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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Waseda chapter.

Disclaimer: This article contains spoilers, and may be better comprehensible to those who have already watched the film.

Spirited Away is a timeless classic enjoyed by all ages. I have just recently got the chance to watch this piece, and it was definitely more than just a glimpse of the world of the spirits. In addition to its scenic animation and interesting storyboard, I was deeply impressed by the director’s (Hayao Miyazaki) messages conveyed through different parts of the movie. After watching the film, I could keep my very own tokens from this peculiar world in the form of significant lessons:

1. Pollution

As the main character Chihiro enters into the spirits’ world and takes on various adventures, the film gives us a message about the deteriorating condition of the world around us. The first scene that depicted this was when what everyone thought was a “stink spirit” has visited the bathhouse. As Chihiro gave this unwanted customer a good bath, she realized the pitiful condition it has been under. What seemed like a pole stuck to the spirit actually turned out to be a bicycle handle that had been tangled up with a bunch of other garbage, which trapped the river god into the form of a stink spirit. Once Chihiro and the bathhouse staff successfully pulled these out, the river god could show its true form — a clear water dragon — and fly freely out of the bath. Another scene that showed the issue of pollution was the conversation between Chihiro and Haku-the deuteragonist of the movie. After Chihiro helped Haku remember his identity of being a river spirit, he explains that the river he used to guard had been covered up by concrete and since been industrialized by human beings. This led him to lose his home and look for Yubaba to learn her methods for magic. These two scenes reflect the environmental issues our world faces, perhaps prevalent from the 2001-date of the movie’s release.

Miyazaki also stated in an interview that the scene with the stink spirit was inspired by his own experience of cleaning up his filthy local river. Miyazaki and other volunteers pulled out a bicycle stuck in the river and helped restore it greatly that now it flows with many fish inhabiting it.

2. Life is as you shape it

The second moral of the story is shown in the different methods of living of the identical witch twins, Yubaba and Zeniba. Their clashing lifestyles teach us that our mindset can greatly influence our living environment. The ambitious and greedy Yubaba yearns for more wealth despite running an already popular bathhouse. This leads her to push her staff to work harder or else face harsh consequences such as turning into an animal through her magical spell. On the other hand, Zeniba is portrayed as a witch who prefers tranquility and joy from the effort. Her house lays in the middle of a forest, which seems much more humble than Yubaba’s bathhouse, and she prefers to do things by hand. In one scene, Zeniba tells Chihiro that the quality of things created by hand differs from those made through magic. While the scene where Zeniba relentlessly chases Haku for stealing the witch’s seal tells us that she is strict, later on, she forgives him as the wrong is undone by Chihiro. The two witches’ vast difference of lifestyle gives us a deeper understanding that the values we uphold visibly reflects on our life. 

3. Age is but a number

It is often said that wisdom comes with age and so, children must learn from adults. However, Miyazaki broke this conventional idea through expressing in his film that adults often turn narrow-minded by focusing on power and prosperity, when children may remain unaffected by such greed. There were some memorable scenes that depicted this — when Chihiro gave the seriously-injured Haku the medicine ball she had been saving for her parents, and when Haku requested Yubaba to free Chihiro and her parents despite knowing what consequences he may face. Such scenes contrast to the part when the bathhouse staff competed for the gold given out by Gaonashi, only to blame Chihiro for bringing him in the bathhouse when they discovered that he was actually a carnivorous creature. The world may be seen more purely and in greater detail through a child’s eyes, helping them act more compassionately than grown-ups.

4. Self-care

Sometimes our loneliness may eat us up from the inside-just how Gaonashi literally gulped up the bathhouse staff. The movie introduces us to Gaonashi as the literal depiction of loneliness, which tries on different methods to relieve its hunger. Gaonashi may be perceived as a vile creature that is destructive to its surroundings. However, it is but a miserable creature that can be tamed with a little help. Essentially, the inclusion of Gaonashi in the film gives us a message that we require self-care, which could really change the person that we are. It is crucial to have time to cleanse ourselves and feed our loneliness with healthy practices such as practicing a hobby or spending quality time with a good friend.

Hajeong Park

Waseda '23

A debate enthusiast. A believer of good will and karma. A strong supporter of the logical and sensible feminism. A lover of all cultures and respecter of all logical opinions. A speaker of my opinion, and a fighter for the right.