Hey everyone, back again with something new. Inspiration kind of struck since I wanted to write more but I didn’t know what the subject would be. But here is an idea for a new series of posts: detailing specific characters from shows or movies (anime primarily) and focusing on why they were so well done (and to a lesser extent why I enjoy them so much as a character). And with Spirited Away being my favorite movie of all time, I thought Chihiro would be the perfect candidate to start this “Character Focus” topic. I also really enjoy writing about characters as you might have realized from my Toradora article. So without further delay, let’s get into it.
So. What have I learned about Chihiro from my many, many, MANY rewatches of Spirited Away? Well, I’ve certainly learned part of why the movie is so revered. Chihiro is a fantastically done character that shows enormous growth in the 125 minute run-time. But let’s just start from the beginning where we learn about Chihiro herself and what kind of character she is.
In the beginning we find ten year old Chihiro grumpy and upset in the backseat of her parent’s car, blatantly disregarding proper car sitting rules to lay down and poke her head up to the driver’s seat. She, as almost any child her age leaving friends behind, is sad and upset that she’s moving to a new place. She finds almost nothing positive about moving to her new home and doesn’t seem to want to roll with it or accept it.
So we have, essentially, any given ten year old. Chihiro isn’t exceptionally more bratty than any other kid her age, she’s just behaving that way given the circumstances. Then we start on down the forest road and into the “amusement park”. This is where we see Chihiro’s defining traits at the beginning of the movie beginning to come to light. She is almost adamant about staying behind with the car. The idea of the new and unknown doesn’t appeal to her like it does her father and mother. It seems to scare her almost to the point of letting her parents go on without her.
Even though Chihiro is ADAMANT about staying with the car, she relents because she’s scared at the prospect of being left alone without her parents, which, again, is not atypical of someone her age. What IS unique to her, at least a little bit, is that she clings tightly to her mother as they move through the passageway; she’s absolutely frightened of what might be on the other side of the tunnel.
Moving forward, we see Chihiro’s cautiousness show its head; she wants to go back, she wants to leave, she doesn’t want to eat the food, etc etc. Her parents carelessly shrug off her warnings and she goes to wander, more out of boredom than out of a desire to explore. But night falls and she’s presented with her first real challenge; she’s left alone in this strange world without the anchor of her parents to help her. She becomes distraught and lost and tries to reject the reality in front of her instead of coming to terms with her current situation. It’s only due to Haku’s support that she’s able to move forward at all.
But there is important development here. Haku can’t hold her hand like her parents did. She has to go to Kamaji herself without being caught. She takes the first step forward towards becoming her own person when she walks down the stairs to the boiler room. Even though it’s frightening, she’s not petrified and unable to move forward; she’s able to move on with the task at hand. She does what Haku told her to do and she’s rewarded with a job, at the cost of her identity.
So she learns how to support herself and the steps she needs to take to rescue her parents. Small other things like being given tasks to prepare the baths and tackle the river spirit (and even pushing Yubaba to give her a job) help her grow as a person by giving her challenges to overcome. She becomes more and more independent through these tasks, learning both how to act on her own but also when to ask for help from those around her. She especially knows she can’t do everything herself.
The next important step to recognize is her taking action after helping Haku with Zeniba’s attack. Chihiro makes the fully independent and conscious decision to confront Zeniba and apologize on Haku’s behalf, something she never would have done at the beginning of the film. At this point she’s almost completely on her own; she has Boh and No-Face but they tagged along to Chihiro’s choice. After learning more from Zeniba, she remembers her past and thus solidifies her unique identity as Chihiro, removing the idea of “Sen” from herself.
And in the end, after beating Yubaba’s tricks and coming out a stronger person from the thematic bathhouse that seemed to corrupt those inside of it, Chihiro was rewarded with her parents. She promised to not look back and move forward, and the tunnel scene repeats itself; she moves through, clinging to her mother (for a much different reason this time), and emerges back at the car, as if the previous events hadn’t happened at all. She’s now confronted with the same thing as the beginning of the film, moving to a new place. But she seems much more confident in her ability to handle it.
That’s really one of the big themes with Chihiro’s character; it’s reflected in her development that growing up means accepting and embracing change and the unknown instead of trying to reject it. It means learning that there are some things you need to do yourself and there are things you need to ask for help with. Chihiro is shown very harshly that she won’t always have her parents to rely on. She won’t be able to cling to her mom throughout her life and there will be changes she can’t control, like moving to a new area where she doesn’t know anyone and leaving her friends behind.
That’s mostly why I love Chihiro as a character so much. She’s cute but it’s not her only defining feature. She is a somewhat bratty child that ends up not cracking under the pressure of what she had to do. She becomes confident and independent in a believable way (at least, believable for what the story of Spirited Away is). But she’s sure to recognize when others help her and give them credit as she realizes she wouldn’t even be alive without Haku having saved her as a child. It’s her character growth I adore so much, done in such a masterful way in a movie that deserves the many accolades it has acquired.
Well, I hope I managed to show off why I like Chihiro so much as a character and why I believe she’s so well done. I feel confident in what I’ve written here, being able to better articulate my thoughts here than I might have been able to in a conversation, perhaps. Don’t know who I’m gonna choose to do next but I hope you all will read it. Thanks for reading this one, hope you enjoyed it.