Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi?, literally "Sen and Chihiro's Spiriting Away") is an Academy Award winning 2001 film by the Japanese anime studio Studio Ghibli, written and directed by famed animator Hayao Miyazaki.
The film received many awards, including the second Oscar ever awarded for Best Animated Feature, the first anime film to win an Academy Award, and the only winner of that award to win among five nominees (in every other year there were three nominees). The film also won the Golden Bear at the 2002 Berlin International Film Festival (tied with Bloody Sunday)
The film opens with Chihiro, a ten-year-old girl, traveling to her new home in Tochinoki, Japan, with her parents. They become lost when her father takes a "short cut". The family pulls up outside a large, mysterious building. Ignoring Chihiro's objections, the mother and father decide to explore. Chihiro reluctantly follows them through a tunnel to a strange landscape of grassy hills and old-fashioned buildings. Chihiro's father says it must be an abandoned theme park.
The parents are curious and decide to explore. They soon smell food cooking, and follow their noses to a deserted stall full of different kinds of meat. Chihiro refuses to eat anything, but her parents help themselves and soon begin gorging on the food.
Chihiro wanders off and finds an enormous bathhouse, the heart of the complex. She encounters a boy on a bridge who warns her to leave before dark. She runs back to the food stall, only to find that her parents have turned into pigs.
As night falls, shadowy spirits fill the park. Chihiro is frightened, but the boy appears again and promises to help her. The boy, who introduces himself as "Haku", helps Chihiro sneak to the bathhouse and instructs her to go to the boiler room and ask for work. He warns her that the owner of the bathhouse, Yubaba, could kill Chihiro for trespassing. If Chihiro can get a job, she'll be able to stay at the bathhouse safely while she figures out a way to help her parents.
The boiler operator, Kamaji, seems gruff and unwelcoming but eventually warms to Chihiro. He instructs a bath attendant named Lin to take Chihiro to upstairs to ask Yubaba for work. With Lin's help, Chihiro navigates the halls and elevators of the bathhouse. Chihiro realizes that the place is a resort for spirits of all kinds, many intolerant of humans.
Yubaba, a giant, bejeweled old hag, initially refuses to hire Chihiro. She threatens her, but Chihiro's persistence pays off. Yubaba finally gives in and offers Chihiro an employment contract, but in exchange Chihiro must give up her own name. Yubaba magically removes most of Chihiro's name, leaving only the characters indicating the syllable "Sen".
Under her new name Sen, she begins work as a bath attendant with Lin. Sen encounters a number of strange customers, such as a masked spirit called "No Face" and a filthy "stink spirit". The latter proves to be a wealthy but polluted river spirit, who rewards Sen's efforts in cleaning him with the gift of a magic herb cake.
Sen soon learns that all is not as it seems at the spirit bathhouse. Sen's coworker Lin warns her that Haku is Yubaba's henchman and that she should not trust him, which upsets Sen. Sen also discovers that Haku can change into the form of a flying white dragon. Meanwhile, the spirit No Face becomes obsessed with gaining Sen’s attention and attempts to become the bathhouse's most important customer.
One morning Sen sees the white dragon, Haku, being attacked by paper birds outside the bathhouse. She opens a door to let him inside. Bleeding badly, he flies up to Yubaba's room. Sen runs to find Haku, worried that he may be dying. No Face sees her and offers her gold. Sen refuses it and continues on her way. No Face feels dejected and becomes enraged, swallowing two of the bathhouse workers.
Sen arriving in Yubaba’s quarters and encounters Yubaba's overgrown baby son, Boh. Yubaba's twin sister, Zeniba, also appears and says she has been chasing Haku because he stole her golden monogram seal. Zeniba transforms Boh into a mouse, annoyed by his spoilt behaviour, and Boh quickly joins Sen.
Sen, Haku and Boh escape from Zeniba and fall into the boiler room with Kamaji. He tells Sen that Haku is bleeding from the inside. Sen gives Haku part of the herbal cake she received river spirit gave her. This causes Haku to vomit up Zeniba's gold seal, with a strange black slug sitting on it, which Sen squishes. Sen decides to go to Zeniba to return the seal and apologize on Haku's behalf. Kamaji gives Sen train tickets so she can travel to Zeniba's home.
Before going to the train station, Sen confronts No Face. She gives him the remainder of the herbal cake, hoping this will end his madness. No Face begins to vomit up everything he has eaten. This includes the bathhouse employees he swallowed, who appear unharmed by their ordeal. As he disgorges everything he has eaten, No Face gradually returns to his original slender shape and docile demeanor.
Meanwhile, Haku recovers and resumes his humanoid form. He finds Yubaba and points out that her son is missing. He promises to return Boh to her if Yubaba will turn Sen's parents back into humans and send them and Sen back to their world.
Sen, Boh, and No Face take the train to Zeniba’s house. Sen finds that Zeniba is really a kind woman and not greedy and wicked like her sister. Zeniba is happy to have her seal back and forgives Haku. She assures Sen that Haku has already been cured of its curse by the power of Sen's love, and that the black slug that Sen squashed was actually something Yubaba used on Haku to control him. Haku himself soon arrives in dragon form to take Sen and Boh back to the bathhouse.
En route to the bathhouse, Sen remembers falling in a river when she was a little girl. She had been afraid she would drown, but the river's waters carried her to safety. Sen realizes that Haku is the spirit of this river and tells him his true name is Kohaku River. Upon hearing his true name, Haku regains his memories of the past, freeing him of Yubaba's control.
Haku, Sen, and Boh arrive at the bathhouse to find that Yubaba has prepared a final challenge for Sen. She must decide which of a group of pigs are her parents. Sen examines the pigs and declares, correctly, that none of them are her parents. Yubaba releases her from her employment contract, and Sen regains her true name, Chihiro.
Chihiro says goodbye to Haku and travels with her parents back to the human world. Chihiro's parents remember nothing of what has happened, and are surprised to find their car dusty and the area around it overgrown with weeds. Chihiro, with memories of her adventures in the spirit world fresh in her mind, seems more positive and mature than before and more willing to face going to a new school.