Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi (Spirited Away)

Title: Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi (Spirited Away)
Year of Original Release: 2001

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Released By: Studio Ghibili

DVD Released by and Dates Viewed: 9/17 (Buena Vista Home Video), 9/29 (Walt Disney and Studio Ghibili)

Plot and Structure

This is a story about a 10-year-old girl, named Chihiro, who is in the middle of a move with her parent from the city to one of the country-side of Japan. Along the way to their new home Chihiro’s dad decides to take a short cut. This shortcut however dead ends and the whole family wanders into another world. In this world there are many strange monsters, ghouls, and spirits, who are ruled over by a witch, YuBaaba. It is here in this strange world, a world that is a mesh of old Japanese style and more modern western technology that Chihiros’ parents are turned into pigs and Chihiro begins to disappear. She is however saved from disappearing by a boy named Haku, who tells her if she is going to stay here and not be changed she must get a job. Chihiro now must find a job in the bath house that is controlled by the witch in order to survive. There in the bath house she befriends one of the female workers, Rin; the boiler operator, Kamaji; a spirit, No Face; YuBaaba’s baby, Bou; and outside the bath house YuBaaba’s twin, Zeniiba. Along with Haku and her new friends help, Chihiro is able to break YuBaaba’s spell, and she and her parents are returned back to their world.

Structurally this movie can be divided into four parts. The first part contains the families move, which consist of them driving and finding the entrance to the other world. The first part also consists of them crossing the stream and going up the hill and the steps thus entering the world. It is the first part that Chihiro and her parents are separated, with her parents turning into pigs and her left to fend for herself. The first part of the movie is also when she meets a boy, Haku, who is incredibly helpful to her. The second part has to do with getting adjusted, attempting to fitting in, and problems arising. It is in the second part that Chihiro’s name is changed to Sen and she starts working at the Bath like everyone else does in the world.  It is in this part that Sen lets No Face in, and he starts giving out gold and eating the workers. But before No Face starts eating people the River Spirit shows up, and Sen helps it, by getting rid of all the junk that had piled up in it and made it stink. This gets her into the good graces of most people at the Bath. It is also in this part that we learn that Haku has stolen something from Zeniiba and will die unless it is returned. In the third part all that was wrong is now being set right. Sen, now remembering her real name upon occasion, gets rid of the monster No Face and restores the people he ate to life.  Sen also takes the seal back to Zeniiba, which allows Haku to live. In the third part Chihiro remembers Haku’s real name, thus lifting more of YuBaaba’s spell from Haku. The fourth and final part of this moving involves Chihiro and her parents getting home. To do this Chihiro must tell YuBaaba which pigs are her parents. She does and the spell on the family is broken. Chihiro walks across the stream and runs down the hill as her parents call to her. Then they get in the car and are off to their new home. Sections two and three show how Chihiro is grown up, and section four shows us that this growing will probably continue.


            This is a movie with many themes but the two I will cover are: that the world encroaching, consuming and yet ambiguous; and the idea that a name or word has power.

According to Miyazaki this film is about how “Today, the world has become ambiguous; but even though it is ambiguous, the world is encroaching and trying to consume everything.”  Though this new world that Chihiro has stepped into does not seem ambiguous, but regimented by Yubaaba’s orders things are not always clear. For instance we never know what happens when YuBaaba leaves during the day. And when Haku is gone there did not seem to be any orders of what to do, other than keep the costumer happy, and it is a free for all to get the money that No Face is offering. Also in section two it is hard to tell which side Haku is on, because he is always helping YuBaaba and Chihiro when YuBaaba is not looking. The idea that the world is encroaching shows up in the fact that to survive in this world all beings that are not gods must work or be turned into animals. The beings that are turned into animals are then fattened up and eaten, because that is what animals are good for. This encroaches on the person’s ability to live. The water growth encroaches on Chihiros ability to get back to her world at the beginning, is yet another example of the ever encroaching world. The best example of the world trying to consume everything is the waters growth through out the movie. It continues to expand and grow with each day, from a river, to a lake, to an ocean, making it harder for Chihiro to get back to her own world.

Another theme that seems important to this movie is that a name or a word has power. A person’s name is the key, to who they are; it is what gives them control over their life and mind. According to Miyazaki “The act of depriving a person of one’s name is not just changing how one person calls the other. It is a way to rule the other person completely.” When YuBaaba takes Chihiro’s name and changes it to Sen a spell is cast, and Chihiro beings to forget who she is and where she came from. She is slowly becoming another one of YuBaabas’ workers who does whatever she says, because she is the boss. Without her real name Chihiro is trapped. It is only when she finds her real name that the spell is broken and she will be able to leave the world YuBaaba rules.



            One of the major visual symbols in this movie is water, which in this film for the most part symbolizes separation from the real world and forgetting about the real world. In the beginning it is a very large river that stops Chihiro from getting back to the real world. As Chihiro spends more time in the magical world her memory about who she is and where she came from fades away even more, as this happen the river turns into a lake and then an ocean, so that you think the water will swallow all her memories.

Another symbol that is very important to this movie is gold. Gold in this movie shows greed. All the people in the Bath are amazed that No Face can make gold from air, and they do whatever they can to make him happy so they can get it. “But those who take the gold find that it brings them no happiness” they find only horror, as No Face eats people and grows bigger and meaner. The greedy people want the gold but they are horrified of what will happen to them if they do not do as the creature wishes. This greed for gold causes YuBaaba to be blind to the fact that her real baby has been replaced and is missing. In the end the gold disappears, “rendering the pursuit of it pointless, even for Yubaba”, who now must find her lost Bou.


Characterization and Performances

             In this movie there are four important characters they are: Chihiro/Sen, the girl whom the story is about;  Haku, who is Chihiro’s first contact in the world and first friend, who also happens to be a White Dragon; YuBaaba, the witch who is in charge of the world or Bath House; and Zeniiba, YuBaaba’s twin sister.

Chihiro/Sen is a skinny ten-year old girl who is very morose because she is being forced to move and does not want to. But when she is forced to take care of herself and survive in this new world suddenly there is wisdom and maturity in her. She does the jobs she is assigned to do in the bath house even if it’s awful. Like cleaning out the big tub, or taking care of the Stink Monster, and she does not fuss about it, which shows wisdom and maturity because if she did YuBaaba would change her.  As Miyazaki says when “she finds herself in a crisis” she has “adaptability and endurance” the “well up within her.” When the Bath is being terrorized by No Face she steps up to the task and talks to him. She tells him that what he is doing is wrong, even though she is scared, and that he must stop and go away. She then leads him away. All this shows endurance. They way she shows adaptability is by doing as she is told and following the new rules without once messing up or complaining. During this film she grows from a childish little girl to a “self-sufficient young girl.”

Haku is the boy Chihiro meets in the beginning; he works at the Bath as YuBaaba’s apprentice. Haku is not a normal boy though, he has the ability to turn into a White Dragon and he too has fallen victim so to speak of Yubaaba, she has also taken his name and put a slug in him so that she has total control over him. Haku can be kind and gruff with Chihiro, helping her to survive in this world one scene and ordering her around in another. His kindness to Chihiro helps her remember who he is, the river spirit of the Kohaku River. This breaks all of the spells YuBaaba has on him and he is now free of YuBaaba. “Although we never learn Haku’s ultimate fate, by the end of the movie he has at the very least found a measure of freedom and peace.”

YuBaaba and Zeniiba are twin sisters who look exactly they same, though they are very different. YuBaaba represents evil, where as Zeniiba represents good. YuBaaba is constantly placing people under spells like the one she has on Chihiro and Haku, where as Zeniiba is constantly trying to right things helping “everyone to discover their true identities and abilities.” But Yubaaba is not just bad; she does smother her baby, Bou with love and worry about him while he is missing. Just as YuBaaba is not all bad Zeniiba is not all good, she does want to kill Haku for stealing her seal. Of course Zeniiba forgives Haku when Chihiro returns the seal. Zeniiba and YuBaaba could be called the same person, just different sides of the person.


The line “Such a pretty name, it belongs to me now,” is said by YuBaaba and is what seals the pact between her and Chihiro, now Sen, making her a worker at the Bath and taking her memory. Another memorable like is the faithful line “Go away, Disappear” spoken by Chihiro, in reaction to the river and the changing world around. As she says this line she begins to become transparent.

Cinematography and Visual Design

                        This movie is very colorful; with reds, blues, yellow, and all the colors that can be mixed from them like green, orange, purple, and teal. There are not many shadows or darkness in this movie, which conveys the fantasy, but when there is darkness it shows that something might go wrong, something might not be right or when someone is somewhere they are not supposed to be, like when Chihiro has to sneak down the stairs.

This movie is seen mostly from an objective point of view. The audience is on the side lines watching Chihiro try to find her parents, or watching the group walk to Zeniibas. There are some times however when the film takes the subjective point of view. Like when Chihiro is confronting No Face about what he is doing.

Because this movie is an anime and is not shot but rather created digitally on a computer there are not technically camera angles. Though there is an appearance of them. Like pictures of the landscape, and having the scenes not shown from just one angle but many, like in the scene where Chihiro talks to YuBaaba about and job and many more.

The costumes for modern Japan are modern cloths. The costumes for the world Chihiro enters are more traditional Japanese with a mix of western. The costumes help define the difference of which people are from which world.

Sound and Music

When Chihiro and her parents are in the real world you hear the sounds of nature, birds, wind, a train. Through out the movie however music is used to help convey the mood of the character, a specific character, or what is going on at that time. As soon as Chihiro is in this new world fully slightly mystical happy music ushers in the spirits and gods. The music that goes with the decent down the stairs very much mimics how Chihiro is feeling, it rhythm is fast like her heart beat. When Chihiro reveals Haku’s real name the music is happy and light, almost floating, which they are in fact doing.

Direction and Editing

This is one of the few movies that is produced today that actually uses a whip. This whip is a horizontal whip. It is used in the scene where Haku tells Chihiro who to go see about getting a job. The top part of the whip show Chihiro, where the bottom shows where she is to go and what she is to do as he is saying it.

This movie also has a montage. It is of water, a shoe in the water, and a dragon in the water with Chichiro on it. This montage shows up when Chihiro realizes who Haku actually is. The water montage ties in the use of water that is used though out the movie to convey separation, consumption, and now like the changing of the tide, freedom. Water and its ability to change, to be fluid is his one connection though out the whole movie.

Genre and Cultural Considerations

            There are many genres you could fit its amazing anime into. Like adventure and fantasy. Miyazaki says “This film is an adventure story, although the characters neither swing weapons around, nor use supernatural powers in battle.” But because Chihiro is on a quest as it were to get home and getting there is not a simple matter. It is because it lacks the typical action that goes with most adventure films that are prominent today that the audience upset, because they expect a battle. It is also for this reason that this movie is also a development in adventure films, because its shows by its popularity that all adventure movies don’t have to have a major action battle in it.

Because so little of this movie takes place in modern Japan there is less of a cause for lack of understanding because of cultural boundaries. This film does however touch the Japanese tradition of respect, showed though silence, obedience, and bowing. Miyazaki used this to show what a rich tradition the Japanese have in hopes that the Japanese would come back to some of the old ways which they are losing. “Children are losing their roots, being surrounded by high technology and cheap industrial goods. We have to tell them how rich a tradition we have.”

Personal Reactions

            I enjoyed this film a lot. It is full of messages for people of all ages, like a word has power or “finish what you started”. I also like other hearing about and seeing other worlds and cultures, and this movie has both, so it is no surprise that I like it. I also liked the fact where it is an adventure story it lacks in the typical battle. Sometime I like to get away from the typical movie today and typical life and this movie with its lack of battle and new place, allows me to do that.



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