Top 10 Secrets Behind The Success Of Spirited Away


Spirited Away is one of the most popular and successful anime films of all time. Released in 2001, the movie won critical acclaim and was a major financial success, earning more than $289 million at the box office. Although it has been more than fifteen years since its release, Spirited Away remains a much-loved favorite among anime fans. But what do we really know about this iconic film? Here are ten secrets about Spirited Away that you may not have known.


10: Distinctive Spirited Away themes and locations

You’ll notice some familiar places in the world of anime that you’ve probably seen before.  The train station with doors that automatically open and close is a common theme for Miyazaki – you can also see it at the beginning of “My Neighbor Totoro” as well as the end of “Kiki’s Delivery Service”.  In Spirited Away, Chihiro runs past this door on her way home from school.  There are several references to other Miyazaki films in Spirited Away, including a catbus from My Neighbor Totoro making a brief appearance, No-Face trying to buy a ticket from the ticket master who is identical to the huge totoro from My Neighbor Totoro, and several animals that are similar in appearance to the ones from Studio Ghibli’s earlier film “Pom Poko”.

Spirited Away is filled with many unique fantasy elements, but when you pay attention you realize there are some interesting parallels between this world and our own.  For instance, one of the baths in Spirited Away is filled with steaming piles of coal.  The bathhouse owner says she needs to bathe in it because she’s having trouble sleeping – just like people today who say they sleep better after drinking a glass of warm milk. In another scene, Chihiro finds a river filled with lost items from other peoples’ lives, such as wedding rings and photographs.  She even happens to find her parents’ lost piggy bank.  This scene reflects the fact that, in our own world, it’s not uncommon for people to lose their wedding rings in rivers or lakes while washing their hands or doing other tasks near water.

9: Miyazaki did extensive location research

Spirited Away is centered around the Japanese bath house tradition called a “sento”.  Miyazaki went to great lengths to get all of the details about sentos right so they would be realistic and believable to audiences worldwide. He researched everything from the different kinds of tiles used on the walls of sentos, to what kind of shampoo people use when getting a massage at a sento.  He also went as far as to research how many tiles certain kinds of fish typically have on their bodies – for the scene where Haku delivers a fish egg to Yubaba, which will eventually become Boh.

8: Spirited Away is based on a 10 year old girl’s dream

It was revealed in an interview with Miyazaki that he got his inspiration for Spirited Away from a dream his daughter had when she was 10 years old. He wanted to include elements from her dreams into the film and felt that the best way would be through animation because it could be altered and painted over until it looked exactly like what he saw in his daughter’s head.  He also liked the idea of basing this story off of something so personal because he feels that dreams are like a “gateway to another world”.

7: Spirited Away was written for 12 year olds

One of the things that I really like about Miyazaki films is that they’re not just targeted towards children.  When he introduced Spirited Away at the Japanese premiere, Miyazaki stated that he wrote it with his own daughter in mind so she would have something fun to watch. However, because this movie deals with some dark elements and mature themes, he feels it might be too scary for young kids to watch by themselves.  Miyazaki says that’s ok though because as long as parents are watching with their kids then it’ll be fine.

6: The actor who played No-Face got lost during the shoot of the movie!

During the scene where No-Face is at a bathhouse, trying to buy some food from a frog headed waitress, he runs out of money.  He tries to steal some from another customer but gets on everyone’s bad side and they all band together against him, eventually chasing him away.  This guy had worked on a couple other Miyazaki movies before this one as an extra and had even acted out scenes as a ghost in “Spirited Away”, but he was NOT expecting that there would be scenes from the actual movie where he would have dialogue and – even worse – become the focus of attention for what felt like an eternity.  As soon as filming began on this scene, he got stage fright and his body simply froze up.  All of the extras were wondering why he stopped acting but after a while, Miyazaki came over and asked him what was wrong – it turned out that he had gotten lost in the moment!

5: The movie has two different endings

When “Spirited Away” won best-animated film at the Academy Awards, many people assumed that Studio Ghibli would be making the North American dubbed version available with both an English language ending and Japanese ending so all audiences could choose which one they’d like to see. However, according to Miyazaki this would not be possible because each scene in Spirited Away is very carefully maintained.  As an example when No-Face threatened Chihiro, he did it in his room to symbolize that this was where Chihiro had to deal with him.  If they were to create an English language version of the movie with a different ending than the Japanese version, then it would take away from the authenticity and symbolism of No-Face’s location so it wouldn’t be worth doing.

4: The names of the parents are never revealed

While most Studio Ghibli films refer to their characters by their first name (e.g. Ponyo), Spirited Away’s protagonist is only referred to as “Chihiro” throughout the entire film.  Miyazaki says that he feels extremely attached to this character and therefore prefers not to acknowledge her family name.

3: Two of the characters from Ponyo make a cameo appearance in Spirited Away!

Remember the father and son who were fishing and got caught up in Soun’s tornado?  Well, they both appear as spirits roaming around “Spirited Away” during one scene. But if you blink, you’ll miss it because it’s only for a few seconds.

2: The movie was originally going to be titled “Sen and Chihiro’s Spiriting Away”

You know how some movies have long titles that can easily be shortened down to something more simple (i.e. The Usual Suspects)?  Miyazaki came up with this really long title instead but he says that it actually made him want to shorten it because the studio couldn’t afford to market such a lengthy movie.

1: There is another ghost in the movie that no one has noticed…yet!

Miyazaki says this character appears for about three seconds and can only be seen in the Japanese version of Spirited Away.  This ghost’s name is Kaonashi (Kao means ‘face’ and nashi means ‘no’) and he looks like a man who wears a mask over his face without eyes or mouth because according to him, “if you can’t see anyone’s face then they’re easier to talk with”. So which scene is this? You’ll have to watch all 2 hours and 15 minutes of Spirited Away if you want to catch it yourself!

I know, right?  There’s two films worth of stuff crammed into one movie!  We haven’t even talked about No-Face (he has his post coming up), the rad ghosts in the Boiler Room, or the fact that Yubaba controls a giant baby…but I’ll stop there.  If you can think of any other secrets for this film, please share them with us in the comments section below!

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