Hayao Miyazaki made the decision to create “Spirited Away” after meeting his friend and fellow producer Seiji Okuda’s 10-year-old daughter, who joined Miyazaki every summer (via Vice).
“Every time I wrote or drew something about Chihiro’s character and her actions, I wondered if my girlfriend’s daughter or her friends would be able to do it,” Miyazaki said in a 2002 interview with Midnight Eye. “That was my criterion for every scene where I gave Chihiro a different task or challenge.”
Miyazaki said he was motivated by the lack of portrayals of girls that age that were both authentic and personable. By getting to know Okuda’s daughter, Miyazaki realized that most versions of her in film and television were unrelated to her, and that she couldn’t identify with any of them. “Of course girls like her see movies that have characters their own age,” he said, “but they can’t relate to them because they’re imaginary characters that don’t resemble them at all.”
Much of the behavior that we might describe as spoiled or unkind in girls their age is actually related to that alienation and loneliness and the dismissive attitude that much of the world shows them. “With ‘Spirited Away,’ I wanted to say to them, ‘Don’t worry, everything will be fine in the end, there will be something for you,’ not just in the cinema but in everyday life,” he said. And to be perfectly fair to Chihiro, her parents are forcing her to move to a new town, a bewildering experience for any child that age. All of this makes her coming-of-age story both subtly touching and compelling to watch.