Chihiro is a typical ten-year-old girl, spoiled and overprotected. When we first meet her she is angry because her parents are moving the family to a new town and she doesn’t want to go. Her parents want her to think of the move as an adventure, but she stubbornly refuses. Beneath Chihiro’s childish behavior, however, is a well of maturity and wisdom that Chihiro isn’t yet aware of. One sign of this maturity is that she instinctively values and follows rules that she knows are important, even when authority figures tell her to break them. For example, when Chihiro’s father decides to explore the abandoned theme park, Chihiro’s instincts tell her it’s not a good idea. Once inside the park, her parents gorge themselves on the food they find, and she refrains from eating anything. Chihiro’s wise respect for rules will prove important in the spirit world.
When Yubaba changes Chihiro’s name to Sen, Chihiro seems to lose her true identity. Chihiro desperately holds on to her former self because if she forgets who she used to be, she’ll be trapped in the spirit world forever. She believes that resisting her new identity as Sen is necessary to survive. Yet Chihiro’s time spent as Sen is when her true self develops. Chihiro has always been instinctively kind and respectful, but as Sen, she relies on these qualities. She doesn’t allow scary circumstances to dim her optimism and trust. Chihiro’s kindness toward others isn’t just a façade to help her escape, and she forms true friendships with several of the bathhouse inhabitants. She helps Haku, Boh, and several needy spirits, even though doing so means she may get stuck in the spirit world. Chihiro leaves the spirit world a more self-sufficient and self-reflective young girl. She realizes that the problems of moving to a new school are nothing compared to the real challenges of growing up.
Haku first appears as a boy of about sixteen, but he is actually a lost river spirit that also can take the form of a white dragon. In his guise as a white dragon his appearance suggests a river: flowing and graceful. As Haku, however, he is not always so composed, and he exhibits both bravery and real sadness. The river he once represented, the Kohaku River, was drained and paved over to build an apartment complex, and Haku is truly a lost soul. Though he has made a home of sorts at the bathhouse, he knows he once had another home, and the loss of it haunts him. Haku’s treatment of Chihiro is sometimes kind and sometimes gruff, and Chihiro later learns that Yubaba controls him through a slug she planted inside him. Haku may seem powerful at times, but he is also weak—he cannot remember his name, which means he can never leave the spirit world, and he is under Yubaba’s control.
Haku’s initial kindness toward Chihiro serves him well. Sen pauses in her quest to rescue her parents to save Haku when he is hurt, as Haku once saved her from drowning in the Kohaku River. He and Sen develop a loyal and deep friendship, and love each other like brother and sister. Since Haku cannot remember who he really is, he must rely on Sen to remember, and his kindness makes her determined to do so. Sen eventually does find Haku’s true identity, which gives Haku the power to free himself from the spirit world and Yubaba’s control. Although we never learn Haku’s ultimate fate, by the end of the movie he has at the very least found a measure of freedom and peace.
The twin sisters Yubaba and Zeniba teach Chihiro that good and evil both exist in the world, and often exist within the same person. While Yubaba represents evil and can be quite scary, she also honors her word and is scrupulously honest in her business dealings. She recognizes that everyone needs to feel useful and gives a job to anyone who wants one, which is a way of acknowledging the dignity of every individual. Yubaba trusts no one and assumes that everyone is as sly and greedy as she is, but she adores her baby, Boh, beyond all reason. She literally almost smothers him with love, filling his room with pillows, keeping him safe from the world by keeping him away from it. Yubaba has a big, warty head and a huge nose, features that make her evil seem inevitable.
At first Zeniba seems as unscrupulous as her sister, but Zeniba leans more consistently toward good. At one point she notes that she and Yubaba are complete opposites even though they are identical twins, but their differences aren’t always so black and white. While Zeniba threatens to kill Haku for stealing her seal, she later forgives him with no strings attached. She also critiques greed and overconsumption, and she insults Yubaba’s indulgent parenting. Zeniba is still no saint, but her wisdom helps everyone to discover their true identities and abilities. By the end of the film Sen addresses both Zeniba and Yubaba as “Granny,” which suggests not only that both twins are wise in their own way, but that they are merely two sides of the same coin.
Although this page puts it that Chihiro and Haku share a purely platonic, brother/sister love, this is not true. For one thing, it just doesn't seem like it in the movie. For another, and more importantly, when the movie is played in Chinese, the boiler man (or Zeniba, I forget who) refers to Haku as Chihiro's 男朋友 which means boyfriend. So definitely, romantic relationship there.
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I always wondered why Kamaji told Chihiro that the train used to go two ways, yet it only goes one way now. He could have just told her that it goes one way, right?
Does the conjecture; the train symbolises going to the afterlife, and that our lack of belief has caused it to become a one way trip, make sense?
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When Chihiro and her parents exited the amusement park and entered their car, why was it filled with leaves and branches, just as if they left the car for several months in the woods? I also noticed that the vegetation had grown substantially. Maybe I am mistaken or time runs differently in the spirit world, any thoughts?