Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away was released in cinemas as Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi – or ‘Sen and Chihiro’s Spiriting Away’ 15 years ago on 20th September 2002. It quickly became the highest-grossing film in Japanese history.
Following this, Pixar director John Lasseter then convinced Disney to buy the distribution rights to an English dub starring Lilo and Stitch‘s Daveigh Chase. Miyazaki said he’d decided to make a film for ten year old girls after realising there weren’t many films with a young female heroine: in his words: “a strong, self-sufficient girl that doesn’t think twice about what they believe in their all their heart.” Spirited Away is frequently listed as one of the best animated films ever, as the enduring appeal of Miyazaki’s personal touch and keen attention to detail has elevated the film to cult status.
Spirited Away was never created with a script – like many of Miyazaki’s films, the plot developed organically from a storyboard. The film follows a girl named Chihiro who has to navigate the world of spirits in order to free her parents from a magic spell that has turned them into pigs.
In the process, she becomes trapped working for a witch named Yubaba, and she is forced to adapt to survive and tackle a great deal of challenges. Miyazaki himself drew every frame, with what critic Roger Ebert described as “a great deal of generosity and love” that cannot be replicated with CGI or digital effects.
Many people have tried to apply a greater meaning to the film in order to make powerful statements about modern life. One such theory is that the bathhouse is a metaphor for child prostitution, or that the spirit world and the real world represent the struggle between ‘old’ and ‘new’ Japan.
However, the simplicity of Spirited Away is where its enduring appeal lies – with the potential for good in everyone, and the central idea that a female lead needs supporters and friends, but not a saviour. Spirited Away introduced global audiences to the catalogue of Studio Ghibli’s work, and played a huge part in its continuing popularity around the world.
Watch the original trailer for Spirited Away below: