The film received many awards, including the second Oscar ever awarded for Best Animated Feature, the first anime film to win an Academy Award, and the only winner of that award to be traditionally animated or win among five nominees (in every other year there were three nominees). The film also won the Golden Bear at the 2002 Berlin International Film Festival (tied with Bloody Sunday).
Chihiro's distress at losing her parents is compounded by the discoveries that the world around her has changed and that her body seems to be dissolving. A mysterious boy named Haku appears, comforts Chihiro, and gives her something to eat, which makes her solid again. He smuggles her into a large bathhouse owned and operated by the tyrannical witch Yubaba, where thousands of spirits come to refresh themselves. Haku tells Chihiro that the only way she can remain in the spirit-world long enough to rescue her parents is by gaining employment in Yubaba's bathhouse. When Chihiro asks Haku how he seems to know her so well, Haku replies that he has known Chihiro since she was very small.
In Yubaba's penthouse suite, Chihiro repeatedly and stubbornly asks for a job, overriding the monstrous witch's refusals. Yubaba ultimately consents, on condition that Chihiro give up her name. Yubaba literally takes possession of Chihiro's name by grasping the kanji characters from Chihiro's signed contract, leaving Chihiro with one part of one character of her original two-character name, in isolation pronounced "Sen". Taking a person's name gives Yubaba power to keep its owner in her service forever; it is revealed that Haku is also in Yubaba's service, and remains so because she has taken part of his full name.
While at work, Sen gives admittance to a wraithlike spirit called No Face, who returns the favor by helping her obtain bath tokens needed to bathe a "stink spirit" whom no one else will help. After bathing, the stink spirit is revealed to be a powerful river spirit who rewards Sen with a strong emetic. Subsequently, Sen sees Haku in the form of a white dragon, and later on helps save him from attacking paper birds. Searching for the injured Haku, Sen encounters Yubaba's gigantic infant son, Boh. Sen finds Haku, who was attacked by Zeniba, Yubaba's twin sister, because Haku had stolen her sigil. When Boh distracts Zeniba, she transforms Boh into a mouse, and Yubaba's crow into a hummingbird. Haku then destroys the remaining paper bird, causing Zeniba to disappear, and then Sen and Haku fall through a gap in the floor into Kamaji's boiler room. Using the river spirit's emetic, Sen causes Haku to spit out the stolen sigil, which he had swallowed. He also vomits a black slug, which Sen kills yet Haku remains comatose. Hoping to lift Zeniba's curse and save Haku from death, Sen decides to set out to return the sigil to Zeniba.
Meanwhile, No Face has become intoxicated with the greedy atmosphere of the bathhouse and swells into a huge, aggressive monster, giving illusory gold to the bathhouse workers in exchange for lavish amounts of food. When the workers do not comply with his demands, he swallows several of them; this causes a panic and the entire bathhouse is thrown into pandemonium. Sen manages to solve the problem by feeding No Face the remaining emetic, making him vomit up his tainted substance, and then leading him out of the bathhouse. No Face reverts to his former size and demure personality, and along with Sen and Boh, travel by train to Zeniba's faraway cottage. At Zeniba's home, Sen gives the sigil back to Zeniba, apologizing for having killed the black slug. An amused Zeniba reveals that the slug had been one of Yubaba's means of controlling Haku, and that the curse put on the seal has already been broken by Sen's love.
In the bathhouse, Yubaba discovers Boh's absence and is enraged. Haku, now revived and restored to his humanoid form, offers Boh's safe return in exchange for Sen and her parents to be freed and restored to normal. Yubaba accepts, but promises to set Sen one final task. Along with Boh and the hummingbird, Haku and Sen fly back to the bathhouse, leaving No Face to live with Zeniba as her assistant. En route to the bathhouse, Chihiro remembers a previously suggested meeting with Haku: some time ago, she had fallen into a river and was rescued by the river's spirit. She then realizes that the spirit of this river, called Kohaku River, and her friend Haku are one and the same. At this realization, Haku's dragon form is molted away, and he is delivered permanently from Yubaba's control. Yubaba and a large crowd have gathered to witness Chihiro's final task: to pick out her cursed parents from a group of pigs. Chihiro correctly states that none of the pigs displayed by Yubaba are her parents, and thus wins back both her parents' humanity and her own freedom from the bathhouse. Afterward, Haku takes Chihiro to rejoin her restored parents. He bids her farewell and promises that he will come see her again. As Chihiro and her parents return to Earth, her parents lose all memory of their visit to the spirit world. The family then gets back in their car and resume their journey to their new home.
: A young boy who helps Chihiro after her parents have transformed into pigs. He helps protect her from danger and gives her advice. Haku works as Yubaba's direct subordinate, often running errands and performing missions for her. He has the ability to fly and his true form is a dragon. Toward the end of the story Chihiro recalls falling into the river, of which Haku is the spirit; she thus frees him from Yubaba's service by helping him remember his real name and past, which he had forgotten due to the name change and the curse which Yubaba has placed on him. While he seems often cold-hearted, and is disliked by the bathhouse staff, Haku is unfailingly kind to Chihiro, perhaps because of his experience of her in the past, which he partly remembers. When Yubaba is listening, Haku is as sharp-voiced to Chihiro as to anyone else, so as to avoid the revelation of his growing fondness for her. Yubaba sees him merely as a tool. At the end of the movie, he promises to see Chihiro again, presumably after he breaks his apprenticeship.
Some suggest that the film is an allegory on the progression from childhood to maturity, and the risk of losing one's nature in the process. The theme of a character being lost inside a (fictional/different) world if he/she forgets his/her real name is a common folk theme. True names having magic power are a staple of folks tales such as Rumplestilskin. Similarly, Chihiro and Haku stay under Yubaba's control forever if they forget their real names and consequently their real identities.
The main character is a sullen, spoiled, and very modern Japanese ten-year-old being forced to grow up when faced with more traditional Japanese culture and manners. Miyazaki himself has said that there is an element of nostalgia for an older Japan in this film and several of his others.
Miyazaki also included a theme advocating the prevention of greed: those swallowed by No Face were attempting to receive the gold he made. Similarly, in a monomyth format, Yubaba's rich accommodations and interest in gold dominate the "road of trials" portions of the film, while Zeniba's rustic home and grandmotherly demeanor arguably mark Chihiro's gain of the "boon" in her quest. Also, Chihiro's parents' grotesque transformation after consuming too much food not meant for them is another representation of human greed, and may also be a reference to The Odyssey.
Environmental awareness is a theme explored by Roger Ebert. The most obvious examples of this are the river spirit's dramatic and beautiful transformation once he has been freed from the material dumped in him by humans, and Haku's discovery that the reason he cannot go home is that the River Kohaku, whose spirit he was, had been filled in by apartment buildings. This environmental awareness is present in several of Miyazaki's works, such as Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Princess Mononoke.
Hayao Miyazaki came out of retirement to make this film after meeting the daughter of a friend, on whom the main character is based. Chihiro's father, Akio, was based on the real-life father of the girl Chihiro is based on. Miyazaki said the real-life father is similar to Akio in the habits of always getting lost while driving and eating too fast. Chihiro's mother (Yuuko) is based on a friend of Miyazaki's; an idiosyncratic hand-gesture of Miyazaki's friend is copied when Yuuko is eating in Spirited Away. Chihiro's best friend's name is Rumi (the one who gave her the flowers), which is the name of Chihiro's voice actor.
The film was dubbed into English by Walt Disney Pictures, under the supervision of Pixar's John Lasseter. It was subsequently released in the United States on September 20 2002 and had made slightly over $10 million by September 2003.
The North American English-dubbed version was released on DVD in the UK on March 29, 2004. In 2005 it was re released by Optimum Releasing with a more accurate subtitle track and additional bonus features.
The back of the Region 1 DVD from Disney and the Region 4 DVD from Madman states that the aspect ratio is the original ratio of 2.00:1. This is incorrect; the ratio is actually 1.85:1 but has been windowboxed to 2.00:1 to compensate for the overscan on most television sets. There is much dispute over the validity of this practice, as many displays are capable of showing the entire picture, and as a result the DVD picture has a noticeable border around it.
All Asian releases of the DVD (including Japan and Hong Kong) have a noticeably accentuated amount of red in their picture transfer. This is another case of compensating for home theatre displays, this time supposedly for LCD television which, it was claimed, had a diminished red colour in its display. Releases in other DVD regions such as the US, Europe and Australia use a picture transfer where this "red tint" has been significantly reduced.
The first European television showing of the film (both the subtitled Japanese and dubbed English versions) was in the UK on December 29 2004 on Sky Cinema 1, and it has since been repeated several times. The first UK terrestrial showing of this film (dubbed into English) was on BBC2 on December 30, 2006. The Japanese subtitled version was first shown on BBC4 on the 26th January 2008.
The Canadian television premiere of the film was on CBC Television on September 30th, 2007 In order to fit the film into a two hour time slot with commercials, extensive time cuts were made during this airing.
Australian television audiences premiered Spirited Away on March 24, on its SBS channel . The movie had been heavily marketed previously, and was featured in the Australian TV Guide ; no edits were made during viewing.
Miyazaki himself has stated that Chihiro, at the end of the film, does not remember what happened to her in the spirit world, but that her adventures were also not a dream. To show the audience that something did happen, he gave several hints, such as dust and leaves on the car. Chihiro's hairband, given to her by Zeniba, glittering by the sunlight was also one of the hints. The English dub adds a line indicating that Chihiro has come away from her adventure a better person.
The other 20 tracks on the original soundtrack were composed by Joe Hisaishi. His received the 56th Mainichi Film Competition Award for Best Music, the Tokyo International Anime Fair 2001 Best Music Award in the Theater Movie category, and the 16th Japan Gold Disk Award for Animation Album of the Year. Later, Hisaishi added lyrics to "Ano hi no Kawa" and named the new version which was performed by Ayaka Hirahara.
Beside the Original Soundtrack, there is also an Image Album, which contains 10 tracks.
|Character||Japanese version||English version|
|Chihiro Ogino/Sen||Rumi Hiiragi||Daveigh Chase|
|Haku||Miyu Irino||Jason Marsden|
|Yubaba/Zeniba||Mari Natsuki||Suzanne Pleshette|
|Kamajii||Bunta Sugawara||David Ogden Stiers|
|No-Face||Akio Nakamura||Bob Bergen|
|Lin||Yūmi Tamai||Susan Egan|
|Bō||Ryūnosuke Kamiki||Tara Strong|
|Akio Ogino||Takashi Naitō||Michael Chiklis|
|Yuko Ogino||Yasuko Sawaguchi||Lauren Holly|
|Ao-gaeru||Tatsuya Gashūin||John Ratzenberger|
|Bandai-gaeru||Yō Ōizumi||Bob Bergen|
|River God||Koba Hayashi|
|Additional voices||Shirō Saitō|