One of my favorite Miyazaki movies, Spirited Away, summarized and debunked for your enjoyment. Spoilers ahead, my friends. But seriously, if you haven’t seen this, you should go do it. Like, now.
If you’ve seen any of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, you can usually identify unifying themes: nature. In My Neighbor Totoro, they essentially live in the middle of a forest, and meet a forest spirit. In Ponyo, they’re surrounded by the sea, and meet the Mother of the Sea. Both of those films also share something quite common in Miyazaki’s films: the leading lady. You have San in Princess Mononoke, Sophie in Howl’s Moving Castle, Sheeta in Laputa: Castle in the Sky. If you look back, both are started in one of Miyazaki’s break-through films: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.
It boasts a strong, independant female lead, Nausicaa, and she is argueably one of the strongest in Miyazaki’s arsenal. But one of his more recent films changed that in 2001.
Spirited Away is by far his most popular and well-known film, having won the Academy Award for Best Animated feature. In the movie, a young girl, Chihiro, is moving to a new town with her parents. It’s pretty clear from the beginning that she is fully against the move and is rather resentful towards her parents for it, acting childish and callow most of the time. On the way to their new house, her father decides to take a shortcut through a forest path and ends up getting the three of them lost. They decide to explore further, much to Chihiro’s chagrin. More walking through a vast grassy plain and they’re now in what looks like an abandoned town full of resteraunts and street vendors. Chihiro’s dad smells food, and heads for the source. This leads to what I consider the most mouthwatering scene in all of cinematic history. (Actually, all the food in this movie looks amazing, even the rice) I don’t know what half the stuff is, but Ghibli manages to make everything on those platters look fresh and tender and dripping with deliciousness. Apparently thinking the same thing, Chihiro’s parents start chowing down. True to form, their gluttony turns them into pigs. Why? Magic foooood…..
Chihiro freaks out, runs away and finds that the town is beginning to fill with spirits now that the sun’s going down. The grassy plain that they came up on before is now filled with water and she sees a ferry quickly approaching. It’s — surprise! — filled with more spirits. As Chihiro tries to convince herself that she’s dreaming, she finds herself turning transparent/disappearing from the spirit world. She’s miraculously saved by a mysterious boy who feeds her some of the food from the spirit world, and takes her towards the spirit’s bath house which is huge and amazing and I don’t even know how it was designed.
Turns out the boy’s name is Haku, and tells her that she needs to speak with Yubaba, the witch who runs the bath house, about getting a job. So she does, meeting Komaji the boiler man with 6 arms and Lin the snarky bath house worker along the way. With help from Lin, she gets to Yubaba’s penthouse office and asks for a job. Or rather, insists for a job. Or rather, yells at Yubaba for a job. After basically using Yubaba’s giant ass baby against her, she signs a contract and gets her name magically stolen. She is now Sen. After a period of getting shunned by the other workers for being human, she finally begins to be accepted. Throughout all this, she’s being followed by a lonely spirit called No-Face (who, by the way, scared me away to the theatre bathroom when I saw it when I was 7). She sees Haku again, who takes her to see her parents in the pig pens. She inadvertently lets No-Face into the bath house thinking he’s a customer. Then, one night, the bath house gets a guest that they believe is a stink spirit.
Of course, Yubaba assigns Chihiro to take care of (him?) and after a bit of fishing around, she finds a thorn in his side. Said thorn turns out to be an entire bicycle, which she pulls out along with a ton of other crap. The stink spirit turns out to be a Great River Spirit, who — incidentally — is very rich. This is the only example of the common environmental theme Miyazaki used throughout his films. Chihiro recieves special medicine from the Spirit which tastes like crap, but she plans to use it on her parents. Later that night, after the bath house closed, No-Face reappeared and lured one of the workers in with fake gold. Yeah, he ate him. Whole. And my parents wonder why he scared me when I was a kid.
Chihiro wakes up to find everyone gone, except for the pretty serpentine dragon flying around outside her window. It’s being attacked by a swarm of paper birds
(which remind me too much of the paper doll from Corpse Party) and she tries to help it by inviting it into the room. It does, starts bleeding everywhere, then tears through the door once the birds are gone. Chihiro tries to follow it, and in turn starts being followed by one of the birds left behind. She goes downstairs to find everyone bowing down and giving food to a huge and vocal No-Face, all in turn for his gold.
He stops for Chihiro, offering tons of gold, but she turns him away and keeps going. He gets despondent, then angry, and swollows two more people. Meanwhile, Chihiro heads up to Yubaba’s penthouse, where she saw the dragon enter earlier. It’s a parkour-esque scene, where she jumps around on rooftops and across pipes and window ledges, eventually ending up inside a huge comfort cave complete with mountains of pillows, a canopy bed, and a surplus of toys a toddler would have only in his dreams. Turns out, it’s the lair of Yubaba’s big ass baby, whom Chihiro confronts after hiding from Yubaba. He tries to force her to play with him, nearly breaking her arm, but she forces her bloody hand (the dragon’s blood, mind you) into his face. He freaks, she runs and finds the dragon about to be pushed into a hole in the floor by Yubaba’s Kashira.
She rushes to save him, only to find that the paper bird that had been trailing her was in fact the witch Zeniba, Yubaba’s twin sister. She told Chihiro that the dragon was in fact Haku, and that he had stolen something very precious: her solid gold monogram seal. It had a curse on it that cause him great pain. After Zeniba causes the usual mischeif, which involved turning Yubaba’s minions into a fly and a duplicate of her baby, and her baby into a mouse, Haku chops her in half with his tail and falls down the hole with Chihiro clinging on for dear life. They end up flying into Komaji’s boiler room and he helps Chihiro take care of Haku. She ends up giving him the medicine from the River Spirit she was going to give to her parents. He turns back into a real boy, and spits up the seal. They destroy the curse by stomping on it, and then Chihiro decides to go give Zeniba back her seal. Komaji gives her magical train tickets. Lin comes down to tell her No-Face is goin cray-cray. And so, Chihiro heads up to No-Face to save the day.
He’s in a trashed room filled with food stains and dirty dishes, and is yellinf for Sen. She goes in, he offers her anything, she questions his sanity and quality of life, and feeds him the rest of the medicine. He wacks out, throwing up all over the place. and thus, begins the chase. Chihiro hauls ass out of there and heads for the water to get to the train tracks. No-Face is hot on her heels, barfing up tar and people, and literally has his butt dragging on the floor. Eventually, she gets to the boat where Lin is waiting for her, and turns around to see No-Face all tuckered out. Apparently never scared of him in the first place, when she goes to board the train, she invites him along. They head to Zeniba’s place on the ghost train, surrounded by what look like shadows of what people once were.
They reach Zeniba’s, are greeted by a hopping lantern, and are led to her cabin. It’s quiant and quiet, and the exact opposite of Yubaba. Chihiro gives back her seal, and Zeniba thanks her by making her a special hair tie. Meanwhile, Chihiro tries to remember something important that she thinks she forgot. After a while, Haku stops by to pick Chihiro up and take her back to the bath house. No-Face decided to stay and help Zeniba around the house. On the way there, Chihiro remembers what she forgot: Haku’s true name. Turns out that he was the spirit of the Kohaku River and had had his name stolen by Yubaba. Once they get back to the bath house, Chihiro finds Yubaba waiting for her with a line of pigs. While Chihiro was gone, she and Haku made a deal that if Chihiro could pass one final test, she and her parents could go back to the human world. Yubaba’s test was if she could decide which pigs were her parents, she’d destroy her contract. Of course, Chihiro determines that none of the pigs were her parents and she was right. Hence, they got to leave. But, her parents don’t remember anything.
The true beauty of this movie is the amount of change that happens. At the beginning, Chihiro is a stubborn and obnoxious girl. But throughout the movie we see her grow like no one we’ve ever seen. The amount of character developement she goes through is astonishing, yet heartwarming. Through determination, hard work, and sincerity, she becomes and entirely different person, learning to put others before herself and help them no matter what. This devopment is also seen in Yubaba’s baby.
Besides the beautiful artwork and character design done, Spirited Away shares something with Miyazaki’s other films: the leading lady. Most common in his other works, the main character is often a young, independant girl who becomes a much stronger person by the end. There is no better example then Chihiro. Not your average heroine, sure. But that makes her so much better. She’s something for young girls to aspire to be and aspire to create. There aren’t many female leads, and all of Miyazaki’s, Chihiro especially, should be held in the highest regard.