Spirited Away is one of Studio Ghibli’s famous works because of its story and capability of truly immersing its audience. One significant scene in the film is when Chihiro boarded the train along with No-Face, Boh, and Yubaba’s bird. This scene is widely recognized and is often referenced whenever someone discusses Spirited Away.
But what does this scene really mean? Why is it so significant?
Its literal meaning is that it is a train that brings you further into the Spirit World. This is considering that there is no consideration of trapped humans in this world.
The metaphorical and symbolic meanings can be interpreted in a lot of ways. Studio Ghibli’s films let you mull the films over and what is meant to say.
We have to remind ourselves that the train ride Chihiro boarded is actually a one-way ride. It can be noticed that it only has one railway, which supported that the train only goes in one direction. In other words, Chihiro may not be able to return to the bathhouse once she departed for Zeniba’s hut.
Spirited Away is centered on Chihiro undergoing her growth as a character. The film basically presents her experiencing changes and becoming an adult.
As such, Chihiro’s resolute decision to board this one-way train tells us this: she has now grown to be a courageous young woman ready to take risks. She knew that by boarding the train, there are no assurances she’ll return to the bathhouse to save her parents. She’ll be heading towards a destination filled with uncertainty, and beyond what she is used to.
It is a far cry from when she was a whiny girl at the beginning. In other words, the one-way train symbolized Chihiro’s growth and change in herself. Notably, she did not even seem to exhibit fear at all, but rather determination.
Read More: Is Chihiro In Love With Haku?
The Train Represents Life
The one-way train itself can represent life. One-way. You can never go back. The past will remain in the past, and you just have to keep moving forward. Life brings us to uncertain destinations, and just like Chihiro, you must ride it with courage.
This is connected to Chihiro’s growth. Her newfound maturity has let her board the train of life, ready to face the obstacles ahead. Despite her strong resolve, we can even assume that deep inside, Chihiro still harbors fear. After all, she is only a human traversing across an unknown realm.
Specifically, she is set to meet a witch named Zeniba – the very same witch offended by Haku’s actions. Considering her experience with Yubaba, it is understandable that Chihiro is actually quite terrified deep inside.
Despite the fear, Chihiro still presses on forward. And this is what we should ought to do as humans. Life will just go on, and would not stop for us. We have to grow along the way, and realize the importance of pursuing our journey.
The train ride itself has an air of ambivalence as well. It does not exactly exude a very cheerful atmosphere. Rather, it has a melancholic feel to it, in addition to the darkening skies. However, hope can also be felt, as Chihiro’s determination and optimism shines through. This is exactly how bittersweet life could be. It is sad to leave everything that we are used to behind. It is sad to part with memories and people you knew. But you have to move on, and face your future with a newfound resolve and hope.
The Fellow Spirits in the Train
Although the train is mostly empty, Chihiro and her companions are actually accompanied by a few dark spirits. These spirits do not have a clear face, yet they are bringing baggages with them. They are probably spirits of humans who boarded the train to come home. Home meant where they feel most at peace. The baggage they are carrying most likely contain their precious memories and moments.
There is also another possible interpretation of these spirits. They are faceless, and seemingly dressed with coats, hats, and suitcases. These features can be interpreted as the imagery of adults. Since the train represents life, it urges its passengers to grow up. It is basically adulting their way through life until they have reached their final destination. But it is interesting to note that they did not have much color in them, which contrasts Chihiro greatly.
This probably meant that usually, along the journey in life, people lose their inner child. The inner child who saw the beauty and romance in everything. The inner child that harbors passionate dreams unapologetically. Adulting and growing up means facing harsh realities in the expense of forgetting your inner child. The very thing that keeps you vibrant fades away as the train presses on.
In Chihiro’s case, though, she still has her inner child even when she’s maturing. Her goal to save Haku is rooted from love so pure and innocent. Her courage and determination for herself drive her to board the train, and to keep her hopes intact.