Spirited Away is one of Studio Ghibli’s many classics. There is a lot of nuance, detail, and symbolism within the film that may have been missed.
When Hayao Miyazaki announced his retirement back in 2013, fans of the outrageously popular Studio Ghibli films had to come to terms with the reality that they would no longer be getting new feature films from a man so talented that even people who actively avoid anime have seen and enjoyed this film. Easily regarded as one of his best works, there are several things about the movie and its production that many people don’t know, despite how much about this timeless masterpiece has already been revealed.
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10. Rated Best Film Of The Century
In 2017, the New York Times listed Spirted Away as the second “Best Film of the 21st Century So Far”, and the British Broadcasting Corporation (mostly known as the BBC) added the film in its fourth entry on its list of the 100 greatest films of the 21st century, making Spirited Away the highest-rated animated film on that list. Despite the 21st century being far from over, this film will still remain on the top of these lists 81 years later.
9. Grossed More Than Toy Story 4 In China
China has set harsh regulations on what foreign media can legally be viewed in the country, especially films from America and Japan. The December 2018 re-release of Miyazaki’s film My Neighbor Totoro was the first time one of his titles were shown in Chinese theaters. A recent 2019 re-release of Spirited Away in China coincided with the Toy Story 4 release in the country, and as of June 21, 2019, Spirited Away had grossed over $3 million more than Toy Story 4’s China release. Of course, this has something to do with an existing Miyazaki fanbase in China due to the country’s inventive piracy practices.
8. Easter Eggs
Fans of Studio Ghibli have always wondered if Miyazaki’s films share a universe. While Miyazaki has never confirmed or dened this, Spirited Away is full of easter eggs. During one scene, Chihiro stumbles into a playroom. An aerial view shows fans a pillow featuring the design of Jiji, a black cat from the movie Kiki’s Delivery Service. There are also striking similarities between the scene in which Chihiro is crammed into an elevator next to the gargantuan Radish Spirit, and a scene in My Neighbor Totoro in which one of the protagonists stands next to Totoro by a rainy bus stop. In both scenes, the young girls glance up at the towering spirits, who could barely mind the girls’ presence.
7. Character Names Describing Them
Die-hard fans of Spirited Away already know that many of the characters’ names reflect a major aspect as to who they are. Kamaji, the eight-armed man who operates the boiler room, has a name that translates to “Boiler Geezer”, and Haku’s full name, Kohaku, translates to “River”. Due to language changes in the non-Japanese voiceovers of the movie, most fans may not know the level of nuance that went into other names, such as the boiler room soot balls, which are called Susuwatari (translating to “Wandering Soot”) and the Radish Spirit’s name Oshira-sama literally translating to “Great White Lord”. American fans should be glad that they didn’t have to hear that phrase uttered on their TVs.
6. Inspiration For The Witch Yubaba
While it is common for Miyazaki to draw inspiration from many different cultures in order to construct three-dimensional, multi-layered characters, the main antagonist of this film, the witch Yubaba, bears resemblance to a witch from Russian folklore who goes by the name of Baba Yaga, a cannibal who eats those who fail to complete the tasks that she assigns to them. If Baba Yaga truly is the inspiration for Yubaba, Chihiro’s parents could have ended up on her dinner plate.
5. Inspiration For Yubaba’s Son
It’s a miracle that fans haven’t questioned how a wrinkled old witch is able to give birth to a baby bigger than her, but Yubaba’s son, Boh, is actually based off of a Japanese folk hero named Kintaro. Raised in the forest by a Yamauba, or, “Mountain Witch”, Kintaro uses his great size and strength to fight off monsters and bears, all the while assisting woodcutters. It’s shame that fans didn’t get to see Boh show off his strength for most of the film.
4. Chihiro’s Voice Actor
At the age of 14, Japanese actress Rumi Hiiragi, the voice actress for Chihiro, marked the first time Miyazki directed a child actor to actually voice one of his child characters. Rumi was also the name of Chihiro’s best friend who’d given her the goodbye note that she read in the car at the start of the film.
3. Deeper Reason For Chihiro’s Parents Turning Into Pigs
In Spirited Away, Chihiro’s parents were turned into pigs for eating food that was meant for spirits. While casual fans of the movie just assume that this was a simple, common metaphor for greed, Miyazaki actually embedded his metaphor with a bit of historical significance. In a fan letter questioning this artistic choice, Studio Ghibli confirmed that the parents turning into pigs was supposed to reflect the way in which people turned to pigs during Japan’s bubble economy in the 1980s. This reference most likely flew over the heads of viewers who may not know much about Japan’s history, but that’s exactly why this list exists.
2. Eating On The Job
In order to get a realistic sound of Chihiro’s mother talking and eating, Miyazaki had actress Yasuko Sawaguchi deliver the Japanese dialog while eating fried chicken. The American actress for Chihiro’s mother, Lauren Holly, however, got the shortest end of the stick possible, being downgraded to performing her lines while munching on an apple.
1. Inspiration For Chihiro
While it is true that Miyazaki was inspired to create Chihiro after meeting his friend’s daughter, the inspiration for this multifaceted character goes much deeper than that. In an interview that he gave in Paris in December 2001 at the animation festival Nouvelles images du Japon, Miyazaki said that he made this film upon realizing that there was a lack of films that spoke to 10-year-old girls. With Chihiro’s character, he wanted to say to them, “Don’t worry, it will be all right in the end, there will be something for you.” Truly powerful words from a man whose art touched people in every corner of the globe.