Five Life Lessons from “Spirited Away”

spirited away lessons

Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away is a gift that keeps on giving.

It’s the type of movie that’s suitable for all ages and one that, no matter how many times you’ve seen it, makes you feel as though you’re discovering something new and special.

Released in 2001, Spirited Away has resonated with audiences for over two decades. Aside from domestic and commercial success, it also earned international critical acclaim.

The story follows 10-year-old Chihiro in the car with her parents. They’re on their way to their new home in the suburbs, but suddenly, her father decides to take a shortcut. They find a tunnel that leads to an abandoned amusement park, which is actually a realm ruled by gods and spirits.

Chihiro starts to feel uncomfortable, but her father insists they explore the place. They find an empty restaurant stocked with lots of food. With no second thoughts, her parents sit and wolf down whatever they can get their hands on.

Chihiro continues to explore the area until she finds a bathhouse. There, she meets a boy named Haku. She returns to her parents, only to find them turned into pigs. Thus, her adventure begins in a world of witches, gods, and spirits.

Just like every other Studio Ghibli movie, this isn’t just for kids. It’s more than just the aesthetics and color palettes that the animation studio is famous for. Spirited Away is not a typical cartoon film. It also shares several valuable life lessons. 

Lesson #1: Greed

spirited away lessons

This one is pretty obvious. Chihiro’s parents don’t think twice about eating other people’s food. Chihiro tries to warn them, but they ignore her. They’re consumed by greed—so much so that they can’t stop eating. They’re eventually transformed into literal pigs.

No-Face is also greedy. The spirit has already consumed most of the bathhouse, yet it wants more. 

Lesson #2: Not all that glitters is gold.

Looks can be deceiving—something that Chihiro learns the hard way. First, there’s Kamaji, who looks scary and intimidating at first. But Chihiro soon realizes that he has a heart of gold. Second is the witch Yubaba. She may appear to be nothing but obsessed with money and who doesn’t care about others, but she’s actually a loving mother—someone who will do anything to protect her child. 

On the contrary, No-Face seems friendly and harmless enough but is dangerous and destructive, depending on where he is.

Lesson #3: Kindness

Chihiro earns rewards for her small acts of kindness. The unnamed river spirit—which Yubaba calls the Stink Spirit—arrives at the bathhouse, and Chihiro is tasked to bathe it in the big tub. She helps remove all the trash that clogs its body, and in turn, it repays Chihiro by giving her a special medicine.

Zeniba, the twin sister of Yubaba, initially appears monstrous. But after Chihiro returns her golden seal, Zeniba is revealed to be a kind, old lady. Not only does she forgive Haku for stealing her seal, but she also helps Chihiro remember Haku’s name. 

spirited away lessons

Boh, the only child of Yubaba, is a large sumo baby who is spoiled and used to having everything he wants. Zeniba turns him into a mouse form. Boh follows and joins Chihiro in her adventures and becomes attached to her. Because of her, Boh transforms back into a baby. He then helps her by standing up to his mother and defending Chihiro.

Lesson #4: Resilience

Chihiro has to work in the bathhouse to find her way home and serve otherworldly customers. It’s not easy, especially since it’s a place where humans don’t survive for long. At the beginning of Spirited Away, she’s a sulky and arrogant child who also seems sheltered. She’s at a loss for how to help her parents and return home.

However, despite her age, Chihiro undergoes quite a character development throughout the film. She doesn’t start out strong and self-reliant, but she eventually learns to stand independently. She helps the spirits and Haku and shows Yubaba that she will not back down easily. 

Lesson #5: Spirited Away tells us that life can make you forget who you are.

spirited away lessons

Adults often toil their life away, forgetting their dreams, motivations, and what makes them happy. Yubaba controls her employees by stealing their names and giving them new ones. This strips them away from their identities and basic sense of self. Remembering their names means remembering who they were before they became Yubaba’s puppets. That way, the witch loses power over them.

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