Spirited Away

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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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 (千と千尋の神隠し, Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, "Sen and Chihiro's Spiriting-Away"), is a surreal adventure film (said to be inspired by a 9-year-old girl Miyazaki met) 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 Oscar's tend to favor CG Western Animated productions. With a box office gross of ¥31.68 billion (about $30.9 million, or a little over $48 million adjusting for inflation, as of 2021) it is the second-highest grossing Japanese film of all time, second only to Demon Slayer.

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.

Tropes used in Spirited Away include:
  • Actor Allusion: "I'll miss you, Chihiro. Your best friend, Rumi." (In the Japanese version, Chihiro was voiced by Rumi Hiiragi.)
  • Adults Are Useless: Well, Chihiro's parents are, hence the need to rescue them.
  • 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.
  • 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 sister Zeniba.
  • Amusement Park of Doom: It's really a bathhouse for spirits.
  • Animal Motifs/Animal Stereotypes: All bathhouse workers are animal spirits.
    • 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).
  • Anti-Villain: Yubaba is arguably one. Although somewhat greedy and rather strict, she is fair and doesn't go back on her word when Chihiro passes her final test correctly. On the Sliding Scale of Anti-Villains, she would be a Type I or possibly IV.
  • Author Appeal: A determined heroine, a flood, young love, flying sequences and precipitous heights.
  • 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.
  • Baleful Polymorph: Chihiro's parents and the other humans turned into pigs.
  • 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.
  • Big Sister Instinct: Lin becomes quite protective of Chihiro over the course of the event. 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!

  • 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.
    • While it's true that Japanese makes extensive use of puns, the character's name in Japanese is kaonashi, so the no/noh similarity is most likely just a coincidence.
  • Bird Run
  • 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.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Chihiro at first, but she gets better. Some of her outbursts at the start are because she's overwhelmed.
  • Cain and Abel: Yubaba and Zeniba; despite being twins, they are opposites in almost every way, and seriously don't like each other.
  • 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.
  • Captain Obvious: Chihiro, particularly in the dub.
    • "Haku, you're bleeding!"
    • "Wow, you're a BIG baby!" (dub only)
    • "Water!"
    • "Haku, you're falling!"
  • Chekhov's Gun: The medicine from the water god helps cure Haku from his injuries and free Noh 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...
    • Have we forgotten when he covered for Chihiro, calling her his granddaughter when they'd only just met? Kamajii isn't a bad guy at all, he's just gruff.
  • 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 he followed her voice until he woke up.
  • Cool Big Sis: Lin, despite her initially cold reaction to Chihiro.
  • Cute Clumsy Girl: Chihiro.
  • Cute Monster Girl:
    • Despite being a weasel spirit, Lin looks fully human; some fans have theorized she may have once, indeed, been human and in the same situation as Chihiro.
    • Haku is a male example in his usual form, a young, Bishonen boy about Chihiro's age; in his true form, he's a dragon.
  • Dark World: The carnival site after dark.
  • Different As Night and Day: Yubaba and her less malicious twin Zeniba.
  • Directionless Driver: Used by Chihiro's father to help start the movie.
  • Draconic Divinity: Haku is the most powerful spirit under Yubaba's employ, and can turn into a beautiful, graceful Eastern dragon. His true identity is that of the Kohaku River's guardian spirit.
  • Dude in Distress: 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 flinches when she's almost left, but resists the temptation.
  • Down the Rabbit Hole
  • Dragon Rider: Chihiro briefly got to take a ride on the dragon Haku.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending
  • Eccentric Mentor: Yubaba's twin sister Zeniba.
  • The Elfman Effect: One of the Japanese trailers for the movie uses the song "The Lost Paradise" from Laputa: Castle in the Sky.
  • 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.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Yubaba genuinely cares about her enormous baby.
  • Evil Twin: Played with in the case of Yubaba and Zeniba.
  • 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. Laputa: 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.
  • Expressive Hair: Sen's hair tends to spike up whenever something startles her, or just freaks her out in general.
    • This is something that occurs is most Miyazaki movies, too. Look carefully!
  • 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.
  • The Fair Folk: The whole film (and amusement park) is built around a traditional Fairy Tale portrayal of Youkai.
  • Feudal Japan
  • Fish Out of Water: Humans like Chihiro are detested in the spirit world, partly because they smell funny to kami (spirits).
  • Flight of Romance: In the climax with Haru and Chihiro. Then turns into Free Fall Romance and back to Flight of Romance again when Haru recovers.
  • Food Chains: Chihiro's parents should know better than to eat food that doesn't belong to them in a fairy tale.
    • 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.
  • Foot Focus: Lin is introduced bare feet first and Chihiro spends the better part of the movie barefoot, as well.
  • Forgotten Childhood Friend: 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.
  • 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.
  • Ghost Town: At first.
  • Giant Flyer: Haku in dragon form.
  • Girl Meets Spirit: Chihiro and Haku.
  • Gluttonous Pig: Chihiro's parents turn into pigs after gorging themselves on the spirits' food.
    • Kind of justified: they are eating food made for gods in a territory where gods gather night by night...
  • Gold Fever: All of the employees at the bathhouse go crazy trying to pick up the gold No-Face drops, although it turns out to not be enough to cover the damage he causes in the end.
  • Gonk: Yubaba, her baby and her sister. There's two scenes with Yubaba nose-to-nose with normal (not super-deformed) characters, and her head is the size of Haku's everything-from-the-waist-up.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking
  • 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 made of 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 that is.
  • 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.
  • Growing Up Sucks
  • Headbutt of Love: While free-falling through the sky.
  • Holding Hands: Chihiro and Haku do a lot of this, complete with Intertwined Fingers. It's most appropriate considering their young age.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Interspecies Romance: Chihiro and Haku.
  • In the Name of the Moon
  • It's All About Me: Yubaba. The other bathhouse employees have a touch of this as well, seeing as they'd rather keep around the sinister No Face and keep getting gold than spend any time wondering exactly 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.
  • 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.
    • The after life express used to go both ways now it only goes one.
  • Mayfly-December Romance: Human and river spirit.
  • 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.
    • And then there's No Face.
  • 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!"
  • Misunderstood Loner with a Heart of Gold: Actually, two of them.
  • Morality Pet:
    • 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.
  • Multi-Armed Multitasking: Kamaji.
  • My Beloved Smother
  • Mysterious Protector: Haku for most of the film.
  • Nature Spirit
  • Needle in a Stack of Needles: The test at the end of the movie, where Chihiro's parents are hidden amongst other pigs, supposedly.
  • Ocular Gushers: Chihiro cries quite a lot at first until she begins to grow up and take responsibility for herself.
  • 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.
  • One-Winged Angel: Yubaba transforms into a terrifying form when she's angry.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Haku AKA Kohaku is in fact a river spirit.
  • Parents Know Their Children: Inverted.
  • Perpetual Molt: A variation: dragon scales fly in the air when Haku reverts back to human form upon remembering his identity.
  • 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.
    • That line is not in the Japanese version, though.
  • Real After All: Chihiro's hairband after exiting the fairground. Or was it?
    • The leaves in the car and the fact that Chihiro didn't actually wake up indicate it wasn't a dream. However it doesn't rule out a hallucination or trip.
      • ...But only if her parents were hallucinating long enough not to notice her missing or the car gathering dust and leaves too.
  • 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.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: The Soot Sprites, who also appear in My Neighbor Totoro, another Studio Ghibli film.
  • 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 and herself into a paper bird at one point. Also, in the Japanese version, it is explicitly stated that every worker in the bathhouse is a transformed animal spirit.
  • Shout-Out: Zeniba's hopping lamppost is a homage to Luxo Jr., Pixar's mascot. Boh's room is based on Princess Clarisse's room from The Castleof Cagliostro
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Zeniba and Yubaba might look exactly alike, but couldn't be more different in personality.
  • Spoiled Brat: Yubaba's baby.
    • Yubaba calls Chihiro this when she first asks for a job.
  • Spirit World: natch.
  • 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.
  • The Stoic: Haku, when he's not with Chihiro. He doesn't even bat an eyelid when Yubaba breathes fire at him.
  • They Should Have Sent a Poet: As Chihiro walks into the bathhouse.
  • Tomboyish Sidetails: Chihiro has them.
  • 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".
    • 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.
  • Trapped in Another World
  • 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.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Poor, poor No-Face. Yubaba gets the worst of it, however.
  • Watch Out for That Tree: Watch out for that wall, Chihiro.
  • We Need a Distraction
  • What Is This Thing You Call Love?

Lin: What's going on?
Kamaji: Something you wouldn't recognize. It's called "love".

  • When He Smiles: When Haku smiles, it's only around Chihiro. But when he does smile, boy does it light up his face.
  • White Mask of Doom. No-Face is first encountered as a partial black cloak and a white mask. Later his body grows a horrible maw, jarring with the lost-child-in-pain expression of the mask.
  • 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.
      • We can make a good estimate, though: Chihiro and her parents arrive shortly before sunset on Day 1, her bathhouse training and the encounter with the polluted water spirit takes place on Day 2, No-Face's rampage and Chihiro's trip to Swamp Bottom on Day 3, and her return to the real world appears to be around midday on Day 4. In addition there's no suggestion from Chihiro that a day in the spirit world lasts longer or shorter than she expects it to.
  • You Are Number Six: The change in Chihiro's name, as mentioned above.