Chihiro’s father: “Don’t worry, you’ve got Daddy here. He’s got credit cards and cash.”
Chihiro’s father reassures Chihiro with these words early in the film, when the family explores the abandoned theme park. Chihiro’s parents find a food stall and begin eating, even though no one is present to give them permission, to serve them, or to accept their payment for the food. Although Chihiro’s father brazenly asserts that Chihiro shouldn’t worry, Chihiro follows her own instincts and refuses the food. Her instincts, not her father, keep her from being turned into a pig like her parents. Chihiro’s father claims to be her protector, but his greed and thoughtlessness suggest that Chihiro is perhaps even more adult than her parents are. She will eventually save them, not the other way around.
Chihiro’s father’s pride in his credit cards and cash, and his certainty that they can act as a kind of shield, foreshadows the spirit world’s rampant greed. Chihiro’s father thinks wealth can compensate for a lack of respect and good manners and that just because he has the money his hungers should be instantly gratified. Chihiro soon learns that money can’t solve every problem, and she wisely chooses duty over gold while working in the bathhouse. Those who give in to their greed are enslaved by it. In the end, both the food and the gold fail to satisfy.
Yubaba: “You humans always make a mess of things. Like your parents who gobbled up the food of the spirits like pigs. They got what they deserved.”
Yubaba uses these words to insult Chihiro when Chihiro asks for a job. Yubaba doesn’t have much respect for the way humans have handled their world, and she doesn’t want them messing up her well-run spirit world. This disdain permeates Spirited Away as a whole, and an important theme in the movie is how humans change the landscape of the natural world with their arrogant interference and ignore the consequences. Like pigs, humans gobble up what is in front of them without considering the effects of their actions or acknowledging that the natural world might sometimes be more important than humans themselves. Pollution, land misuse, and unsightly abandoned buildings are just a few of the negative consequences of irresponsible actions. When humans bring natural or not-so-natural disasters upon themselves, they whine and complain. Yubaba expects Chihiro to take this same position. She is counting on it, in fact, because then she won’t have to give Chihiro a job. However, Chihiro is different from her parents, and she stays focused on her goal.
Yubaba’s words call into question what people do and do not deserve. Chihiro’s father and mother are accustomed to taking things as their due, and they pass this attitude on to Chihiro. However, Chihiro now finds herself in a world where everything has to be earned through hard work. The bitterness in Yubaba’s comment suggests that not everyone gets what they deserve, or that people don’t always deserve what they get. For example, Haku and the ancient river spirit didn’t deserve to be displaced and polluted. The humans who displaced and polluted them deserve to be punished, but they probably won’t be. Chihiro’s well-off parents have always given her everything she wants or needs, whether she deserves it or not. Only through her work at the bathhouse does Chihiro learn the connection between work, accomplishment, and reward. Eventually, Chihiro earns her way out of her situation through a combination of hard work and good character. Ultimately, she gets what she deserves.
Haku: “You still haven’t noticed that something precious to you has been replaced.”
Haku says this to Yubaba after Chihiro heals him and takes off for Zeniba’s with baby Boh. Yubaba doesn’t realize Boh is missing because Zeniba has made Yubaba’s attendants, three disembodied heads, look like Boh. Haku understands that greed has blinded Yubaba to what she truly values, and his words suggest that without this hint Yubaba will remain interminably oblivious to what is missing. Though she usually smothers Boh with attention, Yubaba is distracted by her work and doesn’t realize that Boh is definitely not acting like himself. When Haku tells Yubaba that something precious has been replaced, the first thing Yubaba looks for is the pile of gold beside her on the table. Only when she sees that the gold is safe does she understand he’s talking about another precious thing, and when she refocuses her attention on Boh, she discovers he isn’t Boh at all. A few seconds later, the gold turns to dirt. Her greed has left her with nothing, and now, with no material objects to protect or covet, she wants only her baby. Boh becomes an important bargaining chip in obtaining Sen’s freedom, while Yubaba learns a lesson about what really matters in the world.
Almost every major character in Spirited Away has experienced replacement in some way. Shortly after this scene with Yubaba, Sen remembers Haku’s real name, which is Haku’s own precious thing that has been replaced. Sen’s memory of the Kohaku River reminds us that humans constantly replace precious parts of nature with more transient things. Haku’s true identity, Kohaku River, was replaced by an apartment complex. The stink spirit replaced the ancient river spirit because his river was polluted. Pigs replace Chihiro’s gluttonous parents. Even Chihiro’s real name is replaced with the name Sen, a smaller and presumably less important name. Ultimately, Chihiro survives because she recognizes what is precious and tries to preserve it.
Chihiro: “I knew you were good!”
Sen says this to Haku as they’re returning to the bathhouse near the end of the movie. She has agonized about Haku’s true motives and character since the moment she met him, and she now remembers that he saved her from drowning when she was very young. Suddenly, all of her decisions are justified, and her doubts about her abilities disappear. She has trusted her instincts, and her instincts have proved trustworthy. She has come into her own. When Sen returns to the bathhouse and takes on Yubaba’s last challenge, she completes her transformation from a hesitant little girl to a self-confident young woman. She has no hesitation in her voice when she answers Yubaba’s question. She trusts her instincts once again and tells Yubaba that her parents are not among the pigs before her, thus freeing herself and her parents from their slavery.
Throughout the movie, Sen has doubts about Haku, but she nonetheless stands by him. Her loyalty reveals her understanding that a person’s character is multi-layered and that appearances can be deceiving. Although both Haku and Lin initially treat her gruffly, they quickly become her biggest allies. While the rest of the bathhouse workers seem to hold fast to the first impressions they have of their customers, Sen treats everyone equally and finds out what’s beneath the surface. The bathhouse workers try to scare away the Stink Spirit, but Sen treats him as she would any other customer and discovers that he isn’t as nasty as he appears to be. Sen gives people and spirits a chance to prove their goodness even if that goodness is hidden, and her acceptance helps to free her.
Boh: “If you make Sen cry, I won’t like you anymore.”
Boh says this to his mother, Yubaba, when they return to the bathhouse. His impertinence is surprising, since Yubaba has sheltered and pampered him for his entire life. Boh learns much about the world when he is transformed into the Boh-mouse. His more manageable size enables him to accompany Sen on the greatest adventure of his life, and Sen shows him there is more to life than mindless luxury. He observes how she rejects greed for good deeds and sees how her devotion and honor affect those around her. He finds joy in making something for a friend and participating in the real world, as opposed to the virtual reality in which his mother imprisons him. He eventually respects Sen so much that he rejects his mother to help her, even though it means Sen will become Chihiro again and leave him behind. While Chihiro’s parents may not be the best role models for her, and Yubaba may not be a great role model for Boh, Chihiro and Boh draw from their own wells of good judgment and kindness to make the right choices.
Boh’s statement also reveals the transforming power of loyalty and strong friendships in Spirited Away. Throughout her ordeal, Chihiro never wavers in her loyalty to her parents, but as she makes friends in the spirit world and becomes committed to those friendships, her loyalties expand. She must make fast decisions and figure out her priorities. As Sen, Chihiro ends up risking her chance to save her parents by saving No-Face and Haku with the herbal cake she received from the ancient river spirit. In return, Kamaji sacrifices his long-treasured train tickets to send Sen to see Zeniba. He does so because of the loyalty Sen shows her friends, a loyalty Kamaji calls love. Sen’s loyalty inspires loyalty in others, even in the spoiled, selfish Boh.
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