Spirited Away Ending Explained

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Spirited Away Ending Explained
Credit: Ghibli

One of the reasons why Ghibli films remain so enduring is the multilayered world each film creates. Spirited Away is considered to be one of the best animated films of the 21st century, but it doesn't give you all the answers. For those who still have questions, here's the ending of Spirited Away explained:

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Related: Where to Watch and Stream the Ghibli Films Online for Free

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How Did Chihiro Know Her Parents?

Spirited Away Ending Explained 1
Credit: Ghibli

Early in the movie, Chihiro's parents turn into pigs - a visualization of their greed.

Since then, Chihiro has nightmares, fearing that she won't be able to tell which of Yubaba's many pigs are her parents when it's time to take them home.

This fear turned out to be a foreshadowing. Yubaba's last task for Chihiro is to have the young girl try and recognize her parents among the other pigs.

Chihiro rightly says that her parents aren't in the pen, winning and forcing Yubaba to make her parents human again and let her go.

But how did Chihiro know? Many fans have come up with theories for that. Chihiro's reasoning is intentionally left ambiguous but the most likely answer is that there is no logical riddle to solve.

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A large part of Spirited Away is all about a child's perception of a magical world, and Chihiro is a particularly perceptive one.

Early on, she was able to understand that something was off about the food her parents devoured without trying it out herself.

Her adventure only honed her understanding of the world, rendering her ready to power through this final challenge.

As a movie primarily about spirits and a girl who has to get to know them and befriend them, Spirited Away isn't too concerned with mind games.

Thus, most of Chihiro's responses to any of the challenges she meets are based on her feelings, hearts, and perceptions, rather than an overcomplicated thought process.

Most likely, Chihiro was able to recognize that none of the pigs were her parents because of her focus on true bonds and connections, as opposed to Yubaba's soul-deadening mentality.

It is often said that a parent can always recognize their child, and, perhaps, the opposite is seen to be true here. After all, Chihiro was surprised that Yubaba didn't recognize her baby, Boh, when he turned into a rat, showing that these connections are important and easy for Chihiro to comprehend.

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Did Chihiro Lose Her Memories of the Spirit World?

Spirited Away Ending Explained 2
Credit: Ghibli

Spirited Away almost feels like a Japanese version of Alice in Wonderland, but whereas Alice might remember part of her dream, Chihiro forgets her real encounter with the spirit world.

Miyazaki has confirmed that Chihiro returns with no memories of her experiences which might seem rather counterproductive.

Nowadays, the "It was all a dream" trope is growing old, and fantasy becomes much more widely accepted as a genre, so many fans prefer to see magical elements truly transform a character's life.

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Of course, there's no indication that this was not the case with Chihiro. While she might not remember the specifics, her last words in the film strongly suggest that the courage and problem-solving abilities she gained will stay with her.

Early in the film, Chihiro is shown to be anxious about her new school, but when her parents bring it up in the end, she's much calmer about it, saying that she thinks she will manage.

Some viewers interpret it as a confirmation that, in some way, her magical adventures stayed with her and will continue to guide her in some way.

More recent Japanese works such as Lonely Castle in the Mirror also explore this concept of memory in fantasy, and how one can retain the spirit-strengthening gifts that come out of an experience even if they don't remember the experience itself.

So, What Is Spirited Away Really About?

Spirited Away Ending Explained 3
Credit: Ghibli

One of the coolest things about Ghibli films is that they are hardly ever about just one thing, and yet they manage to tell a wonderful, mostly concise story.

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A lot has been said about the film's environmental messages; the Stink Spirit which is essentially an overly polluted river can easily be associated with negative human interventions to the natural environment.

There are also questions about consumption and greed, personified both by Chihiro's parents in the beginning and by Yubaba, who exploits her workers to the point of stealing their very names to keep them dependent.

Yubaba's capitalism, in particular, has long been noted by critics. The same goes for her presence as a new and foreign influence, exemplified by her lavish room and western dress, which comes in contrast with her (Japanese) workers' poverty.

Other fans prefer to focus on the idea of identity and human connection, beautifully illustrated through the character of Noh Face, as well as Chihiro who temporarily loses her name and freedom to Yubaba.

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Others yet have a lot to say about the coming-of-age element; Chihiro starts off as a helpless girl in a foreign world, but she emerges victorious no matter what Yubaba throws at her, and she manages to improve the lives of those around her.

It's truly wonderful how a 2-hour film can fit in so many topics and topics and themes, to the point that an entire essay could be written for either one of those.

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At its heart, Spirited Away is a modern classic that doesn't give easy answers but it's still so worth exploring!