One of the prevalent themes in Spirited Away is the innocence of childhood. We see this through Miyazaki’s use of Chichiro as a protagonist and the juxtapositions he makes between her and the adults and authority figures around her in the film. In the film, the physical charicatures and traits of the adult characters can be seen as a metaphor for the woes experienced by coming into adulthood. The obvious example of this is the intense materialism experienced by all the workers of the bathhouse. In the opening of the movie, Chichiro’s parents take advantage of a free buffet and are transformed into gluttonous pigs, a fate which the spirits say have befallen many humans to come through the amusement park. This speaks to the materialism all adults succumb to as they grow older and the pressure to accumulate goods increases.
Another stark metaphor of materialism occurs when No-Face comes into the bathhouse and begins eating everything in sight and producing gold out of thin air. Miyazaki’s meaning is clearly displayed in the scene where the now bulbous No-Face is staggering down the hallway and the entire bathhouse staff is waiting on him hand and foot. Despite the fact that the spirit has already eaten 3 staff members and the entire stock of prepared food, the staff continues to do his bidding because he continues to produce gold. Meanwhile when he confronts Chichiro in the hallway with a large pile of gold, she shrugs his offer off saying she doesn’t need the gold.
A final important theme dealing with the woes of adult life is the monotony of routine Miyazaki includes in this tale. The entire bathhouse operation plays on the fact that adults are forced to deal with a Groundhog Day-esque grind, where each worker has a strict routine they adhere to each night. Kamajii and his seemingly endless arms could be seen as a man who is endlessly consumed with his work. Constantly busy, his boiler is run by entranced dust mites, who work a tireless schedule of bringing coal to the furnace. However, when Chichiro breaks the routine and brings the coal belonging to one mite to the furnace, the other mites begin immediately alter the routine and begin heaping their work onto Chichiro, showing how routine can lead to corner cutting and bad habits. Yubaba’s routine for the bathhouse combines the routine and materialism metaphor. She sits in her office and continually counts her treasures, interrupted only by problems with the guests, which she is constantly annoyed by.
Another example of this routine is shown during the train scene. On the train Chichiro is accompanied by a number transparent spirits seemingly dressed for work or travel. As the train travels across the water, there are strange, ghostly plots of land seemingly representing stops and landmarks along the tracks. At some stops, the lucid spirits stand up and grab transparent bags and get off at the random islands. The translucent apparitions appear thusly to represent the daily routine travels required of adults and the sapping effect they have on one’s personality. Being a new experience, the train ride seems new and bizarre to the young Chiciro, however, the spirits do not notice the bizarre nature of their surroundings, and continue about their routines, reacting only when arriving at the small, recognizable stop they presumably see every day.