The film, Spirited Away was released on 20 July 2001, and became the most successful film in Japanese history, grossing over $289 million worldwide and receiving widespread praise. The film overtook Titanic (which was top-grossing film worldwide at the time) in the Japanese box office to become the highest-grossing film in Japanese history with a ¥30.4 billion total. Spirited Away is frequently ranked among the greatest animated films. It won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards, making it the only hand drawn animated film and Japanese animated film to win best animated film at the Golden Bear located at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2002.
The writer and director, Hayao Miyazaki, wrote the script after he decided the film would be based on the 10-year-old daughter of his friend, associate producer Seiji Okuda, who came to visit his house each summer. At the time, Miyazaki was developing two personal projects, but they were soon rejected. With a budget of $19 million US dollars, production of Spirited Away began in 2000. During production, Miyazaki realized the film would be over three hours long and decided to cut out several parts of the story. Pixar director John Lasseter, a fan of Miyazaki, was approached by Walt Disney Pictures to supervise an English translation for the film when released in North America. Lasseter hired Kirk Wise as director and Donald W. Ernest as producer of the adaptation. Screenwriters Cindy Davis Hewitt and Donald H. Hewitt wrote the English dialogue, which they wrote to match the characters’ original Japanese lip movements.
Chihiro Ogino, mainly known as Sen throughout the film is a 10 year old girl traveling with her mother and father to their new house in a new neighborhood. Chihiro’s growth into a capable individual is a core factor to the movement of Spirited Away’s plot. During her adventure in the Spirit World, she matures from an easily-scared girl with a child-like personality to match her age, to a hard-working, responsible, and brave young girl who has learned to put her fears aside for those she cares for. To protect her friends and rescue her parents from a spell that has turned them into livestock (pigs), Chihiro sheds her former personality and adapts to her environment to become a courageous, quick-witted and reliable girl.
One key point that Chihiro/ Sen deals with throughout the film is Psychoanalysis. This is defined as investigating interactions between the conscious and unconscious elements. Relating this to Chihiro, She is torn between the known world and the unknown world and what she knows versus what she sees in the Spirit World. Chihiro has an inner battle with emotions, challenges, tasks, and acceptance that over the course of time, she faces and learns from.
Another factor Chihiro faces is Feminist Criticism. This is defined as the perspective of writing through a feminist perspective and how women are portrayed and how males and females relate to each other. As a girl who is especially young compared to all those around her in the Spirit World, she is looked upon to be weak, whiny, easily-scared, and childish. To those in the bathhouse, that is as expected for a human girl. But, as the storyline continues from the beginning, middle, to end, Chihiro grows to become the hero to the spirits and workers in the Spirit World. After the task Yubaba gave her with the Stink Spirit, everyone saw Chihiro’s potential to be a good asset to the bathhouse and maybe she is not so worthless after all.
The story begins with Chihiro and her mother, Yuko Ogino and father, Akio Ogino, moving to their new neighborhood. They came across a dirt road that they thought would be a shortcut to their house but was the complete opposite. They came across an old building and Chihiro’s parents decide to take a look into it. Chihiro had a bad feeling and wanted to leave, but her parents just kept walking. She finally entered the building and that is when the story begins. This was the Call to Adventure. But when Chihiro refused to enter but got frightened by the statue in front of the building, it was the representation of the Refusal of the Call.
The first Mentor Chihiro meets is Haku who is a spirit and worker to the bathhouse. Haku is Yubaba’s apprentice and second-in-command at the Bathhouse. He seems to be a bit older than Chihiro, about 12 years old, although since he is the spirit of the Kohaku River, he is truly as old as his river is, which, in the Japanese version, is still flowing underneath the apartments now built over it. As a River Spirit, he has the ability to transform into a beautiful, silver dragon, which is an animal commonly associated with rivers and water in Japanese culture and mythology. He can fly and seems to have the ability to change between his human and dragon forms at will.
Chihiro is sent by Haku to the boiler room to get a job because that’s the only way she would be able to free her parents. There, she meets Kamaji who is “the slave to the boilers” who heat the baths in the bathhouse. After some persuasion, he allows Chihiro to work at the bathhouse and even pretends to be her grandfather when questioned by Lin, to protect her, though this ruse does not stand for long. Kamaji represents one of the Side Kicks in the hero’s journey.
Another helper/ Side Kick in the movie was Lin. Lin first appears in the boiler room, bringing Kamaji his dinner and feeding the Susuwatari (soot that got a spell casted upon them by Kamaji to work for him). When she sees Chihiro, she’s shocked, but Kamaji claims that Chihiro is his granddaughter and convinces Lin to take her to Yubaba by offering her a roasted newt. Lin takes Chihiro through the bathhouse to an elevator but, is held back by another worker of the bathhouse due to smelling like a human. Chihiro gets help from the Radish Spirit who, without speaking, help hide and take Chihiro up to Yubaba’s top floor.
Yubaba is a witch and owner of the bathhouse. Her magical capabilities have allowed her to “steal” the names of her workers, binding them in a contract to her bathhouse forever unless they manage to miraculously recall their full names (the only two people seen doing so are Haku and Chihiro, both of which relied on each other to remember). In doing so, in order for Chihiro to get a job at the bathhouse to save her parents, Chihiro has to sign a contract with Yubaba. Yubaba then steals her name and she is now called Sen. This is when Chihiro truly Crosses the Threshold and becomes Sen, the human girl who is working at the bathhouse.
Sen is faced with many tasks and challenges (Inmost Cave/ Approach & Ordeal) throughout the film that lead to her becoming more confident in herself and who she is as well as gaining the respect and acceptance from everyone in the bathhouse (Reward). Though her hero’s journey may not be in the correct order throughout the films story, it still follows each steps roughly accurately.
Though she may be a 10 year old human girl, Chihiro/ Sen proves to everyone, especially herself, that there is nothing to be afraid of and that there will always be someone to help guide her, and show her who she truly is just by helping her take that first step into the unknown.