Spirited Away is one of my favorite films because of its limitless creativity, unfaded imagination, and the progressions of its characters.
The main character is Chihiro, who works at a spirit hotel in order to free herself and her parents from Yubaba.
When she entered the hotel for spirits and gods, this represents the aspects of capitalism. Anyone who entered the hotel that is a human must “find work at all costs.” Everyone works very hard in this hotel and everyone expects to find a way out as soon as possible, such as Lin.
Yubaba, the hotel’s greedy owner, only cares about getting her profit and taking advantage of the workers. She represents the financial, cruel elite with the only amount of care going towards herself.
Zeniba, the twin sister of Yubaba, represents benevolence/kindness, helping Chihiro in the end escape the wraths of capitalism in the spirit hotel.
Yubaba and Zeniba are two sides of the coin. Virtuous behavior vs greedy actions. Kindness vs cruelty.
I found No-Face to be quite an interesting character that supplements Chihiro’s character.
When he creates “gold” out of his hand, the workers at the hotel adore him. The workers forgot that he ate Aogaeru, the frog, and other workers as well. Wealth can mask the cruel acts of man. Initially, No-Face was someone who didn’t belong anywhere until Chihiro opened the door for him. Chihiro’s sincere regard is what attracted his attention because Chihiro was the first person to acknowledge who he really was. Chihiro has no care for the gold of No-Face and is not manipulated by wealth.
During the scene when Chihiro cleans the river god, you can see how polluted and rather dirty the river god is. However, Chihiro’s innocence and sense of responsibility causes her to help with no complaints. She’s new to the world and shows no judgement. She wants to help the polluted and dirty river god. Everyone else is disgusted by him, but Chihiro genuinely wants to help.
Her relationship with Haku is quite interesting as well. Haku, who is also a river god, is a remnant of her past. She fell into the river when she was a child and Haku delivered her safely to shore. Even though they did not share a single word prior to her arrival in the spirit world, they have a strong and special relationship. When they just met in the beginning of the movie, they immediately connected on a personal level and in the end, Haku helped Chihiro and Chihiro saved Haku. They helped free each other. There is fate among the strangers that you may meet and these strangers can become the closest of friends.
When Haku fell into trap of learning magic from Yubaba, which, in this case, represents the greed of corporate policy, he lost his identity. Yubaba, the master of greed, stole his identity and made him her slave.
Yubaba also does this to Chihiro by changing her name to Sen. This loss of name plays a strong role. If you forget your name, you forget who you are. What this is saying is that no matter where you are in life, no matter how many hardships you face in the working-man world, you should never forget who you are.
Another prominent scene was when Chihiro and No-Face were on the train with the shadows. The train represents where life can bring you. Things may come and go and some people may fade into the background of the world, but depending on how you choose, your destination of life may be different. This is seen in the juxtaposition between Chihiro and the shadows on the train.
Lastly, I’d like to note that Chihiro had to do lots of tasks involving cleaning and water. This cleansing represents cleansing of yourself. Through these tasks and hardships she faced, Chihiro exited the tunnel as a different person. She found herself and succeeded in overcoming the greedy corporate politics of capitalism life gave her.
The tunnel that they enter symbolizes the start of a spiritual and mature journey for Chihiro. Throughout the movie, she changes how she acts and behaves in order to save Haku and her parents. She grows up and begins to understand the way the world works.
When she is about to exit the tunnel, Haku says to “never look back”. Chihiro holds a strong relationship with Haku and the fact that they promise they will see each other, but do not know for sure, demonstrates the aspect of uncertainty in the relationships with people you meet in life.
Chihiro may never seen Haku again even if they did promise. But their ties will last an eternity and will resonate forever.
In the end, Chihiro comes out of her shell, realizing the diverse aspects of life, and she grows up as well. Throughout the journey, she becomes actively grateful for what others such as her mentor, Lin, and Kamajii have done for her. The tunnel acts as a rite of passage towards seeing new changes in life.
There is also a strong difference between ‘Spirited Away’ and Western animated films.
In Western animated films, there is a “good vs evil” conflict. The bad guys are the characters that need to exterminated by the good guys and in the end, the audience always supports the actions of the good guys.
But, it is important to note that in ‘Spirited Away’, there is no “good guy” or “bad guy”. You cannot say Yubaba’s acts are not justified. She’s greedy to care for herself. Magic, or the power of capitalism, is not considered “evil” in this movie.
This movie is showing a progression and the journey of Chihiro and in the end, Chihiro, who has participated in many duties and jobs throughout the film, exits the spirit world and becomes the observer of that world.