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Is This The Real-Life Town That Inspired Spirited Away's Magical Setting?

The hit Studio Ghibli film "Spirited Away" was released in Japan in 2001, and used stunning visuals and the power of strong storytelling to remind audiences not to run from their fears. Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki directed the movie, and shortly after its release, it became the top-grossing film of all time in Japan — a record it held tight for 19 years (via Time).

The story follows a young girl, Chihiro (Rumi Hiiragi), and her journey to save her parents after they're transformed into giant pigs. Chihiro must work at a bathhouse frequented by spirits, demons, and gods as their place of relaxation. The setting in "Spirited Away" is captivating, to say the least. With creatures unlike any other, the vibrant animation is a work of pure artistry.

The beauty of the movie's setting isn't lost on viewers. That's why when fans discovered a real-life town that looks almost identical to the one Chihiro's adventures take place, they were quick to relish in its enchantments. But is this town really what inspired "Spirited Away?"

Take a trip to the lovely Jiufen, Taiwan

Jiufen, Taiwan is a captivating city founded during the Qing Dynasty with a long and rich history that can be felt throughout the winding alleyways and cozy tea houses that sit perched on the mountainsides. The town's bewitching appearance is only magnified by the lush greenery and red lanterns that line the sides of buildings and create a visual that seems too good to be anything other than what can be seen in storybooks or animated films.

In fact, the striking allure of the city has led many to speculate whether it was the inspiration for the famed Studio Ghibli film "Spirited Away." While Hayao Miyazaki himself has rebutted the claims several times (per National Geographic), the resemblance is uncanny. Over the years, tourism in Jiufen has risen and been the subject of countless travel blogs as Studio Ghibli fans attempt to immerse themselves in the magic they experienced while watching "Spirited Away."

Much of "Spirited Away" is set in a bathhouse where Chihiro comes face to face with gods. In an interview with Midnight Eye, Miyazaki detailed just how he came up with the various settings for his animations. "I travel with a lot of baggage around me, I have many images of the daily life in the world I want to depict. To make a film set in a bathhouse, like "Spirited Away," is something I have been thinking about since childhood when I visited public bathhouses myself." Jiufen may not be what inspired "Spirited Away," but many fans of the movie take joy in visiting the town as it might be the closest they'll get to living the true beauty of a Ghibli film.