5. The Power of Love
“Haku helped me before, now I wanna help him.”
After Haku steals Yubaba’s sister, Zeniba’s gold seal, he becomes gravely ill. Rather than let him die, Chihiro springs into action, making him eat medicine from the river spirit and offering to go to Zeniba herself, return the seal, and apologize.
Chihiro has grown so much. She’s more confident than ever and willing to risk her life for someone else. In the face of death, Chihiro is brave. To Chihiro, Haku is more than his bad choices, he is her friend. Haku is not saved because he’s a good person or because he deserves it. He is saved simply because Chihiro cares for him. Because she believes in him.
It’s an emotional moment that would bring a tear to any jaded adult’s eye. In a world where greed, corruption, and power take the form of all sorts of spirits and monsters and old women, love is simply two people willing to stand up for one another – no matter the cost.
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4. Chihiro Saves the Water Spirit
When a stink spirit shows up at the bathhouse, Chihiro, now Sen, is tasked with taking care of them. It’s a great sequence that highlights the hypocrisy and elitism of the bathhouse, and leads to some absolutely hilarious animation. Upon seeing and smelling the spirit, Chihiro’s whole body tingles – her hair stands on end. She grits her teeth. The food Lin brought for them turns to grey mush.
How we treat the environment is a huge part of Spirited Away, and no moment shows that better than when Chihiro pulls a rope of garbage from the stink spirit to reveal that it’s actually a river spirit, who was weighed down by rust and waste and mud. It’s a sobering reminder of how we pollute the world around us, twisting nature into something horrid and gross. But it also reminds us that all we need is a little compassion and hard work to restore balance.
3. Yubaba Gives Chihiro a Job and Takes Her Name
Haku instructs Chihiro to ask Yubaba, the witch who runs the bathhouse, for a job. It’s Chihiro’s first real task – her first obstacle to overcome – and despite Yubaba’s intimidation, Chihiro doesn’t give up. Yes, she’s rude, clumsy, and spends most of her meeting with Yubaba scream-talking, but Chihiro eventually gets what she wants.
As part of her contract, Chihiro loses her name – her identity – and is given a new one: Sen. It’s a moment familiar to any coming of age story – the moment the child loses their innocence and is thrust into adulthood. Without her identity, Chihiro must find herself again. Not just to get her name back, but to grow and change. In other ways, Chihiro’s contract represents the deal all of us make under capitalism. To Yubaba, Chihiro is only worth something if she can work. She becomes a cog in Yubaba’s machine – one in a thousand.
This moment also features a great set piece – Yubaba’s penthouse. It’s luxurious and ornate, with swirling colors and patterns. Jewels and money bags litter her desk. It’s in stark contrast to the interior design of the bathhouse and employee rooms. Yubaba’s greed is on full display, and the animation brings it to life.