Chihiro is a ten-year-old girl who is moving to a new city with her mother and father. On the way to their new house, they take a wrong turn and find themselves at an abandoned and dilapidated theme park, which is a replica of an old-style Japanese village. Although Chihiro is creeped out, her parents are keen to take a look around, so the family goes exploring.
Chihiro’s parents smell some delicious street food and take a seat at a stall where some tempting food has miraculously appeared. Although there’s no-one to serve them, Chihiro’s parents tuck in to the food with great enthusiasm. Chihiro is disgusted and annoyed. She goes down the road and crosses over a river that leads to a grand old bathhouse. She’s just turning around to return to her parents when a boy named Haku appears, warning her to get out quickly before the sun sets. Chihiro runs back to find her parents but to her shock and horror, she sees that they have been turned into pigs! It’s now too late to get back across the river and Chihiro becomes trapped in a world of spirits. Haku reappears and gives Chihiro advice on how to survive in this strange and terrifying spirit world. Haku says he’ll help Chihiro find her parents and change them back into humans.
A surreal and epic adventure begins. Chihiro must get a job in the big bathhouse, deal with the many strange characters who wish to do her harm, help her friend Haku, save her parents and return to her human life.
Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.
Supernatural; spirits; Japanese gods; adventure; loss of parents
Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.
Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.
Spirited Away has some violence. For example:
- Haku turns into a dragon. Some paper demons attack him and he gets blood and cuts all over his body. He’s badly injured, and blood spills out of his mouth.
- A little harpy attacks Chihiro, clawing at her repeatedly.
- Zeniba threatens Chihiro, saying she will ‘rip your mouth out’. She also says that anyone who takes her special seal will die.
- A giant baby kicks someone in the face.
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
Spirited Away shows some use of substances. For example:
- An adult character smokes a cigarette.
- An adult character is offered some sake.
Nudity and sexual activity
Spirited Away has some nudity and sexual activity in this movie, including a scene that shows a giant baby’s bare bottom.
Ideas to discuss with your children
Spirited Away is an Academy Award-winning Japanese movie by acclaimed writer Hayao Miyazaki and animated by Studio Ghibli. Miyazaki created the movie specifically to appeal to the imagination of children aged 10-13 years, because he believed that other contemporary offerings for this age group were limited.
Spirited Away is a creative and rich storytelling achievement, which delves deeply into Japanese Shinto and Buddhist symbolism. Not only is it an epic and surreal adventure, but the animation is detailed and visually spectacular. But because of its extremely complex storyline, long length and scary themes, it’s better suited to older children. Younger children might find it both disturbing and boring.
The main messages from this movie are that greed and consumption lead us away from happiness and that we must fight for what’s truly important in life.
Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include bravery and determination. Chihiro is a positive role model because she possesses these qualities and uses them to help her friends and save her parents despite terrifying odds.
This movie could also give you the chance to talk with your children about real-life issues and themes like:
- consumerism and greed – for example, you could ask your children why they think Chihiro’s parents are turned into pigs
- the effects of Western consumerism on Japanese culture – for example, you could talk about the symbolic significance of characters like Yubabaand the Stink Spirit.