Hayao Miyazaki had nearly retired from directing before Spirited Away brought him back to filmmaking. Miyazaki is the famed writer and director of some of the most celebrated animated films of all time as well as the co-founder of Studio Ghibli. He has been directing movies since the late ’70s, and each of his works has been a success. His masterpiece is considered to be 2001’s Spirited Away, which is about Chihiro, a young girl transported to the spirit world who has to find a way to escape and save her parents. It was a commercial and critical hit and won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature.
What’s surprising about Spirited Away is that Miyazaki had announced his retirement from filmmaking the year before he began production on the movie. This isn’t the only time Miyazaki came out of retirement to direct again, either. He has teased leaving the industry a few times over the years but has never completely stepped away. After The Wind Rises in 2013, he seemed to go into permanent retirement, but he returned to work on the 2023 feature How Do You Live? His return to directing for Spirited Away was a significant moment in his career, though, and led to a renaissance of his work.
Hayao Miyazaki Decided To Make The Film After Meeting His Friend’s Daughter
Hayao Miyazaki’s filmography is filled with strong female characters, and he has an excellent grasp of making them feel fully realized and unique. Spirited Away continues this trend, and it was his interest in creating a new kind of female character for Studio Ghibli that inspired Miyazaki to do this. He decided to cancel his retirement and go ahead and make the film after meeting the 10-year-old daughter of his friend and associate producer Seiji Okuda, who would often come to visit Miyazaki for the summer (via Vice). The more he got to know the girl, the more Miyazaki realized that young female characters in films did not reflect real life at all.
What he saw of an actual real-life young girl encouraged Miyazaki to write a film where the main character is not some unrealistic portrait but a real true-to-life girl, with all the foibles that come along with that. Chihiro is a different variation of the feminist icons in Miyazaki’s movies. It was important for Miyazaki as he made Spirited Away to compare Chihiro’s actions to his friend’s child and make sure they would behave the same way in similar situations. It’s Miyazaki’s intention to create a character that may not always be on her best behavior but is still able to be ok at the end of the story.
Why Chihiro Is A Great Protagonist
Chihiro is one of the best protagonists of all Hayao Miyazaki’s works. She isn’t a powerful warrior or a princess; she’s simply a little girl. Chihiro is a normal kid, and her ability to confront her loneliness and fear in the spirit world is all the more inspiring for it. Even when she’s grumpy and rude, Chihiro is endearing because everyone has at one time been unwilling to move on from the things troubling them. Beyond its fantastical creatures, Spirited Away shows that sometimes it’s reasonable to be upset about being abandoned and lonely because eventually those feelings can be worked through, and a character can be better for doing so.
More: How Each Character In Spirited Away Compares To Their Mythological Origin