Persisting on the lack of limitations in animation, animated film writers tend to incorporate elaborate architectural settings as the backdrop of the story influenced by the traditional and modern, practical, mythological, and futuristic, whichever adheres to the storyline. Hayao Miyazaki is one such filmmaker, one of the greatest filmmakers of Japan; Miyazaki has captured the Japanese society using animation in his movies, focusing primarily on the themes of urbanism and nature. Cavallaro states that Miyazaki’s films “tackle philosophical and political questions of grave relevance to today’s world”, making viewers aware of “issues that reflect us all”. One such remarkable piece by Hayao Miyazaki is Spirited Away. The film’s animation is almost entirely hand-drawn, beautifully rendered images of the details shown. 

An Architectural review of the movie: Spirited Away - Sheet1
Review of Spirited Away-Still from ‘Spirited Away’ (2001)_©Studio Ghibli
An Architectural review of the movie: Spirited Away - Sheet2
Review of Spirited Away-Still from ‘Spirited Away’ (2001)_ ©Studio Ghibli

As portrayed in the movie, the architecture of the bathhouse is a robust narrative character and is not just the backdrop of the storyline but an essential part of it. With so much detail put into the architecture of the background, it becomes a storytelling device itself. The film can be considered the Japanese version of Alice in Wonderland. The primary basis is a girl stumbling upon an alternate world and facing trials and tribulations before returning to her reality but essentially based on different themes.

There are various themes depicted in the movie, identity, greed and isolation, and loss of past, in addition to the film’s central storyline. Failure of the past is one of the themes throughout the story, disguised in subtle hints of architecture and visualization. As in architecture and design, where the idea behind it is precisely translated into the invention, the theme of loss of what once was is subtly put into perspective and can be traced in the characters, the design of the bathhouse, and the overall narrative. 

Review of Spirited Away-Still from ‘Spirited Away’ (2001)_ ©Studio Ghibli

One could notice various architectural elements throughout the movie, such as the bathhouse where Chihiro starts to work, the train station through which they reach the spirit world, the village, the bridge, etc. The design of the bathhouse is based on the architecture of the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Museum, resembling traditional Japanese architectural styles that would otherwise have become extinct due to wars, modernization, and natural disasters, a reference to the theme of loss of the past. The interior of the bathhouse is based on one of the seven rooms at Hyakudan Kaidan, Jippo-no-Ma. The scenery paintings resemble the flower and bird paintings of the four seasons, made by Araki Jippo in the Jippo-no-Ma room. Other elements of the bathhouse are also based on classic Japanese architecture, such as the lush carved wooden pillars and lavish ornate ceilings.

 Spirited away also visits the subjects of capitalism and classism, all of which can also be traced in the bathhouse’s architecture. The dimly lit boiler room of Kamaji’s in the musty basement reminiscing a sweatshop is a strong reference to the position and the situation of the working class in order; at the bottom, overworked, mistreated, and replaceable. A rendition of miserable factory workers in an animated format. The dark and ugly reality behind the magnificent bathhouse is driven by abusive capitalism.

Spirited away is the product of extraordinary imaginative power, at times textured like a dream but not in the sense of irrelevant randomness and mystery but instead a kind of careful mirror-like reflection of the world that we live in but in a way where the mirror is allowed to distort and transform the shape of that world in the very act of representing it. It analyzes a child’s perspective of the world. Therefore certain aspects are highlighted in the movie, such as the scale of things, the supersized baby and his mother, voracious ghosts and parents that grow in size as and when they eat, and other visually miraculous transformations that happen, such as the transformation of the foul spirit.

The imaginative spirit world in the story is a perfectly functioning world consisting of animal and human spirits, with their logic of existence overlooked by the queen witch Yubaba. It is important to note that the narrative is both beautiful and dangerous and delightful and nightmarish, considering that it is from a child’s perspective. The background is bright and carnivalesque and hazy and dark in the progression of the storyline. Spirited Away is a story that does have a precise aim of the fight of good against evil but has layered multidimensional characters who are presented with human characteristics that are both good and bad.  

Lastly, the aesthetic of the spirit world is swarming with architecture combining traditional Japanese and Western influences. The staged world’s images were of Japan’s Meiji era when it became more receptive to Western powers. There are references to industrialization, for instance, the train noises. Through these various historical and architectural elements, the filmmaker depicts the change in the country’s cultural identity due to modernization.


  1. (no date) Spirited away. Available at: (Accessed: November 16, 2022). 
  2. .Available at:  (Accessed: November 16, 2022).


  1. Studio Ghibli. Available at: (Accessed: November 16, 2022).
  2. Studio Ghibli. Available at: (Accessed: November 16, 2022).
  3. Studio Ghibli. Available at: (Accessed: November 16, 2022).

An architect and a poetry fanatic with immense interest in art and architectural theory, Amisha believes that architecture can be the tool for social change. She is all for designing spaces that tell a story and writing stories that describe the poetics of spaces.