In my first post, I mentioned that Spirited Away was the top grossing Japanese animated film and even won an Oscar in 2003. It is a fan favorite and is usually one of the only Studio Ghibli movies people have actually heard of. But before we go into the theory behind the movie, let me tell you a little bit about what it’s about. If you’ve already watched the movie or would like to watch it on your own free time, feel free to skip down to the section titled “The Prostitution Theory”.
What is Spirited Away About?
The movie follows the story of a young girl named Chihiro. In the beginning of the movie, it is revealed that she and her family are moving to a different town and that Chihiro is depressed because she must leave all of her friends. However, the family gets lost and comes across a tunnel in the forest. They decide to enter the tunnel and come across an abandoned amusement park. During their exploration, Chihiro and her parents come across empty stores with food set out. Having driven a long way, Chihiro’s parents decide to treat themselves to some food and agree that they will pay the store owners back later. Chihiro, who does not want to get into trouble, runs off. However, as the sun sets, Chihiro sees a ship approaching a dock nearby and watches as spirits get off of the cruise ship. Terrified, she runs back to her parents as the amusement park and stores come to life from the spirits appearing everywhere, only to find that her parents have been cursed and are turned into pigs for their theft. Again, she runs away.
As she is running, a humanoid spirit named Haku finds her and takes her under his wing. He escorts her back to his workplace, a bath house, to ask his boss, Yubaba, if she will offer her a job. On their way there, he tells her that if she doesn’t eat something from the spirit world, she will disappear. But he also tells her that if she breathes the spirits will become aware of her presence and will want to eat her.
At the bath house, Chihiro is escorted to Yubaba who tells her that if she wants to go home, she must work in the spirit world until she has earned her freedom. Yubaba forces Chihiro to sign a contract that changes Chihiro’s name to Sen as a way to symbolize possession and loss of freedom. During her time at the bath house, Chihiro meets some benevolent spirits who help her get accustomed to her job, but she also encounters some spirits who are not as interested in helping her.
One spirit in particular, called No Face, becomes attached to Chihiro when she lets him in from the rain and spends his time trying to win her affection. He offers her money and tries to help her out whenever she needs. However, his act of conjuring gold, which turns out to be fake, causes him to gain major attention and the other workers at the bath house shower him with food and care. As a result, No Face develops a never ending hunger and intense rage. Because of this, he tries to eat everyone in the bath house. When Chihiro tries to calm him down by giving him a piece of an herbal ball, but this makes him throw up everything he’s eaten and causes him to hate Chihiro.
As a result, Chihiro leaves to try to find a way to gain her freedom. When she leaves, she meets up with Yubaba’s twin sister. The two of them team up with Haku, the spirit from before who has been taking care of her, and work to gain Chihiro’s freedom by essentially kidnapping Yubaba’s beloved son. Although this sounds harsh, in the end, he decides he wants to leave anyways to live with her twin sister. Distraught, Yubaba finally allows Chihiro to leave in exchange for her son.
The Prostitution Theory
It is said that Miyazaki likes to address political problems and current events in his films. The one that is linked to Spirited Away is the major issue of child prostitution. Throughout the movie, there are also several instances that may serve as proof for this theory, so let’s go through them.
Firstly, when the bath house is revealed, there a sign above the entrance with the Japanese symbol for the word “yu”, which means hot water. Although this may seem fitting seeing as it is a bath house, it is important to address the fact that in the Japanese Edo era, men often went to bath houses to meet with women named “yuna”, or “hot water woman.” However, these women often weren’t just attendants, but also prostitutes. “Yuna” is also the name of the “race” of the female spirits who work in the bath house. Additionally, the name of the woman who runs the bath house, Yubaba, means “hot water old woman”.
Next, when Chihiro goes to sign the contract with Yubaba, she is forced to change her name to Sen. This is a parallel to the prostitution industry in which many women are forced to change their name to make sure that no one finds them.
Finally, let’s address the real issue at hand: prostitution. The first instance in which this theory is addressed is when Chihiro meets No Face. It is said that No Face is meant to represent a pedophile who consistently wants to buy Chihiro, who is underage. As an attempt to buy her virginity, he offers her money and even steals bath cards for her so that she can do her job. However, as she continuously refuses to accept him, he ends up chasing after her himself, but she gets away.
But if you think this theory is too far-fetched, I would really encourage you to watch the movie for yourself. Although I explained the basic plotline of the movie, I did leave out a lot of details. This theory is something that I have always been fascinated about. In my next blog post, I would like to go into another theory for a different, but still extremely popular, Miyazaki movie.