This is how I interpret the story of Spirited Away:

  • The bathhouse represents the society. People work with each other towards a common goal. Every night, 8 million gods come to the bathhouse and workers serve them, worship them. In a way they deal with them, do business with them. In Asian cultures, fire, air, earth, water, food, etc. are represented as gods, so bathhouse very accurately represents a working society. The 'spell' breaks if they stop working.
  • Yubaba is the culture. She manages the bathhouse. She is a tyrant and rules over people by taking their real names and giving them new names.
  • Chihiro was given a new name by Yubaba, 'Sen', which means 'one thousand', similar to how a person is given a roll number or employee number in an organisation. That number becomes her new identity.
  • Haku has forgotten his real name. Similar to Islamic terrorists, he's become a slave to the tyrannical culture. He'll do anything the culture tells him to do.
  • The baby is the belief system of the society. Yubaba is overly protective of him.

One thing I can't understand is, who is Zeniba, Yubaba's twin sister.

  1. Yubaba and Zeniba are two parts of a whole.

  2. Yubaba keeps the baby locked in a room, afraid that he might get sick because of germs. Zeniba turned the baby into a mouse so that he might have a little freedom.

  3. Zeniba lives in the swamp bottom.

  4. There used to be trains running between the bathhouse and the swamp bottom in old days, but the return trains from the swamp bottom have stopped. Now it's a one-way road towards the swamp bottom.

  5. The tickets to the swamp bottom Kamaji gave to Chihiro had been with him for 40 years.

  6. 'Zeni' has two meanings in Japanese, 'money' and 'ancient'. 'ba' means 'old lady'. The meaning of Zeniba which seems to fit the story is 'ancient old lady'.

  7. Yubaba wanted to steal a seal from Zeniba, which was supposedly very precious.

So what do Yubaba and Zeniba represent in this story? It looks like they might represent:

  • culture and nature

  • tyranny and individuality

  • life and death

  • interdependence and self reliance

but none of these seem to elegently fit all the points I've mentioned above.



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