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20 Things You Didn’t Know About The Film

20 Things You Didn’t Know About The Film
Written by Publishing team

Hayao Miyazaki’s revered Studio Ghibli has birthed some of the best movies of all time, and Spirited Away is easily the biggest gem in his fantastical cinematic oeuvre. Released in 2001, the magical journey of Chihiro in the spirit world has been in our lives for two full decades now, and it continues to engross and captivate viewers, both young and old, to date.

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While a rewatch of Spirited Away is a great way to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Miyazaki’s masterpiece, fans would also be pleased to know the hidden meanings and behind-the-scenes happenings that occurred while making the anime film. Every frame has an interesting story behind it, and some facts about the film are sure to surprise even seasoned fans.

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The Symbolism Behind The Parents Becoming Pigs

Chihiro's Parents Turning Into Pigs in Spirited Away

When Chihiro’s parents see the unmanned food at the beginning of the movie, they lose no time in gorging on it, eventually turning into pigs. This was no whimsical choice — according to a letter that a fan received from Studio Ghibli, it symbolized the nature of people during the Japanese bubble economy of the ’80s, and how they turned became pig-like in their consumption and habits, eventually transforming into the animal.

Won An Oscar But Miyazaki Didn’t Receive It

Oscar winner Spirited Away

In 2003, the movie was awarded the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film, but Miyazaki did not attend the ceremony to receive it. The reason behind this was because of the political stance of America in the Iraq war. Miyazaki stated in JapanTimes that “It is regrettable that I cannot rejoice from my heart over the prize because of the deeply sad events taking place in the world,” and took a stand despite being honored for a movie that was considered unfit for the US market.


There Was No Script When It Was Being Made

Chihiro and Haku in Spirited Away

Spirited Away and other Ghibli films tend not to have scripts, since their production begins soon after storyboarding starts. Miyazaki believes in letting the story take its own course as the film gets made, “I don’t have the story finished and ready when we start work on a film,” he said in an interview with Midnight-Eye.

Every Name Has A Meaning

Yubaba from Spirited Away

The smallest details in the movie were given extra attention, and the names of the spirits and characters all have special significance. For instance, the soot sprites in the boiler room are called susuwatari, which translates directly to “wandering soot,” Kamaji means “boiler geezer,” Yubaba (one of Studio Ghibli’s best villains) means “bathhouse witch,” and Zeniba translates to “money witch.” Even Chihiro’s name means “a thousand searches,” which gets shortened to Sen, translated to “a thousand.”


It Was Inspired By A Real 10-Year-Old

Chihiro from Spirited Away

Spirited Away is considered one of the best Studio Ghibli female characters, and Miyazaki drew from real life to create her unique self. In an interview with Midnight-Eyehe said “It was through observing the daughter of a friend that I realized there were no films out there for her, no films that directly spoke to her.”

So, he gave Chihiro the mannerisms of an actual Japanese girl, so that they could have something to watch and know that things will be alright in the end.

The Stink Spirit Scene Was Based On Miyazaki’s Own Experience

Stink Spirit in Spirited Away

The gloopy river spirit that comes to the bathhouse to get cleaned up was quite foul to watch, and filled with pollutants and a cycle sticking out from its side.


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This scene was taken from an experience Miyazaki had while cleaning out a river in his locality, which was so heavy with dirt and garbage that pulling out a simple bicycle needed many hands. Thankfully, the river runs clear with lots of fish and other fauna now.

Almost Everything Is Drawn By Hand

Animated Oscar Spirited Away

While the world has largely moved on to computer animation, Miyazaki believes in hand drawing everything. In Spirited Away, almost everything consists of hand-drawn backgrounds, foregrounds, and characters with minimal digital work. Toshio Suzuki, Miyazaki’s producer, said in an interview with the New Yorker that “When black-and-white went to color, Kurosawa held out the longest. Miyazaki feels he should be the one to hold out the longest when it comes to computer animation.”


It Has Callbacks And Easter Eggs

The Soot Sprites surround a mouse in Spirited Away.

Most Studio Ghibli movies seem to exist in the same universe, so it’s no surprise that if observed closely, one would find many characters and easter eggs from other movies by Miyazaki. In Spirited Awaytoo, there are characters from other movies that make brief appearances.

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The soot sprites are the same in Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s black cat Jiji is on a pillow in Boh’s room, and the scene between Chihiro and the Radish Spirit look a lot like Totoro standing next to the girls in the rain in My Neighbor Totoro.

There Are Important Scenes With Limited Movement In It Called “Ma”

Spirited Away train station

Spirited Away is strewn with scenes of stillness, where Chihiro stops and stares at the ocean, or the grass moves in a gentle wind. These scenes of tranquility were added deliberately and are a Studio Ghibli signature. They’re called “ma” in Japanese, and it means “Emptiness. It’s there intentionally,” in Miyazaki’s own words.

The American Voice Actor For Chihiro Is Familiar

Daveigh Chase as Chihiro in Spirited Away

Daveigh Chase, the voice actor for Chihiro, has had quite a bit of experience earlier, most notably as Samara in The Ring. She also voiced Lilo in Lilo & Stitch in the early 2000s, which makes her a very familiar voice. Haku was voiced by James Marsden, who is very well-known for his large body of work.


The Spirit World Was Inspired By A Strange Tokyo Museum

Characters in Spirited Away

In an interview with The New YorkerMiyazaki revealed that one of his greatest inspirations for the world of spirits that he built for Spirited Away came from a museum he had spotted in Tokyo (the Edo-Tokyo Open-air Architectural Museum) where whole buildings, bathhouses, and other constructions had been brought in from their original locations.

It Is Japan’s Second-Highest Grossing Movie Ever

Abandoned theme park in Spirited Away

Considered one of the best anime movies of all time, Spirited Away also holds the record of being the second-highest grossing movie in Japan, with a box office revenue of 31.68 billion yen. The top three films in Japan are all animated, and this movie has been in the top two for two full decades.

Miyazaki Had Announced His Retirement Before Directing Spirited Away

Miyazaki Nausica Manga

In 1999, two years before the release of Spirited Away, Miyazaki had announced his retirement. However, he told Roger Ebert that it wasn’t so easy. Despite the desire to stop working, he “wanted to make a movie especially for the daughters of my friends. I opened all the drawers in my head they were all empty. So I realized I had to make a movie just for 10-year- olds Spirited Away is my answer.”

Real Animal Movement Was Used As Reference For Haku

Chihiro and Haku put their heads together at night in Spirited Away.

Tea New Yorker documented how carefully the animation for Haku was developed in a conversation with the author. The Ghibli team was told to mimic a gecko’s gait when Haku climbed a wall, a snake’s grace as he fell to the floor, and a dog’s mouth being opened when Chihiro fed him. Since none of the animators owned a dog, he made them go to a vet clinic and video a golden retriever’s jaws for reference.

Pixar Uses This And Other Studio Ghibli Works As Inspiration

Studio Ghibli spirited away Inspired the Pixar Movie luca

John Lasseter has long been a champion of Miyazaki’s work, and he’s been known to tell his team to watch Studio Ghibli when they’re out of ideas. The Pixar team watches Spirited Away and other movies and that refreshes their creative sides to work better on their own films.

Pixar’s Chief Creative Officer Helped Bring The Film To American Shores, Authentically

No Face in Spirited Away

John Lasseter also shares a close friendship with Miyazaki, and he wasn’t satisfied with how all the movies before Spirited Away had been translated into English in the USA. So, he took it upon himself to do so in the American market while keeping the true Japanese vision alive and authentic, which also can be attributed to the movie’s worldwide success.


It Was The First Anime Film To Win An Oscar

Yubaba, Spirited Away, Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli

The highly aesthetically pleasing movie won an Academy Award, but it also broke another record, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Spirited Away made history by becoming the first anime movie of all time to win the esteemed award, which is shocking because it was in the 21st century. It drew people’s attention to the art that the Japanese were making at the time and will forever be a landmark win.

The Closing Song Was Meant For Another Movie

Yumi Kimura’s song “Always With Me” was an incredible track that closed the movie, but it was originally meant for a scrapped Ghibli movie called Rin The Chimney Painter. When the project was rejected, Miyazaki chose to put the song in the credits of Spirited Away instead.

Shinto Is Referenced In The Movie

Shinto reference in Spirited Away

The Japanese faith of the worship of nature spirits was a big point of reference in the movie. According to Asian Studies“Like Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away makes the viewer confront some main concepts of Shinto: the existence of the spirit world and the concept of purity.” Every single thing in the movie has its own spirit, which comes to the bathhouse to get cleansed and purified, which is a Shinto principle .

The Voice Actors Used Method To Achieve The Right Sound

According to CBR, the original Japanese voice actor for Chihiro’s mother, Yasuko Sawaguchi ate actual fried chicken while delivering her lines at the restaurant to achieve the right sound. Even Lauren Holly, the American actor, ate an apple while dubbing for the munches and crunches.

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