Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.


Just as food plays contradictory roles in Spirited Away, water represents entrapment and freedom, life and death. When Chihiro tries to escape the abandoned theme park, she discovers that the previously dry ground is now a huge body of water she can’t cross. In order to survive in the spirit world, Sen works at the bathhouse, which depends on water for its livelihood. In the course of Sen’s work, she rescues a polluted river spirit by pouring liberal amounts of water over him. Sen nearly drowns in the process, but the spirit places her in a protective bubble that keeps her from harm, and this and other acts of kindness play a role in her liberation. Later, Sen releases Haku from his imprisonment when she realizes he is really a river spirit. Her assistance is a kind of repayment, as years before Haku saved Chihiro from drowning after she fell into a river.


Flight usually has ominous purposes in Spirited Away. Yubaba turns into a bird to keep a close watch on her dominion, and when she flies, she resembles a military plane. Haku flies primarily to carry out secret missions for Yubaba. On one of these missions he is attacked by Zeniba’s paper birds, which bring him down and nearly kill him. Only one flight promises liberation and hope: when Haku transports Sen from Zeniba’s house to the bathhouse so she can identify her parents and return home, Sen remembers Haku’s true name, which restores his identity and frees him.


Most of the characters in Spirited Away obssess greedily about gold, and it almost always brings misery. No-Face can make gold out of thin air, but those who take the gold find that it brings them no happiness. Yubaba is so enamored with her gold that she thinks of it first, even before her baby Boh, when Haku warns her that something precious has been taken from her. The gold eventually disappears, rendering the pursuit of it pointless, even for Yubaba. Though not all of the characters are evil, how they respond to gold in some cases determines their fate. For example, Sen, who turns down the gold, ends up with a much richer life than those who accepted it.