Studio Ghibli
Studio Ghibli

15 Fascinating Facts About Spirited Away

 Studio Ghibli
Studio Ghibli

As an Academy Award winner and Japan’s highest grossing movie of all time, Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away has captured the hearts of viewers all over the world. Fall in love with the movie all over again, with these little-known facts.

1. Spirited Away was created without a script

Disney/Studio Ghibli

Despite having a rich plot with developed characters, Spirited Away was not made with a script. In fact, Miyazaki’s films never had scripts. “I don't have the story finished and ready when we start work on a film,” the filmmaker told Midnight Eye. “I usually don't have the time. So the story develops when I start drawing storyboards. The production starts very soon thereafter, while the storyboards are still developing.”

Miyazaki does not know where the plot is going, and he lets it happen organically. “It's not me who makes the film. The film makes itself and I have no choice but to follow”

2. Miyazaki does everything

Studio Ghibli

Miyazaki wrote, directed, and drew the storyboards for the movie; essentially writing the movie with drawings. When you watch the film, you’re seeing one man’s work and vision. The filmmaker is so influential and involved in the production, the New Yorker once called him “the auteur of anime.”

3. Chihiro was inspired by the daughter of one of the director’s friends

Studio Ghibli

After announcing his retirement in 1997, the filmmaker took friends to his mountain cabin. His friend’s daughter and her peers inspired Miyazaki, as they were on the verge of adolescence and extremely apathetic. The auteur decided he needed to make a movie for ten-year-old girls. There wasn’t a lot out there for them; their magazines were heavily focused on romance and crushes. “I felt this was not what they held dear in their hearts, not what they wanted,” the filmmaker recalled. “And so I wondered if I could make a movie in which they could be heroines.”

Miyazaki wanted a movie that was made for regular ten-year-olds. The main character had to be ordinary, with no special abilities or traits. The girls needed someone human to relate to and show them that they could be heroines too. The main character, Chihiro, was made with the girls from the cabin in mind. “Every time I wrote or drew something concerning the character of Chihiro and her actions, I asked myself the question whether my friend's daughter or her friends would be capable of doing it,” Miyazaki explained.

4. Small details make it feel real

Studio Ghibli

Miyazaki is often praised for creating gorgeous, immersive movies that feel almost real. Part of the reason for this is the close attention to detail. Small additions like dirt on the bottoms of feet, chopsticks falling over when bumped, or a zipper catching the sunlight contribute to the overall feel of the film. In the beginning of the movie, when Chihiro’s father exclaims he has four-wheel drive, he does! He is driving a first-generation Audi A4 Sedan complete with the trademark "Quattro" four-wheel drive system.

This attention to detail is also a useful tool for developing characters. Chihiro is supposed to be a typical ten-year-old, so she behaves as such. When she puts on her shoes, she does so with extra care and taps the toe of each shoe to make sure they fit properly. In another scene, the girl’s parents call for her, but she doesn’t answer until the second time; many of the movie’s staff even suggested that she shouldn’t reply until the third time, because of the unresponsive nature of young girls.

5. The river spirit was inspired by Miyazaki’s experience cleaning a river

Studio Ghibli

In one scene, a “stink spirit” comes to the bathhouse to get clean. Chihiro finds a bicycle handle sticking out the gunky creature’s side. After wrapping a rope around the handle and pulling it out, the gooey beast is revealed to be the spirit of a polluted river.

This scene is actually based on a real experience. “I cleaned a river once,” Miyazaki said. “My local river. And there really was a bicycle. It was stuck in there. Ten of us wrapped a rope around the bars and slowly pulled it out. We really cleaned up the river, and the fish are back. And that’s why I added that scene.”

6. The little extra scenes are called 'ma'

Studio Ghibli

Quiet scenes of inaction, where a character might glance off into the distance or sit quietly, are a common occurrence in Miyazaki’s films. In an interview with Roger Ebert, Miyazaki explained the usefulness of these. "If you just have non-stop action with no breathing space at all, it's just busyness, But if you take a moment, then the tension building in the film can grow into a wider dimension. If you just have constant tension at 80 degrees all the time you just get numb."

7. Pixar’s John Lasseter championed the film

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John Lasseter is the chief creative officer of Pixar and is responsible for the Toy Story and Cars franchises. When he was a young animator at Disney, members of Miyazaki's company, Studio Ghibli, came to visit the office to learn the American style of animation. Wowed by the Japanese animators, Lasseter became inspired.

After working with computer animation, Lasseter visited Studio Ghibli in 1987. Ignoring warnings that Miyazaki hated computer animation, Lasseter showed the filmmaker Luxo Jr. and Red’s Dream. The videos were a hit and a friendship was born.

The first screening of Spirited Away outside of Japan was at Pixar Studios. Miyazaki then asked Lasseter to help him with the English dub. The Pixar director convinced Disney to buy the distribution rights, and went on to be the executive producer of the film’s American version. Thanks to his tireless campaigning, the movie was a hit.

8. Disney wasn’t the first American studio to try to court Ghibli

Studio Ghibli

Studio Ghibli has always been a highly sought-after business. For over 20 years, American studios had tried to acquire the studio. Toshio Suzuki, the producer of Spirited Away, turned these offers down, but Disney finally came up with a unique deal. There were two pre-conditions: they wanted all the films, and they would not alter or the cut the films at all. Suzuki found these terms favorable and accepted.

9. Miyazaki explained how many of the scenes should be animated with animal analogies

To help the animators understand how the characters moved, Miyazaki would ask them to draw inspiration from animals. When explaining the scene when an injured Haku falls into the boiler room, the filmmaker uses three animals to describe the action. The dragon clings to the wall like a gecko, before falling to the ground like a snake. When Chihiro feeds Haku the medicine, Miyazaki asks the animators to use a dog’s mouth as a model. No one on the team had a dog, so they went to a veterinarian’s office with a camera.

10. Spirited Away broke box-office records

Studio Ghibli

The movie earned 30.4 billion yen, making it the highest grossing film in Japanese history, overtaking Titanic at the box office. The record has yet to be broken, but some expect Frozen to be a strong contender.

11. The characters' names reflect who they are

Studio Ghibli

Boh means little boy or son, Kamaji means old boiler man, Yubaba means bathhouse witch, and Zeniba means money witch. The heroine Chihiro means a thousand fathoms or searches, while her worker name, Sen, just means thousand.

12. Dialog was added to clarify certain elements in the America version

Studio Ghibli

There are several times in the American version where Chihiro seems to narrate what she sees or what’s going on This was added in and was not part of the original. In an interview with John Lasseter, he explained that it was a necessary addition to help clarify certain elements for American audiences. For example, what is clearly a bathhouse to a Japanese viewer might not be apparent to an American viewer, so this translation issue was fixed by having the character explain, “Oh, it’s a bathhouse.”

13. You probably know the American voice actress for Chihiro

Studio Ghibli

If the voice of the American Chihiro sounds familiar to you, it might be because you saw Lilo & Stitch (Spirited Away’s direct competition for Best Animated Feature the same year). The American voice actress of Chihiro, Daveigh Chase, played Lilo. You might also know her as the sister in Donnie Darko, Rhonda from Big Love, or Samara from The Ring.

14. Miyazaki did not attend the 2003 Academy Awards Due to His Opposition to the Iraq War

Studio Ghibli

Despite the fact that Spirited Away was nominated for Best Animated Feature (and won!), Miyazaki quietly declined to attend the ceremony. He did not publicly explain why until 2009, when he opened up to The New York Times at Comic-Con. The filmmaker was against America’s invasion of Iraq, but the producer of Spirited Away requested that he did not vocalize these opinions.

15. You can visit the setting for Spirited Away in real life

The packed streets and elaborate bathhouse of the movie can thank downtown Juifen in Taiwan for its beautiful design. Here you can find familiar sights and sounds that resemble the bustling spirit town. Miyazaki is said to have visited a popular teahouse while staying there that showed up in the movie as the bathhouse. If you ever find yourself in Taiwan, it is definitely worth the visit to relive all the magic of the movie.

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Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA
12 Surprising Facts About Robin Williams
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA

Robin Williams had a larger-than-life personality. On screen and on stage, he embodied what he referred to as “hyper-comedy.” Offscreen, he was involved in humanitarian causes and raised three children—Zak, Zelda, and Cody. On July 16, HBO debuts the documentary Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind, directed by Marina Zenovich. The film chronicles his rise on the L.A. and San Francisco stand-up comedy scenes during the 1970s, to his more dramatic roles in the 1980s and '90s in award-winning films like Dead Poets Society; Good Morning, Vietnam; Awakenings; The Fisher King; and Good Will Hunting. The film also focuses on August 11, 2014, the date of his untimely death. Here are 12 surprising facts about the beloved entertainer.

1. ROBIN WILLIAMS GOT HIS START AT A COMEDY WORKSHOP INSIDE A CHURCH.

A still from 'Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind' (2018)
HBO

After leaving Juilliard, Robin Williams found himself back in his hometown of San Francisco, but he couldn’t find work as an actor. Then he saw something for a comedy workshop in a church and decided to give it a shot. “So I went to this workshop in the basement of a Lutheran church, and it was stand-up comedy, so you don’t get to improvise with others, but I started off doing, ostensibly, it was just like improvising but solo," he told NPR. "And then I started to realize, ‘Oh.’ [I started] building an act from there."

2. HE FORMED A FRIENDSHIP WITH KOKO THE GORILLA.

In 2001, Williams visited Koko the gorilla, who passed away in June, at The Gorilla Foundation in Northern California. Her caregivers had shown her one of his movies, and she seemed to recognize him. Koko repeatedly signed for Williams to tickle her. “We shared something extraordinary: laughter,” Williams said of the encounter. On the day Williams died, The Foundation shared the news with Koko and reported that she fell into sadness.

3. FOR A TIME, HE WAS A MIME IN CENTRAL PARK.

In 1974, photographer Daniel Sorine captured photos of two mimes in New York's Central Park. As it turned out, one of the mimes was Williams, who was attending Juilliard at the time. “What attracted me to Robin Williams and his fellow mime, Todd Oppenheimer, was an unusual amount of intensity, personality, and physical fluidity,” Sorine said. In 1991, Williams revisited the craft by playing Mime Jerry in Bobcat Goldthwait’s film Shakes the Clown. In the movie, Williams hilariously leads a how-to class in mime.

4. HE TRIED TO GET LYDIA FROM MRS. DOUBTFIRE BACK IN SCHOOL.

As a teen, Lisa Jakub played Robin Williams’s daughter Lydia Hillard in Mrs. Doubtfire. “When I was 14 years old, I went on location to film Mrs. Doubtfire for five months, and my high school was not happy,” Jakub wrote on her blog. “My job meant an increased workload for teachers, and they were not equipped to handle a ‘non-traditional’ student. So, during filming, they kicked me out.”

Sensing Jakub’s distress over the situation, Williams typed a letter and sent it to her school. “A student of her caliber and talent should be encouraged to go out in the world and learn through her work,” he wrote. “She should also be encouraged to return to the classroom when she’s done to share those experiences and motivate her classmates to soar to their own higher achievements … she is an asset to any classroom.”

Apparently, the school framed the letter but didn’t allow Jakub to return. “But here’s what matters from that story—Robin stood up for me,” Jakub wrote. “I was only 14, but I had already seen that I was in an industry that was full of back-stabbing. And it was entirely clear that Robin had my back.”

5. HE WASN’T PRODUCERS' FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY MORK ON MORK & MINDY.

Anson Williams, Marion Ross, and Don Most told The Hallmark Channel that a different actor was originally hired to play Mork for the February 1978 Happy Days episode “My Favorite Orkan,” which introduced the alien character to the world. “Mork & Mindy was like the worst script in the history of Happy Days. It was unreadable, it was so bad,” Anson Williams said. “So they hire some guy for Mork—bad actor, bad part.” The actor quit, and producer Garry Marshall came to the set and asked: “Does anyone know a funny Martian?” They hired Williams to play Mork, and from September 1978 to May 1982, Williams co-headlined the spinoff Mork & Mindy for four seasons.

6. HE “RISKED” A ROLE IN AN OFF-BROADWAY PLAY.

Actor Robin Williams poses for a portrait during the 35th Annual People's Choice Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on January 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California
Michael Caulfield, Getty Images for PCA

In 1988, Williams made his professional stage debut as Estragon in the Mike Nichols-directed Waiting for Godot, which also starred Steve Martin and F. Murray Abraham. The play was held off-Broadway at Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center. The New York Times asked Williams if he felt the show was a career risk, and he responded with: “Risk! Of never working on the stage again! Oh, no! You’re ruined! It’s like you're ruined socially in Tustin,” a town in Orange County, California. “If there’s risk, you can’t think about it,” he said, “or you’ll never be able to do the play.”

Williams had to restrain himself and not improvise during his performance. “You can do physical things,” he said, “but you don’t ad lib [Samuel] Beckett, just like you don’t riff Beethoven.” In 1996, Nichols and Williams once again worked together, this time in the movie The Birdcage.

7. HE USHERED IN THE ERA OF CELEBRITY VOICE ACTING.

The 1992 success of Aladdin, in which Williams voiced Genie, led to more celebrities voicing animated characters. According to a 2011 article in The Atlantic, “Less than 20 years ago, voice acting was almost exclusively the realm of voice actors—people specifically trained to provide voices for animated characters. As it turns out, the rise of the celebrity voice actor can be traced to a single film: Disney’s 1992 breakout animated hit Aladdin.” Since then, big names have attached themselves to animated films, from The Lion King to Toy Story to Shrek. Williams continued to do voice acting in animated films, including Aladdin and the King of Thieves, Happy Feet, and Happy Feet 2.

8. HE FORGOT TO THANK HIS MOTHER DURING HIS 1998 OSCAR SPEECH.

In March 1998, Williams won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting. In 2011, Williams appeared on The Graham Norton Show, and Norton asked him what it was like to win the award. “For a week it was like, ‘Hey congratulations! Good Will Hunting, way to go,'” Williams said. “Two weeks later: ‘Hey, Mork.’”

Then Williams mentioned how his speech accidentally left out one of the most important people in his life. “I forgot to thank my mother and she was in the audience,” he said. “Even the therapist went, ‘Get out!’ That was rough for the next few years. [Mom voice] ‘You came through here [points to his pants]! How’s the award?’”

9. HE COMFORTED STEVEN SPIELBERG DURING THE FILMING OF SCHINDLER’S LIST.

At this year’s 25th anniversary screening of Schindler’s List, held at the Tribeca Film Festival, director Steven Spielberg shared that Williams—who played Peter Pan in Spielberg’s Hook—would call him and make him laugh. “Robin knew what I was going through, and once a week, Robin would call me on schedule and he would do 15 minutes of stand-up on the phone,” Spielberg said. “I would laugh hysterically, because I had to release so much.”

10. HE HELPED ETHAN HAWKE GET HIS AGENT.

During a June 2018 appearance on The Graham Norton Show, Ethan Hawke recalled how, while working on Dead Poets Society, Williams was hard on him. “I really wanted to be a serious actor,” Hawke said. “I really wanted to be in character, and I really didn’t want to laugh. The more I didn’t laugh, the more insane [Williams] got. He would make fun of me. ‘Oh this one doesn't want to laugh.’ And the more smoke would come out of my ears. He didn’t understand I was trying to do a good job.” Hawke had assumed Williams hated him during filming.

After filming ended, Hawke went back to school, but he received a surprising phone call. It was from Williams’s agent, who—at Williams's suggestion—wanted to sign Hawke. Hawke said he still has the same agent today.

11. HE WAS ALMOST CAST IN MIDNIGHT RUN.

In February 1988, Williams told Rolling Stone how he sometimes still had to audition for roles. “I read for a movie with [Robert] De Niro, [Midnight Run], to be directed by Marty Brest,” Williams said. “I met with them three or four times, and it got real close, it was almost there, and then they went with somebody else. The character was supposed to be an accountant for the Mafia. Charles Grodin got the part. I was craving it. I thought, ‘I can be as funny,’ but they wanted someone obviously more in type. And in the end, he was better for it. But it was rough for me. I had to remind myself, ‘Okay, come on, you’ve got other things.’”

In July 1988, Universal released Midnight Run. Just two years later, Williams finally worked with De Niro, on Awakenings.

12. BILLY CRYSTAL AND WILLIAMS USED TO TALK ON THE PHONE FOR HOURS.

Actors Robin Williams (L) and Billy Crystal pose at the afterparty for the premiere of Columbia Picture's 'RV' on April 23, 2006 in Los Angeles, California
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Starting in 1986, Williams, Billy Crystal, and Whoopi Goldberg co-hosted HBO’s Comic Relief to raise money for the homeless. Soon after Williams’s death, Crystal went on The View and spoke with Goldberg about his friendship with Williams. “We were like two jazz musicians,” Crystal said. “Late at night I get these calls and we’d go for hours. And we never spoke as ourselves. When it was announced I was coming to Broadway, I had 50 phone messages, in one day, from somebody named Gary, who wanted to be my backstage dresser.”

“Gary” turned out to be Williams.

Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind premieres on Monday, July 16 at 8 p.m. ET on HBO.

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Walt Disney Pictures
10 Facts About Hocus Pocus
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures

In a 2014 Reddit AMA, Bette Midler said she'd be interested in doing a Hocus Pocus sequel. "You have to go to send in your cards to the Walt Disney company," she said. "The ball's in their court." While you get those cards ready, here are some facts about the original, which arrived in theaters 25 years ago today.

1. THE STORY ORIGINATED AS A BEDTIME STORY.

The story for Hocus Pocus came about after writer David Kirschner invented a bedtime story for his kids. He later wrote the story up and submitted it to Muppet Magazine (why does this not still exist?), where it gained recognition.

2. THE WRITERS USED PROPS TO PITCH IT TO STUDIO EXECUTIVES.

Bette Midler in 'Hocus Pocus' (1993)
Walt Disney Pictures

To pitch the story to Disney, the writers had execs enter a dark room with broomsticks and a vacuum cleaner hanging from the ceiling. They also scattered 15 pounds of candy corn throughout the room in an effort to invoke Halloween nostalgia. It obviously worked!

3. IT WAS NOT AN IMMEDIATE HIT.

Though it’s a cult classic now, Hocus Pocus didn’t do that well when it first came out in 1993, perhaps because it was released in July instead of September or October. Though it didn’t have a terrible opening—$8,125,471, putting it in fourth place at the box office that weekend—it fell to $2,017,688 a few weeks later, and bad reviews from the critics didn’t help matters.

Entertainment Weekly was particularly put off by the movie, calling it a “piece of corny slapstick trash” and saying that “It’s acceptable scary-silly kid fodder that adults will find only mildly insulting. Unless they’re Bette Midler fans. In which case it’s depressing as hell.”

4. BETTE MIDLER LOVES IT.

Bette Midler, by the way, has said that Hocus Pocus is her favorite film out of all of the films she’s ever done. (At least as of 2008.) Thora Birch agreed, recently saying, “The most fun I ever had on a film was Hocus Pocus.”

5. KATHY NAJIMY LOVES IT, TOO.

Midler isn't the only star of the film who isn't immune to its allure: Kathy Najimy has said she watches the movie with her family every year on August 15.

6. IT COULD HAVE STARRED LEONARDO DICAPRIO.

The role of Max was originally offered to Leonardo DiCaprio. He turned it down to do What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.

7. SARAH JESSICA PARKER IS RELATED TO A WOMAN FAMOUSLY ACCUSED OF BEING A WITCH.

Had Sarah Jessica Parker known then what she knows now, she might have approached the role of Sarah Sanderson a little differently. When the actress went on the show Who Do You Think You Are to trace her family history, Parker discovered that one of her ancestors was Esther Elwell, one of the women accused of being a witch during the Salem Witch Trials. After a young girl said she saw Esther’s “spectre” strangling neighbor Mary Fitch, Elwell was arrested, but escaped going to trial.

8. THORA BIRCH REVISITED THE NEIGHBORHOOD IN AMERICAN BEAUTY.

While the kids are prematurely celebrating victory against the Sanderson sisters after locking them in the kiln, they’re shown talking in front of a house as they walk to a park. The house was later used as the house Thora Birch’s character lived in for American Beauty.

9. THE KIDS WEREN'T HUGE FANS OF THE CATS.

The kids all hated working with the cats. Many different cats were used to represent Binx, and each one served a different purpose—one was good at cuddling with the kids, one would jump on command, etc. Every time a new cat was used, the children would have to coerce the kitty to trust them by using treats and a clicker. They got sick of it.

10. MUCH OF THE ORIGINAL CAST REUNITED FOR A 20TH REUNION.

Most of the cast participated in a 20th anniversary event for D23 (the Disney fan club) members. Sarah Jessica Parker and Bette Midler were not in attendance, but pretty much everyone else was, including Kathy Najimy (Mary Sanderson), Vinessa Shaw (Allison), Omri Katz (Max), Thora Birch (Dani), and Doug Jones (Billy Butcherson). You can watch some of that reunion above.

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