Pixar, stuck his neck out to push for Spirited Away's production and release in America. Lasseter's championing of the film, and its eventual Oscar win, was the impetus for the eventual release of the rest of the Ghibli catalog on DVD, as well as distribution of future Ghibli films.
On some editions of the DVD, John Lasseter appears before the movie begins to gush about how wonderful Spirited Away is. There's even footage of him with his arm around Hayao Miyazaki!
Expressive Hair: Sen's hair tends to spike up whenever something startles her, or just freaks her out in general.
Expressive Mask: No-Face's mask to some extent; he seems to smile or frown sometimes. The artists noted that they wish they'd been able to rely on lighting a little more to set his mood instead.
Fridge Brilliance: Noh masks, like the one No-Face wears (or is it a part of his body?) are built in real life so that they would seem to change their expression depending on the angle at which they are viewed...
Apparently, it really is medicine-and was specifically made to get anyone who eats it to puke. It's also apparently a real thing.
Expy: With all the explicit similarities to Alice in Wonderland, it is extremely likely that Yubaba is consciously inspired by the character of the Duchess. Both are old ladies, grotesquely deformed with gigantic heads, both mean and bad tempered and care immensely (in all the wrong ways) for a huge, spoiled baby who is actually happier to be transformed into a simpler creature. The Duchess, when first met, is grumpy and grouchy, but the second time, in the Queen of Hearts' party, she is almost uncomfortably friendly to Alice. Yubaba and Zeniba may not be the same person, but they do look the same and are exact opposites in terms of personality.
Also inverted when Chihiro must eat a morsel of the Spirit World's food in order to avoid fading away. Which is given to her, not eaten without permission. This might make the difference.
Food Porn: Let's just say it's a bad idea to watch this movie on an empty stomach in some parts. In others, it's a very bad idea to be eating while watching it...
Forgotten First Meeting: Haku, a river spirit, saved Chihiro when she fell into the river as a child. Chihiro remembers this only when they are flying through the sky together near the end of the film, which causes Haku to remember his identity too.
Funny Background Event: Lin is a little annoyed that Yubaba doesn't compliment her after they help the stink spirit.
Generic Cuteness: Chihiro was designed specifically to avoid this trope. Hayao Miyazaki has complained about how plain or unattractive male characters can be yet still be the star but female characters all have to be cute to be the protagonist.
Genre Savvy: It could be chalked up to childish fear, but unlike her parents, Chihiro can tell immediately that something is most definitely not right about the abandoned amusement park.
Greed: The greed for gold from the bathhouse employees caused No Face to become consumed to eat as much as he wants.
Green Aesop: Subtle hints of it, like Haku's river drying up and being covered by buildings, and the Muck Monster which turns out to be a river spirit coated by garbage.
Green Eyes: Haku has very beautiful, striking green eyes, especially when compared to the rest of the cast. At the same time they are cold and emotionless, until he gets his name back.
The Grotesque: The silent spirit No Face is shunned by everyone else except for Chihiro who treats him with kindness. He later begins swallowing up spirits, and only medicine from Chihiro appeases him.
The Radish Spirit is a big, floppy, vaguely obscene-looking example of this trope - as well as The Speechless and Gentle Giant. On the other hand, he doesn't suffer the social ostracism usually associated with The Grotesque.
Growing Up Sucks: Subverted. Chihiro acts like a spoiled brat at first, then becomes mature and resourceful as the film goes on.
Humans Are Smelly: Most everyone in the bathhouse remarks on the "human stink" on Chihiro, some suggesting it's bad for buisness.
Hypocrite: Maybe unintentional, but when Chihiro first goes to Yubaba asking for a job, she initially refuses, saying that Chihiro is, "A spoiled, lazy crybaby and you have no manners!" and shortly after this is interrupted by her baby, who fits her description of Chihiro pretty much perfectly.
Furthermore, she criticizes her employees for being greedy and attracting the wrong type of customer, when greed is pretty much her sole defining characteristic.
I Gave My Word: This actually happens twice in the span of ten minutes at the climax of the story. First, Boh tries to convince Yubaba to release Chihiro and her parents without testing Chihiro, and she almost considers it; however, Chihiro insists that she be tested, saying that a deal is a deal (even though she is not the one who actually made the deal). Second, Chihiro ends up passing the test, despite the fact that Yubaba made it extra tricky (she has to identify her parents in a large group of pigs and correctly guesses that its none of them) and Yubaba keeps her end of the bargain and voids her contract.
I Know Your True Name: Yubaba binds people to her by stealing their names, they can only get free of her if they remember their real name. The theft of her sister's gold seal is an attempt to steal her name as well.
I'm a Humanitarian: Apparently, humans taste good to the spirits, though they're not inclined to eat them on a whim.
Indirect Kiss: Chihiro bites the medicine ball in half before feeding it to Haku. She may have been trying to show Haku that it was safe to eat, or simply didn't have the strength to break a very hard piece of medicine with her hands as opposed to her jaw.
It's All About Me: Yubaba. The other bathhouse employees have a touch of this as well, as they'd rather keep the sinister No Face because he tipped well, rather than wonder who this guy is or where he came from or why he's so freaking creepy.
Kamehame Hadoken: Yubaba attempts this on a rampaging No Face and gets a Vomit Storm right in the face for her pains.
Loss of Identity: Yubaba steals the names of anyone who works for her, thus taking their memories of their past and their real name. Even Chihiro who was in the spirit world for a day had nearly forgotten her name until reminded. In fact, Haku was trying to free himself from Yubaba's contract by remembering who he is. But for some reason, he was only able to recall Chihiro.
Loud Gulp: When Chihiro has to pick out which of the pigs are her parents.
Lull Destruction: Quite a bit in the English dub, with background chatter added to otherwise quiet scenes and a few ad-libbed lines thrown in.
The Magic Goes Away: The spirit world, being mostly nature-associated, is being gradually hemmed in by redevelopment, with especially tragic consequences for river spirits.
Meaningful Name: Chihiro's name can be translated as "a thousand fathoms" or "ask a thousand questions". Chihiro's name is later "stolen" by Yubaba and she is given the more generic name Sen, which means only "a thousand." Essentially, Chihiro has been reduced from a person to a number in Yubaba's service, and according to Haku, she can only break free of it if she remembers her true name. Turns out Chihiro was the name of the real little girl upon whom Miyazaki based the character, like "Alice".
Also, by complete coincidence (?), the kanji characters left after Yubaba removes most of Chihiro's name resembles the English word "it". A further dehumanization.
The movie itself: Sen to Chihiro, or "Sen and Chihiro," - two different people.
And then there's No Face. (or possibly "Noh-Face" referring to the mask he wears.)
Mind Screw: Big time. This was lampshaded by Cartoon Network's ads for it, which, after explaining how Chihiro's got stuck in an alternate universe, her parents turned into pigs, and she sold her name to a "crazy witch lady", the narrator goes on to say, "And that's just the first twenty minutes!"
Yubaba's son Boh, who seems to be the only thing she cares about more than making money. When he goes missing, she goes full Mama Bear on Haku, complete with breath of fire.
Chihiro is also this herself, to a number of characters. She brings out the best in grouchy Lin, Haku, and Kamaji, and is the only one who cares for No-Face properly.
Muck Monster: The bathhouse is visited by an incredibly stinky spirit that resembles an enormous pile of sludge. It turns out that the visitor is actually the spirit of a river that has been badly polluted by garbage.
Ocular Gushers: Chihiro cries quite a lot at first until she begins to grow up and take responsibility for herself. Then again, she is only 10 or 11, and is going through a pretty traumatic experience.
Odd Job Gods: There are some pretty weird spirits in this world, such as the Radish Spirit, and the Stench Spirit. A subversion; he was actually a powerful river spirit whose river had been polluted. Still, this does suggest that Stench Spirits do exits somewhere.
Older Than Feudalism: A lot of the elements of the story date back to mythologies set in stone millennia ago, to name just a few: the rules that can't be broken, eating food from a different realm, the onset of dusk as the transition point from human to spirit world, the Afterlife Express of course (with its ancient equivalent the ferry/boat), and the necessity of not turning back after being given an exit from said spirit world despite the temptation to do so. All of these have their roots in some of the earliest Celtic, Greek and Japanese mythologies. It's difficult to tell how much that has drifted down and seeped into different cultural mythos throughout the ages and was subsequently taken from modern fairytales and Youkai myth, or what was ripped straight from the history pages, but either way there is a definite Shown Their Work in the amount of involved ancient mythology that played the setting for this film.
The Power of Friendship: When Chihiro is leaving Zeniba's house she is given a ribbon to protect her that "was woven from threads made by your friends".
The Power of Love: Zeniba reveals that Haku could only have been saved from her spell by Chihiro's love for him. Strangley, this line does not exist in the Japanese version.
Product Placement: Based on the frontal shot of Chihiro's father's car during the opening credits, it would be obvious that it was an Audi even if the four-rings symbol wasn't holding pride of place in the middle of the grille. Lampshaded later when Chihiro asks her father if they are lost and he replies "Don't worry, honey; Daddy's got four-wheel drive!" Whether the car's a 100 or a 200, it's definitely the quattro version.
Reality Subtext: Devoted environmentalist Miyazaki included a bicycle getting pulled out of the polluted water spirit after a clean-up group he was part of actually did find one in a river.
When Chihiro accidentally steps on a Soot-Sprite, the Boiler Man does a "cut the line" routine with her. In Miyazaki's time, this was a "cleansing" ritual that kids performed among each other when one of them accidentally stepped in poo. Much to Miyazaki's chagrin, he had to explain this to Chihiro's young voice-actress!
The translation staff had trouble with the gesture as well, until someone realized that it was thematically similar to a "cootie shot" schoolkids would use.
Reasonable Authority Figure: Despite being quite unsympathetic as an antagonist, wanting to turn Chihiro's family into pigs and all, Yubaba turns out to be reasonable as well.
Scenery Porn: This movie is chock full of it, as can be expected from anything by Miyazaki.
Schmuck Bait: Subverted with the ending in which Chihiro is told not to look back when leaving. She almost does, but she has enough willpower not to.
Schmuck Banquet: Chihiro's parents can't help but eat the food at the beginning.
Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: The "lesson" that No Face learns from the bathhouse residents. Chihiro teaches him a lesson when she refuses his gold.
Chihiro's parents at the buffet. "Daddy's got credit cards and cash!" However, this may not entirely count given that they mention that they can pay the bill when the workers get back.
It's her father's blind faith in cash that gets everyone in trouble. After all, he's assuming the price is paper money or credit.
Shapeshifting: Haku, a dragon spirit, can transform into a human, and Yubaba into a birdlike creature. Zeniba turns Boh into a mouse. Also, in the Japanese version, it is explicitly stated that every worker in the bathhouse is a transformed animal spirit.
Zeniba's paper birds, however, are a kind of paper spirit called shikigami.
Being told not to look back is a nod to the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, except in Chihiro's case, she's successful.
It's a common mythological element. The one most familiar to a Japanese audience would likely be Izanami and Izanagi, which is similar to the Classical myth above.
Sibling Yin-Yang: Zeniba and Yubaba might look exactly alike, but couldn't be more different in personality. Zeniba is nice and grandmotherly but is clearly capable of anger and retribution, while Yubaba is a nasty old women who is still a Reasonable Authority Figure.
The Stoic: Haku, when he's not with Chihiro. He doesn't even bat an eyelid when Yubaba breathes fire at him.
Take a Third Option: At the end, Chihiro is given a pen of a dozen pigs, and has to choose which two among them are their parents in order to free them and herself. Her choice? Her parents aren't in there.
Too Dumb to Live: You can't tell in English, but Chihiro's parents should really have known better than to eat in a "park" where the signs advertise such foods as "dog" and "eyeball". Not to mention that they really should have waited to pay before engorging themselves, and they kept insisting that there was nothing weird or supernatural about the 'park'. It's pretty easy even for someone who doesn't read or speak Japanese to tell that there's something ungodly stupid about what they're doing.
It can be theorized that the enchantments on the food are probably what causes them to engorge themselves, though they still fell for the Schmuck Banquet big time.
Most of the bathhouse employees, who cheerfully serve No Face without even questioning where he's from, even though he just pops up in the middle of the night and mysteriously speaks with the voice of another employee. Yubaba later curses their stupidity over letting No Face in, suggesting that they ought to have recognized the threat he potentially posed.
Uncomfortable Elevator Moment: The scene where Chihiro is riding with the Radish Spirit just screams awkward, especially since Lin warns Chihiro not to look at it, and the thing takes up most of the elevator.
The awkwardness is, however, somewhat lessened by the fact that the Radish Spirit seems benevolent and is sort of cute in a weird way. If you like really fat things that squeak when they walk.
Visual Pun: No-Face could be described as having a Noh◊ face, though only in English.
Year Outside, Hour Inside: The car is dusty and the foliage around it has grown some - more so than the three days at most the adventure has taken from Chihiro's point of view. That said, it may not have just been a couple of days that she experienced. While not months, the audience is never given an exact time scale for how long everything took from her perspective.