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:
- 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.
- The baby's disappearance. You think everything is fine, and then you realize your child is missing. Despite the fact we know he's all right, and dislike Yubaba, her genuine terror and heartbreak in those few seconds are horrible.
- Adults Are Useless: Well, Chihiro's parents are, hence the need to rescue them.
- Afterlife Express: The train that Chihiro takes to get to Zeniba's home is intended for use by the dead moving onto the next life, and has phantom passengers.
- Always Identical Twins: Yubaba and her twin sister Zeniba.
- Amusement Park of Doom: It's really a bathhouse for spirits.
- Animal Motifs/Animal Stereotypes: All the bathhouse workers are animal spirits. The frog spirits are particularly common (and easy to identify).
- Lin is a weasel.
- 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).
- The six-armed Kamaji, with his fuzzy mustache and black Lennon Specs, is a spider spirit.
- Author Appeal: A determined heroine, a flood, young love, flying sequences, precipitous heights, gorging on food, and pigs.
- 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.
- Bad Black Barf: No-Face starts coughing and drooling black barf (among other things) after being given medicine from Chihiro.
- Baleful Polymorph: Chihiro's parents and the other humans turned into pigs.
- Also, Zeniba turns Boh and Yubaba's servant into a mouse and a tiny bird, 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.)
- Because You Were Nice to Me: Word of God states that this is the reason No-Face followed Sen around after she let him into the bath-house.
- Belly Mouth: No Face.
- Berserk Button: Yubaba is surly at the best of times, but when she discovers her baby is missing she becomes terrifying.
- Big Eater:
- Chihiro's parents when they transform into pigs.
- Boh eating chocolate.
- No-Face, who combines this with Extreme Omnivore (he swallows several people whole).
- Big "NO!"/This Cannot Be!: When Yubaba realizes Boh is gone.
- Big Sister Instinct: Lin becomes quite protective of Chihiro over the course of the film. The first time when Sen was with the Stink Spirit and later with No Face.
Lin: Don't worry... stay right where you are, I'm coming to get you! You're gonna be fine, I won't let him hurt you.
Lin: No Face! If you put even one scratch on that girl, you're in big trouble!
- Bird Run: Haku is able to swiftly hover inches above the ground by running this way.
- Blood from the Mouth: Haku due to the effects of Zeniba's curse. Makes sense since Kamaji says he is bleeding from the inside.
- Blue and Orange Morality: This being the spirit world, after all.
- Blush Sticker: Chihiro has them throughout the entire film.
- 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.
- Butt Monkey: The little green frog. He gets magicked by Haku, he faints when the Stink Spirit gets too close, and then he gets eaten by No Face.
- Card-Carrying Villain: Yubaba is a very unpleasant old lady, but only curses Chihiro because she's basically constrained to carry out her role by her job.
- Cain and Abel: Yubaba and Zeniba.
- Captain Obvious: Chihiro. A few instances in the Japanese version - several more were added for the English dub.
- "I'm see-through!"
- "Haku, you're bleeding!"
- "Wow, you're a BIG baby!" (dub only)
- "Haku, we're falling!" (dub only)
- Chekhov's Boomerang: The medicine from the water god helps cure Haku from his injuries and free No Face from all the food (and people) he has eaten.
- Chekhov's Gunman: No Face's first appearance is seemingly as just another "face" in a crowd of equally strange spirits.
- Come with Me If You Want to Live: Haku does this to Chihiro when she first enters the spirit world.
- Comforting Comforter: Kamaji does this when Chihiro falls asleep in the boiler room. Guess he's not such a bad guy after all. D'aaaw...
- Coming-of-Age Story
- 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.
- Cute Clumsy Girl: 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.
- And of course there's No Face itself, a rather terrifying Humanoid Abomination which craves Chihiro's friendship.
- Dark World: The carnival site after dark.
- Deadpan Snarker: Lin.
- Directionless Driver: Used by Chihiro's father to help start the movie.
- Disneyfication: Less so than most in that trope, but in addition to Alice in Wonderland, the film is also partially a Lighter and Softer version of the rather grisly Japanese fairy tale "Shita-kiri Suzume".
- 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?
- Distressed Dude: Haku was heavily injuried from Zeniba's spell, needing both medicine from the water god and Chihiro's love to save him.
- 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.
- Down the Rabbit Hole: The long, dark tunnel Chihiro family passes through into the spirit world.
- Dragon Rider: Chihiro briefly got to take a ride on the dragon Haku.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: Chihiro has to go through some hardship to stay alive and save her loved ones, including getting all covered in spirit feces.
- Eaten Alive: Happens to quite a few of the bathhouse employees after No-Face goes nuts. Fortunately, Chihiro's medicine makes him cough them up. (Along with everything else he's eaten, much of which he spits up on Yubaba.)
- Eccentric Mentor: Yubaba's twin sister Zeniba.
- 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.
- End Of An Era: It's a Hayao Miyazaki movie. It's more subtle here, though, and more about cultural traditions eroding: Chihiro doesn't recognize roadside shrines or understand the traditional etiquette, and the formerly two-way Afterlife Express now goes only one direction. The image album has the workers lament that fewer and fewer gods show up every year, as they're slowly dying out, and "there are no gods in electric things".
- 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.
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Yubaba genuinely cares about her enormous baby.
- Evil Twin: Played with in the case of Yubaba and Zeniba. Zeniba claims that the two of them are opposites in every way.
- 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...
- Extreme Omnivore: No-Face.
- 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.
- She's also suspiciously similar to Juno from Beetlejuice: a grumpy old white woman from the spirit world who smokes a lot of cigarettes. Their voices even sound alike.
- The Fair Folk: The whole film (and amusement park) is built around a traditional Fairy Tale portrayal of Youkai.