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This Spirited Away Detail Was Based On A Real-Life Experience

"Spirited Away," the lush fantasy written and directed by Japanese animation pioneer Hayao Miyazaki, tells the story of a young girl named Chihiro (voiced by Rumi Hiiragi in Japanese and Daveigh Chase in English) who must work her way through a fantastical bathhouse in order to save her parents after they were transformed into pigs. Upon its release, the Studio Ghibli film was a box office juggernaut, ranking as the highest-grossing Japanese film of all time for 19 years before it was dethroned in 2021 (via ComicBook). Additionally, it is the first and, so far, only foreign and hand-drawn animated film to win the Academy Award for best animated feature (per Time). The film has proven to be amongst the most influential in recent years, inspiring both animators and live-action filmmakers including Chloe Zhao and Steven Spielberg

Miyazaki dealt with unique topics within his catalog of acclaimed animated classics long before "Away," including environmentalism, human nature, and war, approaching them with a fantastical viewpoint that manages to provide great escapist entertainment. However, there's still an undeniable human aspect to his work that feels as though it is coming from a real place which helps his stories remain a cut above the rest. With "Spirited Away," it is true that Miyazaki based many of its locations and characters on real-world influences. However, what may surprise some is that one key detail within the film's story has a surprising real-world backstory to it. 

Miyazaki's battle to save a bike

One of the most memorable scenes within "Spirited Away" sees Chihiro and company forced to deal with a massive, slimy visitor known as the Stink Spirit. After pulling a bicycle from its core, they learn that it is actually a River God that had been so harmed by pollution that it lost its form. In a behind-the-scenes documentary, writer and director Hayao Miyazaki says that the scene was inspired by a real-life experience. "I cleaned a river once," the "My Neighbor Totoro" director says. "And there really was a bicycle, it was stuck in there. Ten of us wrapped the rope around the bars and slowly pulled it out. We really cleaned up the river and the fish are back, and that's why I added that scene." As many of Miyazaki's films dive into the topic of environmentalism, it only feels natural that such a moment in his life would make for a fitting scene in one of his works.

However, the River Spirit is not the only fantastical creation that comments on Miyazaki's mindset. According to long-time Studio Ghibli producer, Toshio Suzuki, one of the film's most iconic characters, No-Face, represents Miyazaki's own desperate urge to break into the hearts of others, despite not knowing how to do so. Judging by the iconic status of "Spirited Away" over 20 years later, it's safe to say that the director might have found the way.