The artists behind Spirited Away paid close attention to the consistency of setting and character and the relationship between them. Yubaba has a sense of richness about her even when she’s just sitting in a towel with a simple white turban wrapped around her head. Chihiro, even when she is Sen, always appears plain and straightforward, from her ponytail to her humble clothing. She works in the elaborately appointed bathhouse, but the background always suggests simplicity and quiet. In spite of the lushness of the bathhouse, Sen must clean the big tub that sits alone in a nearly bare room. In that room she transforms a huge, ungainly, polluted spirit into the essence of simplicity: First he appears as a skeletal head, then as a sleek serpent. Even her meals are simple affairs. She nibbles a dumpling on her balcony far from the multi-course hubbub of the main house. The scenery, which tends to be of secondary importance in animated films, is as impressive as any exquisitely filmed landscape in a live-action movie.
The minor characters are rendered just as flawlessly as the setting, with expressions and movements that range from the subtle to the garish. The different techniques the characters use in trying to reach No-Face in the bathhouse make for a powerful contrast. After No-Face becomes the rich, gold-making spirit, the assistant manager uses exaggerated songs and dances, including a fan dance, to ingratiate himself to No-Face. Later, after No-Face has practically wrecked the bathhouse, Sen confronts him with a still, silent dignity that is profoundly effective.
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