Spirited Away: The Beautiful Messages in the Picture

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“Spirited Away” is an animated movie produced by Studio Ghibli in Japan. The movie itself is a masterpiece of story and imagery, and has a wonderful lesson for people of all ages watching it. The film centers around a young girl named Chihiro who loses her parents and becomes trapped in the spirit world. While there she befriends a number of spirits, one whose name is Haku, and has many adventures while trying to find her parents and make her way back to her own world. The movie which is considered a “coming of age” story, teaches bravery, love, friendship, kindness, and other values that make it a wonderful watch. Hayao Miyazaki uses bright colors and details to depict Chihiro’s journey in a way that still lets the audience connect with her.

Traditional Japanese architecture and influence: Most of the structures in the movie are based on traditional Japanese buildings. For example, the main area that the movie takes place in is a bathhouse, and its style is from the Meiji period of Japan. This period included a lot psuedo-western architecture and design due to influence from more western countries (Wikipedia contributors, n.d.). This is shown through the top floor, which is depicted in a more western style, with a character that was not based on Japanese origin. This could also be depicting the hold that western influence had over Japanese.

Nature: As with a lot of Studio Ghibli movies, nature and environment play a part in the story. Even if the overall message is not centered around nature specifically, there are smaller messages outlining man’s effect on the natural world. One of the main supporting characters is the spirit of a river that was drained and dried out in order to create apartment complexes. Another example is one of a spirit that comes to the bathhouse for help. At first it is assumed the spirit is a stink spirit, but after finding a bike handle in its side the entire staff got together to pull out a large amount of waste and mud and they were revealed to be a river spirit who’s water had been polluted by humans. Multiple times in the movie man-made structures are shown to be overtaken with natural growth, which leads into the next aspect.

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Perspective-changes: In “Spirited Away,” the same scene or structure is shown from different point of view. At first, Chihiro’s perspective of the bathhouse is of the full structure. She is looking up, and it almost looms over her. When the bathhouse is shown from the owner, Yubaba’s. perspective, the imagery is from the top down, and the bathhouse seems less daunting or scary. Another scene is one of Chihiro following Haku through these hedges of flowers. It switches from Chihiro’s perspective of Haku’s back to a 3rd person perspective. The difference is very clear: Haku is walking calmly, but Chihiro is shown to be moving quickly and struggling to keep up and away from the walls of the hedges. Shinto: Shinto beliefs and practices are depicted in the movie, most notably the belief that all natural things have a spirit connected with them, such as rivers or even plants and animals.

Key Aspect

For me, the key aspect is nature, but more specifically combines the perspectives of scenes involving nature. Multiple times in the movie, an area will be shown, but it will be from a different perspective. Usually when this happens, the change is time. As seen in the screenshots above, a passageway is shown to be overgrown with plant life from a scene at the end of the movie, while at the beginning of the movie it was clearly separated from the surrounding forest. Another example is the train tracks shown within the spirit world. When the main character first arrives, the tracks run along solid ground, but after a large storm, the base is elevated enough to have the train run on top of a seemingly endless expanse of water. Miyazaki also expands on the theme of nature by including a character that is supposed to be representative of a river becoming polluted by human means. In the movie, this character becomes clean of all the mud and trash, showing that nature has taken control again. During a scene where two characters are running through a maze of flowers, the imagery switched from one character’s point of view to another, or an outside point of view.


Hayao Miyazaki is a famous animator most well-known for his work in Studio Ghibli. Originally majoring in economics at a university in Tokyo, Miyazaki became an entry-level animator at a popular animation company. It was at the company that he met other animators, one of which he would go on to marry in the future. He improved his standing at the company but later left, however he still continued to animate short films and stories for other studios. His first breakthrough individually was in a story he wrote for a manga called Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, which was turned into a very successful film that encouraged him to partner with another animator named Takahata and co-found Studio Ghibli (Ray, 2018). Many of Miyazaki’s works have themes that center around flying, and this is due to his upbringing. Hayao Miyazaki’s father was part of a family business that build parts for airplanes in Japan. Because of this, many of his movies have and apparent flying theme or sequence (Ray, 2018).

Media and Process

“Spirited Away” was created during a time where the staff at Studio Ghibli were experimenting with computer animation. Even though technology was used, hand drawn characters were still provided, and Miyazaki himself worked with all the animators to ensure the finished product would be just as engaging as his previously hand drawn frames in movies (Wikipedia contributors, n.d.).


During the early 2000s, anime both in Japan and the west was gaining popularity due to hits in the mid-90’s like Pokémon and later popular anime such as “Cowboy Bebop”. “Spirited Away” was released in a time where many Japanese anime studios were letting American companies air their shows in the US (Alt, 2009)American companies were also starting to compete for air time and popularity in animated children’s shows, and instead of being in competition with the dominating animated movie company, Disney, Studio Ghibli decided to partner with them beginning with “Spirited Away” after Disney won in a bid to be able to dub the movie in English. In their deal, it was stated that they would be able to dub over the Japanese audio in English for the other Studio Ghibli movies.

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