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The detour into the spirit world is, in fact, a metaphor for life.
On the unending journey ever onwards, a soul may become distracted by a strange world populated by bizarre denizens, get bound to it due to worldly attachments, and lose even one's own true name, then be dragged into petty busywork that occupies your time and your thoughts. Yubaba and Zeniba are twin different manifestations of religion: Yubaba's massively elaborate bathhouse is a metaphor for organized religion which is supposed to cleanse the soul, but is founded on exploitation. Zeniba, on the other hand, represents quiet, individual contemplation, which ends up being more useful in breaking free. Ultimately, despite being a rather harsh and unnecessary adventure, a stint in this world is hardly worthless for the soul as it helps with character development and helps it come to terms with its journey.
  • Even if organised religion were founded on exploitation, would Miyazaki agree?

The characters eventually evolve from humans into frogs and slugs.
First one here? Anyways, in the Japanese + English subtitles, it is said by a character somewhere along the lines of "The monster has already eaten two frogs and a slug!" My guess is that the employees where once in Chihiro's case, and had forgotten their names, so they are stuck there. Then eventually turn into a slug if female, or a frog if male. I suck at WMG ... I'm done. If it's obvious or stupid, go ahead and remove it.
  • But Lin is a weasel according to Word of God. My guess is that all the workers (With some exceptions) are simply spirits of animals; weasels, slugs and frogs being the main ones.
    • Weasel or not, her human appearance may indicate that she was human once, and was in the same situation Chihiro was in. If that was the case, the reason she was so sympathetic towards Chihiro is very clear.
    • By that logic, Haku was a human and not a river.
  • Oh my god... Tsunade was a beautiful princess in Japanese myth who could control slugs; Jiraiya was her lover who could control toads and frogs. Fridge Brilliance!
  • Maybe if humans work at the bathhouse enough they become frogs, slugs, or weasels. I just thought of this cause of what Haku said.

Chihiro was actually a young woman working as an environmental worker, and the movie is an artistic rendition of her experiences in cleaning rivers and other bodies of water
Chihiro was literally cleaning polluted rivers.
  • Parents turning to pigs and getting separated = Chihiro leaving parents' home and moving to an adult life.
  • The Kohaku River = her inspiration in becoming an environmental worker.
  • Yubaba = Chihiro's boss.
  • Chihiro becoming as Sen = uuhhh... Chihiro was the 1000th employee?
    • Sen = yen/100 = Newbie name. "Sen" got used to being talked down to, until a superior (a former acquaintance from the Kohaku River area) was reminded by and helped to remind her that people are people, not numbers, and they're in it instead of some other job to help the environment.
  • Rin = Chihiro's Sempai.
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  • Chihiro talking to pigs = Chihiro trying to contact her parents.
  • Cleaning the Stink Monster = Chihiro's first big assignment.
  • No Face = a friend of hers who unintentionally messes up things OR...
  • No Face = a really stubborn body of water that refuses to be cleaned up.
    • No Face = Small river known for gold flakes because of something upstream that produces pyrite. Someone drowned while trying to get the "gold" and dammed the proper flow of the stream, and Chihiro (who had previously enjoyed the peaceful, clean location) had to pull out the body.

Hmm... So the place was a theme park that had destroyed a local river when it was built, causing a nearby railroad track to flood and the people to start moving away, so that the railroad stopped selling tickets direct to the area? The baby was the boss's child whom she kept bringing to the river cleaning company's headquarters and spoiled it, and Chihiro having to bring it along while on an administrative assignment instead of leaving it unsupervised taught it to not be such a big baby?

  • Well, Miyazaki did say that as fantastical as it all seemed, it did have some basis in reality. For example, the "stink spirit" that turned out to be a river spirit or something? Based on his personal experience with cleaning up a river; there actually was a bicycle in it!

Everything in the Spirit World was transformed from either someone—or something—eating the cursed food, as punishment for breaking the rules, or because they forgot their names.
This means that the food being eaten, the architecture, the tiny bits of coal being burnt up...was all either a human, an animal, or a supernatural spirit. Pleasant dreams!
  • The coal is almost definite, if Yubaba's threat was not simply hollow. But assuming it's not, I have to wonder: does burning the coal kill the one so turned, or change him/her/it back to the previous form? Yubaba obviously can't afford to essentially kill off every worker who makes a minor error, so...
  • Remember how Kamaji uses sootballs to help him stoke the boilers? Once the burned coal becomes ash, Kamaji uses his spell and creates new sootballs out of the ashes and they continue working for the bathhouse. So in a sense, Yubaba is indirectly creating new employees

Chihiro will grow up to be a Shinto priestess
She still has her magic hairband to connect her to the Spirit World. Also, Haku promised her that they would meet again, and spirits can't break their promises.

Yubaba and Zeniba are the same person.
Am I the first one to mention this? They sound the same, they look the same, and CHIHIRO even calls "Yubaba" Granny.
  • I wrote a short fanfiction around this idea (Yubaba's Night), with the explanation that she has a magically split personality.
  • I thought the movie clearly states that they're twins..?
  • Well, there is no scene in the movie where both appear together...
  • And Yubaba is constantly leaving the bathhouse in her bird form, for no given reason - it's highly possible that she's spending time as Zeniba in the little cottage.

No-Face is Missingno.
Both duplicate items, corrupt whatever they touch and are found alongside an ocean.
  • Epic. Missingno. needs more love.

Yubaba's son grows up to be a very spoiled wizard.
Because face it, even with Chihiro's help that boy will still be spoiled beyond all belief by the time he grows up.
  • Howl!
  • Book!Howl is Welsh; he also has a sister, a niece and a nephew. However, since the film doesn't follow the book that much, this could still be true for Film!Howl

The River Spirit that Chihiro helped clean was Haku's grandfather.
Pretty self-explanatory... They look like they could be related.

Yubaba never really hated Chihiro.
There seems to be quite a bit of evidence that while she may not LIKE her, she doesn't outright despise her. It's not like she is purposefully malicious to her all the time. Also, at the end when Chihiro says none of the pigs are her parents, she says, "Are you sure that's your answer?" Chihiro never said that was going to be her answer, she thought it was a mistake. When Yubaba said that maybe she was giving her a hint that it was an option.
  • I took the opposite approach here: Yubaba knew that Chihiro's initial answer was the right one, and asked "Are you sure?" in order to get Chihiro to second-guess herself into changing her answer.

When Chihiro was a kid, her sandals drifted into a small pond where they were mistaken for Mei's sandals.
It's never specified but the pond could have been connected to the Kohaku River back when it existed.
  • Except they're different shoes- Chihiro's was a sneaker, the unknown girl's shoe was a sandal.

Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro take place in the same universe. Chihiro is the mother in My Neighbor Totoro.
Totoro and Spirited Away clearly take place in the same world: there is a tree shown in the first scene of Spirited Away that is eerily similar to the one under which Totoro resides (perhaps from a more developed angle—this side of the mountain has been built up more). Furthermore, both movies feature the soot ball spirits, and Totoro could easily be a creature found within the bath house in spirited away. Furthermore, if the two indeed take place in the same universe and better yet, in a similar area, Chihiro could easily be a character in My Neighbor Totoro: for instance, the mother.
  • or Chihiro's mother is Satsuki or Mei, which seems more likely since My Neighbour Totoro takes place at an earlier date and time than spirited away, you can tell by the clothes.
    • If indeed it is one of them, then it's definitely Mei. Mrs Ogino has the same coloring, even down to her pink top, and it seems like Chihiro inherited the Blush Sticker.
Chihiro will return to the Spirit World.
It's only natural since Haku promised to see her again and that many of the inhabitants when they cheered her on during her farewell said something along the lines of "Come back and visit us soon."
No-Face is a hungry ghost
A monster from Asian Mythology, a hungry ghost is an entity that is excessively hungry-although mythology differs on whether or not it actually can eat.
  • Word of God says that No-Face was actually more or less the God of Consumerism. He is lonely, has no home or identity of his own, and seeks solace in empty food and wealth.
The movie is an allegory for prostitution.
This is a theory that I've seen tossed around, but it makes sense in a strange way.
  • Chihiro's parents eat the food of the spirit, similar to how many prostitutes are forced into it by trying to pay off debts or to support family due to some thoughtless actions.
  • Chihiro's name is taken from her, showing both how prostitution takes away your identity and self-worth and how many prostitutes go under a pseudonym. What's more, her new name is a number, another show of loss of identity and a possible reference to how much she costs.
  • In the past, bath houses were known to double as brothels. In the Japanese version of the movie, Chihiro is refered to as a Yuna, which were girl who specifically serviced men both in washing and sexually.
  • Almost every patron that we see is male/ambiguous, while most of the workers are female, and the few male workers are more administrative than anything. Reference to pimps?
  • Yubaba herself looks a good deal like a Victorian brothel Madame.
  • Haku is either a fellow prostitute under debt for Yubaba, or he's also a pimp but draws the line at child prostitution. It's especially personal since he and Chihiro have a history.
  • No-Face is another patron, a poor one known for his violent tendancies. But once he has money, the greedy brothel welcomes him. The idea (wrong or not) that he could do anything he wanted in the bath house as long as he paid enough makes him go power-mad in the bath house. But no matter what the workers try to do to please him, all he wants is to pay the little girl who's caught his eye.
  • Chihiro eventually runs away with the promise that she'll find a way to save both her old friend Haku and her parents. Yubaba reacts very angrily to this, like a real pimp/madame might react to one of their merchandise escaping, particularly after the No-Face fiasco.
  • The fact that the creators said themselves that they were inspired by the underground sex work business. Quote from Miyazaki: "I think the most appropriate way to symbolize the modern world is the sex industry. Hasn't Japanese society become like the sex industry?"

Yubaba's three head-henchmen are her triplet brothers.
She and Zeniba are identical twins; the heads are also identical. This would also explain why she keeps them around even though they don't appear to do anything - can anyone say "nepotism?"

Chihiro is able to identify her parents by their tufts of hair.
You'll notice that Chihiro's parents still retain the hair they had as humans even when they are pigs. We never see her parents as pigs from the front again, but Chihiro might have, and learned to recognized them by their hair.

The waiting room Chihiro and her parents passed through in the beginning was Station #1 of the Afterlife Express
They couldn't see any dead souls while they were there since they had not gone far enough into the spirit world to see them. Chihiro must have been a little further into the spirit world than her parents, since she was able to hear the train departing but apparently her parents didn't. Chihiro had already had an encounter with Haku at that point, so that might have made her a bit more sensitive to spiritual things.
  • That is actually pretty plausible. It is probably the first station of the train that passes through the spirit world. The one with the shadowy ghosts. Remember what was said about it? That it only goes in one direction but used to go in both? Could be a reference to the old times of myths in which death was not finite and you could come back. But today those times have passed and it goes only in one direction.

The area outside the tunnel was part of the spirit world; that's why the branches were overgrown and the car was dusty
The area outside the tunnel is still slightly in the spirit world, and so time passes differently there than in the real world. If you take the film literally, Chihiro was in the spirit world for two days in spirit world time. Even that's not enough time for noticeable dust to settle and branches to overgrow. But there are explanations. Mostly likely, the film showed a compressed time version of what really happened, and Chihiro really spent several months in the spirit world. It certainly felt like she was there for more than two days. Another possibility is that the area outside the tunnel is in a different time frame that moves a lot faster. Or, perhaps plants in the spirit world just grow a lot faster. Either way, it's spirit world so you can't account for time.

But, in the end, it will turn out that not much real world time has passed, and Chihiro's family will probably beat the movers to their new house.

The spirit world is part of the afterlife
At the beginning, when he is driving bizarrely fast, Chihiro's dad actually crashes the car. This isn't depicted onscreen because Chihiro never sees it coming. The entrance where they park the car isn't part of the real world. The long, dark tunnel is Exactly What It Says on the Tin. The bathhouse and bulk of the plot is a Limbo parallel, a test for Chihiro to earn a good or bad afterlife— if she fails the test, her soul will vanish or she will turn into a pig as punishment, but instead she passes and earns her way (and her parents' way) into the equivalent of heaven.

The onigiri's charm let Chihiro cry
Haku says he charmed the onigiri he gave Chihiro so that they will restore Chihiro's strength. The reason why Chihiro cries so heavily is in part because that charm also allowed her to relax enough to let out the tears fear and despair she has been holding in for the past 12 plus hours.

Haku is physically abused.
Yubaba is not a very nice person at all. She doesn't seem to care when Haku is bleeding to death, and she threatens to tear him to pieces in the original version. Haku often moves stiffly - trying not to aggravate injuries? However, the clincher is Boh's absolute comfortableness with extreme physical punishment - "play with me or I'll break your arm". Boh has never been out of his (padded) room, meaning he couldn't have seen anyone injured, and no way would Yubaba use physical punishment on her Spoiled Brat - especially not to the level of breaking arms.Sorry, that was a nasty WMG.