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Spirited Away

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Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Distributed by
Written by Hayao Miyazaki
Country Japan
IMDb profile


Considered to be Hayao Miyazaki's animation masterpiece, Spirited Away is the film that truly made Miyazaki internationally famous. Released in 2001, the film is one of the most sophisticated 2D animation pieces ever created.

Plotline

Spirited opens with ten-year old Chihiro, the main character, and her parents as they move to a new town. On the way, they become lost and discover what appears to be an abandoned amusement park. After finding unattended food, the parents proceed to stuff themselves and leave Chihiro alone to explore the abandoned world. However, when dusk falls, Chihiro finds that the town is not actually deserted. All around her spirits begin to appear. When Chihiro runs back to her parents, she discovers that they've turned into pigs because they ate food intended for spirits.

Abandoned in the spirit world, Chihiro begins to disappear until she is helped by a youth named Haku. Haku give Chihiro food to allow her to remain solid and then tells her to get a job at the giant bathhouse she's found herself in if she doesn't want to be killed. Chihiro signs away her name to the witch who runs the bathhouse, Yubaba, who changes Chihiro's name to Sen and then puts her to work on staff at the giant spirit-run bathhouse. The remainder of the film follows Chihiro/Sen on her journey to try and get her name back and save her parents from their fates as pigs. She has notable encounters with river spirits, Noh masks (a traditional Japanese demon), and dragons.

The entire story is a statement on greed, though it still includes Miyazaki's trademark concern for the environment (addressed by the polluted River spirit.) He demonstrates again and again that greed will lead to poor fates because it narrows one's focus too much. It also expresses Miyazaki's concerns towards today's youth. Chihiro is a typical, sullen, spoiled youth, already jaded with the world by the age of ten. The film is about her coming of age and realizing that the world doesn't revolve around her and sometimes she must stand on her own two legs.

Interesting Notes

Spirited, unlike many of Miyazaki's films, is set in a traditional Japanese world and can be difficult to follow for those who aren't familiar with Japanese lore. The scene, for instance, in which Kamaji advises Chihiro how best to counteract bad luck had to be explained in the dubbed version of the film because Americans would not be familiar with what is the Japanese version of the cootie shot.

The film also draws on traditions that are rooted in most world cultures. The power of the name, for instance, is common throughout the movie. Chihiro and Haku are under Yubaba's power partially because she has their true names and therefore can control them. This is similar to old English myths that faerie folk kept their true names hidden because those who knew such names would be able to control the individual. Many Native American cultures also had similar myths. The idea that one should not consume food intended for spirits or gods is also planted throughout most cultures. In Western lore it was believed that to eat the food of faeries condemned one to live in the faerie world. It is similarities like these that broaden Spritied Away's appeal.

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