Welcome to our Reference Degustation where we take you through a 5 course menu of Miyazaki masterpieces. First course: Spirited Away. Pairing of Porco Rosso to come.


Released: July 2001
Budget: $19,000,000
Worldwide Gross: $347,742,810

Themes/Tasting Notes

  • Planes/Flying: There were elements of flying but not so much planes.
  • Anti War: Targeted audience was for 10 year old girls was makes sense that war is not a theme that gets addressed.
  • Environment: A strong theme in thi s film. Haku is later revealed as the Kohaku river and ended up in the spirit world because humans built over his home. We also have the example of the large river spirit. Initialy came in as a stink spirit, it took Chihiro to make him clean and all well. An anecdote from Miyazaki’s own experience. To western audiences, it may come off as tree hugging but a oneness with nature is foundational to the Shinto religion.
  • Female lead/kids: Our protagonist is a 10 year old girl. Miyazaki read manga and magazine geared to this demographic and did not find them useful as it was about getting the guy. He wanted to create a film where 10 year old girls can relate to this heroine. They can decide who they want to be.
  • Ambiguity between good/evil: This is a strong theme as usually the traits of a character is dependent on how Chihiro views them.
  • Pigs: Chihiro’s parents ate the food for the spirits. And this points to a strong theme of gluttony and greed throughout the film.
  • Whimsical/Fantasy: Spirited Away takes us into a completely different world.

Breakdown and Analysis

  • Sometimes there are more beautiful ways than direct ways to explain something. And this was perfectly illustrated in this film.
  • The english dub includes a couple of lines that are not in the Japanese version. This was a way to inform american audiences on things they might be able to easily recognise, like the bath house or a dragon.
  • There’s not a lot of verbal expoisition. A lot of that is carried through the music and animation. They walk over what used to be a river but in the beginning it was rocks and as the movie progesses we see it become a river.
  • Who would trust a hot feast in an abandoned amusement park? Although, Miyazaki has a way of drawing delicious looking food so KT would most likely indulge.
  • The scene where Yubaba take Chihiro’s name is a witty moment as Chihiro means 1,000 questions and Sen is also another way to pronouce 1,000. So in Yubaba taking her name away it removed her ability to question.
  • Chihiro was not dumb but she would not have experienced the full character development if she were not pushed to it. The catalyst of this being to rescue her parents. She find work, is persistent and is not greedy. She had good qualities and those qualities.
  • It took people to care enough about her to get where she needed to be. It was an immersive experience that we loved being a part of.
  • Everything is so perfectly presented for us to consume on screen. Nothing was of waste, aside from the gluttony.
  • Yubaba was a wealthy bath house owner and can be used to denote to the overconsumption in Capitalism. In as much as she wasn’t the classic evil figure, she was the closest to a moustache twirling villain. Zeniba was a welcome reprieve from Yubaba. She helped Chihiro piece back who she is and where she is from. To have her trying to find who she is, it was imperative to have a nurturing type like Zeniba. Even more so than the mum.
  • The overarching narrative for Chihiro was to find herself but to have to go back to the human world after all she experienced in the spirit world, KT and Oti would forget their names.
  • Not entirely sure if the relationship between Haku and Chihiro was romantic but we would say not. Also how old is a river spirit anyway? Starting to feel a like Twlight-esque.
  • It was most gratifying, in the purest of ways, because Haku was always a guardian for her, Even as a child. On some level, Chihiro brought back some hope to Haku. He had long abandoned the hope of going home and it was fulfilling to see their journey together.
  • Kaonashi is layered and there are succinct reasons as to why he becomes the beast that he is. He mirrors society. He doesn’t come into the bath house until Chihiro invites him in. The first gesture was assisting Chihiro in getting the bath tokens. Then we see the river spirit and leaves all the gold behind and how the staff responded to that. And how instinctual greed can take over. Kaonashi observed and gave society what they wanted. Mimicking and consuming (literally) everything around him. The moments of reflection is when Chihiro interacts with them. This feeds into the theme of ambiguity with good and evil. It was not a good environment for him. He was too impressionable.
  • Kamaji quickly warms to Chihiro from when they first meet to introducing Chihiro as his granddaughter to Lin.
  • Lin has a tough exterior but she cares so much for Chihiro.
  • The fantastical nature brings to life the vibrancy through the eyes of Chihiro.
  • Miyazaki has a way of making you care about even soot spirits. Strong protagonists are great but to have secondary, even tertiary characters, to have multiple dimensions to them, it credit to the story. To give us something we can sink our teeth into, cannot be overstated.

Unrelated but vital points

  • Don’t refer to Miyazaki as the Japanese Disney. Just don’t do it.
  • Serving suggestion for best enjoyment is to delight in this films through the Japanese subtitles.
  • Insipration of Chihiro is his friend’s daughter.
  • KT does not film shame in the For Your Reference household
  • Credit to Miyazaki in cutting down from 3 hours to 2 hours.
  • Miyazaki is known for not having the full story.
  • According to Oti’s abacus, a pig plus a pig equals a very tasty potato.
  • We love a literal Oti in the For Your Reference household.